Some Trust in Numbers

How Counting Can Ruin a Ministry

Article by Scott Hubbard

Editor, desiringGod.org Jan 14, 2012

Today, more than ever before, we live in a world obsessed with numbers. Modern technology has made life more measurable, more quantifiable, more countable. And many of us just can’t stop counting.

How many followers do I have? How many people came to church last Sunday? How many figures are in my bank account? How many points did I get on that test? How many likes or comments did my post receive? How many articles have I written, books have I published, talks have I given? And how many compared to . . . ?

“The issue is whether we count from a place of security in our God, or in order to find some security apart from him.”

In my worst moments, I look to numbers for far more than helpful objective measurements. I look to them for identity and meaning. I use them to fortify the walls of my insecurity, and assure me that I am somebody. I ask them to give me a future and a hope.

So it can be a startling experience to recall the story of a king whose counting nearly destroyed him. His story is a warning to all of us — and perhaps ministry leaders especially — who feel tempted to give numbers a louder voice than the Lord our God’s.

David’s Tragic Census

To modern ears, King David’s order to Joab, the commander of his army, sounds harmless: “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number” (1 Chronicles 21:2). We’re familiar with censuses; in America, we do one every ten years. So the results of this census are surprising, to say the least: David is humbled to the dust, the angel of the Lord sweeps through Judah with a sword, and seventy thousand men of Israel fall (1 Chronicles 21:14–16).

The story becomes even more striking when we realize that, in the book of Chronicles, this census takes the place of David’s adultery and murder. The author of Chronicles doesn’t mention that sordid episode. Instead, when we come to the part of the story where we would expect to find Bathsheba and Uriah, we find the census. In the chronicler’s mind, David’s counting is a sin to rival his adultery and murder.

But why? What was wrong with David’s command to take a census? The answer to that question exposes not only David’s heart, but many of ours as well. Consider, then, three lies hidden in David’s urge to count.

‘Strength is in numbers.’

Unlike modern censuses, the purpose of David’s was not to gather general population figures, but to size up Israel’s military strength. It was not illegal to take a census per se; the law of Moses even offers instructions for how to conduct one (Exodus 30:11–16). So David’s sin likely lay not in his method, but in his motive.

Joab’s response to David hints at the cancer in the king’s request: “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! . . . Why should my lord require this?” (1 Chronicles 21:3). The word require, also translated as seekappears several times in the chapters preceding the census, most strikingly in 1 Chronicles 16:10–11, where David sings,

Glory in [God’s] holy name;
     let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
     seek his presence continually!

But when David commanded the census, Joab heard a different song: “Seek soldiers and their strength; seek their power continually!” Somewhere along the way, it seems, David started counting his army instead of counting on God’s faithfulness; he started numbering his forces instead of numbering God’s promises. He sought his deepest strength, security, and rest of soul in earthly probabilities instead of the fact that God was for him.

Our situation is quite different from David’s, of course. None of us faces the onslaught of enemy armies. But some of us have lain awake at night, with some insecurity gnawing the soul, confronted again with a choice: Will I seek my strength in God alone, or will I lean on an arm of flesh (2 Chronicles 32:8)? And often, the most tempting arm of flesh is the one that can be measured.

The issue, in the end, is not whether we count. In a world like ours, we must count sometimes, and David was not necessarily wrong to do so himself. Rather, the issue is whether we count from a place of security in our God, or in order to find some security apart from him.

‘The promises aren’t enough.’

Before someone stops seeking God’s strength, however, something deeper has gone wrong: he has stopped trusting God’s promise. God had pledged to David, “I will subdue all your enemies” (1 Chronicles 17:10). David’s census said, in effect, “No, you won’t. But I will.”

Our flesh wants nothing to do with trusting God. We will look for something, anything, to rest our weight upon apart from the bare promise. Give us numbers, give us data, give us probabilities — whatever will keep us from stepping out on God’s word alone. What feels better to the flesh, after all: venturing forth with an army that you know can conquer your enemy, or marching only in the strength of God’s “I will”?

