We live in the land of opportunity and in our capitalist, free market society, we rely on competition, ingenuity, and resolve to get us to the top. Unfortunately, this has become the drive of many of our congregations, ministries, conferences, and books. We’ll give you the keys to fill your pews, increase your income, and enlarge your facilities. We try to be attractional, motivational, cultural…anything to get people in the door.
How many people are you running on a weekly basis? Why don’t we ask how many people attend prayer meetings? How many people got saved on Easter? Why don’t we ask how many people are FOLLOWING CHRIST? What’s your church’s annual income? Why don’t we ask how much is given to missions and invested in the underserved of the community.
Now, I wouldn’t say that God isn’t concerned about numbers…just not the ones we are. Here’s an example. Jesus is about to return to His Father on the day of Pentecost and informs his friends it’s time to take over. He says, “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere” (Acts 1:8). Shortly after that, Peter preaches and BOOM, 3,000 people follow Christ. We get excited about that and try to figure out..how do we do that in our community. What can we take away from that moment? Here’s the thing: God didn’t say get 3,000 people saved. He said, “Tell people about me.” God’s not excited about the fruit…He knows what’s going to happen…He’s more excited about our obedience!
He’s not intimidated by numbers.
In Judges 7, Gideon is about to lead Israel against the Midianites with 32,000 soldiers. God said, “You have TOO MANY men.” God knew they would boast about their victory so he whittled down the army to 300 people. That kinda violates all of our church growth conferences. Get rid of people? And yet, when it came down to the final battle, “the LORD caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords” (v. 22). It was through no effort of man.
Later, Jonathan and his armorbearer go up against a Philistine outpost where they eventually kill 20 men (1 Samuel 14). Just 2 men. But here’s the thing: a whole battalion was defeated…there is no mention of the specific number. But God used only 2 obedient and courageous men to be the catalyst. Look at v. 6 in 3 different versions:
- “He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!”
- “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.”
- “There’s no rule that says God can only deliver by using a big army.”
We place so much hope and trust in our feeble efforts and abilities, but it’s actually God who causes the earthquake.
Jesus is preaching (Matthew 14) until mealtime and Jesus’ friends tell Him to send the crowds away so they can buy food. He says “You feed them.” “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered. “Bring them here,” he said (vv. 16-18). Once again, their concentration was on the number, but this time, how small it was. Jesus trusted in God to produce the increase.
He’s not impressed with them.
In 1 Chronicles 21, David gets a crazy idea: “Let’s see how powerful MY army is…let’s see how successful I’ve become” It’s found that they have 1,300,000 warriors. God, however, knew that they placed their trust in weapons and brute strength. God punished the Israelites because of their king’s foolishness and 70,000 people died. God alone is our strength and deliverance.
He’s interested in our hearts.
He is concerned with numbers when it’s representative of our inner character and attitudes:
- “How much should I forgive?” “70×7” (Matthew 18:21-22). Can we forgive like God does: eternally, infinitely? With grace, mercy, patience, and love?
- “Could you not pray with Me 1 hour?” (Matthew 26:40). Can we overcome our flesh and spend that time seeking after our Savior and Father? Is Christ bigger than our schedules? Is He more important than every other relationship? Is He truly our sustenance? Are we truly desperate for Him?
- Go an extra mile (Matthew 5:41) – Whether asked or forced to do something, do twice as much as expected. Are we willing to be servants?
- A widow’s 2 copper coins. “She gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford – she gave her all!” (Luke 21:4). Do we stop at 10%? Do we only give our missions pledge? Or, is everything we have available for God’s glory?
- Heaven rejoices over 1 person who is saved (Luke 15:7). Do we? Or do we think there should have been more? Do we care more about the total attendance of the service or event? What about all our efforts? All the money it cost? Why wasn’t there more?
- The 9 healed lepers who didn’t return versus the 1 who did (Luke 17:17). Am I truly grateful? Do I take God’s favor and blessings for granted? Am I quick to say “thank you?”
- 5 foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Am I excited and anticipating His Presence? Am I ready for Christ’s return? I know Him but does He know me?
Maybe we should stop focusing on the count and pay more attention to our character…