Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pain by Numbers

People appear to be obsessed with numbers.  

Watch any news show and you'll be amazed at the references to statistics, dollar amounts, and demographics.  Prominently displayed are: stock market information about the DOW, the TSE, the FTSE, and the prices of gold and oil.  Feature stories about any kind of celebrity concert or charity event will never fail to mention how many tickets were sold, how much money was made, and how many were in attendance.  The success of the event is measured by those things.   

The church is beset by this preoccupation as well.  Sunday school classes count the number of students in each class, the total attendance, the amount of money in the plate.  Deacons count the number of people in any given church service.  Teams of ushers or deacons typically assign one person on the team to walk around with a pen and a piece of paper, and that person is said to be "on counting" that week, keeping track of how many people are in the building. Success stories of anything from retreats to revivals have to mention how many people came through the doors, how many came to the altar for prayer, how many first-time decisions there were.  The larger the number, apparently, the more impressed people are. 

God - on the other hand - is not impressed with numbers.  In fact, He's been known to REDUCE numbers so as to remove the remote possibility that people would boast in their own abilities.  When He called Gideon as a judge over Israel, Gideon was the least in his father's family, threshing grain at night in a hole in the ground so that the Midianites wouldn't detect his presence.  Once people started following Gideon, he amassed an army of 30,000 men.  But God said, "No.  There are too many of you."  Through an incredible series of screenings and tests, God whittled down the number in that army to three hundred men - a mere drop in the bucket compared to the Midianite army.  Once down to that comparatively small number, THEN God won the victory and delivered Israel from her oppressors. 

Jesus chose a small band of twelve men.  Not twelve thousand.  Of those twelve, He was especially close to three.  

His model was small groups.  SMALL groups.  Two, three people... twelve max.  Yes, "wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst." This, among other things, was to encourage intimacy: quality rather than quantity.  Perhaps even to foster accountability.  It might also have been to keep people from boasting in their numbers, their strength, and to rely on His.  The statement, "The more the merrier" does not appear anywhere in scripture, either explicitly or implicitly.  Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal - ONE prophet.  Five Philistines - ONE shepherd boy.  

I'm not saying that God can't use or isn't blessed by large numbers of people (after all, He LOVES people!) - as long as HE is the focus. What I am saying is that in the multitude of people, there is a tendency to boast in our own accomplishments, to be impressed by our own measurements of success, and not rely on God (such as what happened at Babel).   I wonder if it causes Him pain when we get distracted by the numbers and relegate Him to second place at best.

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