Strangely enough, the temptation to distrust God’s promises may grow with our success. David, for example, took his census not from a place of weakness, but from one of tremendous strength — not when he was surrounded by foreign armies, but when he had all but vanquished them (see 1 Chronicles 18–20). In other words, the more God delivered on his promise to subdue David’s enemies, the more David was tempted to dismiss the promise.

Such unbelief might seem incredible if it weren’t so common among us. Imagine a church planter, launching into a neighborhood with ten people at his side. He devotes himself to his ministry with faithfulness as he clings to the promises of God. In time, his labors bear fruit: ten becomes thirty, thirty becomes sixty, sixty becomes one hundred. And slowly, even imperceptibly, he becomes less desperate. The numbers, themselves the fruit of God’s promises, slowly displace God’s promises. He gives more of his attention — and his confidence — to strategies, models, and ministry tips. He still acknowledges his dependence on God, of course, but in all the ways that matter, he rests not on promises, but on pragmatism.

Certainly not all counting betrays unbelief in God’s promises. But we may do well to ask ourselves, “Does my ministry proclaim, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5)? Or does it more readily say, ‘Apart from the right strategy you can do nothing’?”

‘I am lord, not steward.’

When God instructs Moses about how to take a census, he tells him, “Each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them” (Exodus 30:12). Every numbered soldier was to offer a half-shekel ransom for his life, declaring in effect that he was not his own, but belonged wholly to the Lord his God.

But David’s command to number Israel contains no mention of the ransom, nor even of God. At the center of David’s order, in fact, is David himself: “Go, number Israel . . . that I may know their number” (1 Chronicles 21:2). If a census was supposed to say, “Israel belongs to God,” David’s census said, “Israel belongs to me.” Though only a steward of God’s kingdom, he counts as if he were Israel’s preeminent lord.

“The Lord of the universe does not need large numbers to defeat large armies.”

Counting can easily become an exercise in identity formation — as if the fruits from our labors say more about our skills than God’s grace. We have taken the talents the Lord has given, multiplied them by his power, and then reckoned the whole as our doing. And as a result, the numbers that ought to deepen our humility and thankfulness instead transform us into little Nebuchadnezzars: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power?” (Daniel 4:30).

When we consider the fruit in our ministries, do we add it up with the pride of a lord? Or do we count with holy reverence, knowing we are numbering God’s children, God’s talents, God’s harvest, over which he has appointed us as stewards?

Faithfulness Beyond Counting

Later in the story of Chronicles, the prophet Hanani says to King Asa, one of David’s sons,

Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:8–9)

The Lord of the universe does not need large numbers to defeat large armies. He knows how to form a galaxy of stars from the offspring of one man (Genesis 15:5). He is able to grow a mustard seed into the largest of all trees (Matthew 13:31–32). He can even take one fallen grain of wheat, and from him bear the fruit of salvation in all the world (John 12:24).

The eyes of this God run through the earth to find those whose hearts are blameless — not those who are perfect, but those who are desperate. Those who know that their strength, their hope, and their identity are hidden not in anything they can count, but rather in the Christ whose faithfulness is beyond counting.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/some-trust-in-numbers?

Cultivating a Gratitude Mindset

Ken Boa

There’s a perfunctory, almost embarrassed prayer of thanks many of us offer up around Thanksgiving time because we’re not accustomed to gratitude as a habit. It’s foreign to our daily routine. We’ve become too much like the nine lepers who — unlike the lone, grateful Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus for healing him — take God’s blessings as our due; we’ve succumbed to an entitlement mindset. (Read the full story in Luke 17:11-21.)

Thanksgiving is what we really should be doing every day, all year long. Why don’t we?

Do Not Forget!

Moses described the lifestyle and mindset of gratitude God desired for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:11-14. He then reminded them that the Lord had cared for them in the desert place, providing for and protecting them (Deuteronomy 8:15-16a). All of this He did to humble them, with their good in mind (Deuteronomy 8:16). Then Moses warned them what would happen if they did forget God:

Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)

If the Israelites forgot God, then rather than seeing God as the giver of everything, they would become either proud and presumptuous (if things appeared to be going well), or bitter and resentful (if things started going badly). Both of these attitudes — presumption and bitterness — are a result of ingratitude, which ultimately stems from forgetting God. 

How do we guard against ingratitude? We do so by remembering God for:

  1. His deliverance in the past, 
  2. His benefits in the present, and
  3. His promises for the future.

If we forget God in any one of these areas, ingratitude will slip in, leading to missed blessings and missed opportunities for growth. 

His Deliverance in the Past

The prophet Hosea relayed God’s perspective on Israel’s forgetfulness (see Hosea 13:4-6). He then detailed the terrible consequences of forgetting and ingratitude.

After coming through a period of drought and arriving at a point of satisfaction in our lives, it’s easy for us to become like the Israelites: taking our eyes off of God and letting a subtle sense of pride seep in. We begin to suppose we achieved our own success, through our own abilities. This is foolish! Not one of us sat around in a primordial cafeteria selecting the attributes we would have. 

God has the power to raise us up in a day and the power to bring us down in a day (see the stories of Joseph and King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible); He has the power to give and the power to take away. Anything we possess, and any skill we have, is derivative (1 Corinthians 4:7) of the hand of the living God.

His Benefits in the Present

A gratitude mindset entails thanking God not only for His past provision but also for His blessings in the present. These benefits include His creation as well as personal blessings (material, relational, and spiritual).

Most of us default to a deficiency mindset — focusing on what we do not have — rather than a sufficiency mindset — focusing on what we do have. I don’t advocate a shallow philosophy of positive thinking, but I do know God is serious about 1 Thessalonians 5:18: we’re to acknowledge Him and give Him thanks in all things. We can even give Him thanks in and for difficult circumstances, recognizing our pain is never wasted and is often needful for our growth and development (sometimes called “the hard thanksgiving”).

His Promises for the Future

Finally, we’re to remember and thank God for His abundant promises for the future. One of these promises is that what He has planned for us is far beyond what we can imagine or think of on our own (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Corinthians 2:9). God has a better vision of our lives (both here on earth and beyond this life) than we do. And right now, His desire is to lavish the riches of His grace in acts of kindness toward us (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Practice It!

Gratitude, at root, is not a feeling. If we leave it to spontaneous experiences, the feelings will diminish. But if we see gratitude as a series of choices, the difference is huge.

Cultivating a gratitude mindset requires an intentional, daily effort to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness to us in the past, present, and future. I’ve developed exercises to help you get started. I invite you to practice one of these two samples for a week or longer, and see how they affect your life and relationships.

Copyright © 2018 Ken Boa, used with permission.

https://www1.cbn.com/spiritual-life/cultivating-gratitude-mindset

An Open Letter to Pastors and Christians …Stand or Fall

 

July 3, 2018

 

A paraphrase that is often attributed to Alexis De Tocqueville—a Frenchman who authored Democracy in America in the early 1800s, helps to open this letter: “I looked throughout America to find where her greatness originated. I looked for it in her harbors and on her shorelines, in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and in her gold mines and vast world commerce, but it was not there.”

“It was not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her success. America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Over the last few decades, Americans have seen the destruction of the institution of marriage between a man and a woman, the removal of God’s Word in several areas, and the blatant murdering of millions of babies. This is an indictment against America and the pulpit is partially responsible – our silence speaks volumes.

The pulpit regulates the spiritual condition of God’s people which affects the nation. A lukewarm, sex-saturated culture (and church) simply reflects the lack of conviction in the pulpit as well as the pew.

Sadly, many pastors are exchanging truth for passivity, boldness for cowardliness, and conviction for comfort…they are not aflame with righteousness. We aim to be motivational speakers rather than preachers of righteousness.

Pastors (and Christian leaders alike) must take responsibility for the spiritual health of today’s church, and the nation. We don’t need more marketing plans, demographic studies, or giving campaigns; we need men filled with the Spirit of God.

Pastors, we are not just cheerleaders, we are game changers. We are called to stir and to convict so that change takes place. Granted, there are many wonderful pastors and churches—I appreciate their ministry, but, as a whole, the church has drifted off course. They have lost the compass of truth. Here are four ways to re-set the compass.

1. Return to the prayer closet. Without prayer, “the church becomes a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching encourage sin, not holiness…preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer, the preacher creates death, and not life” (E.M. Bounds).

When God brings change, prayer has been the catalyst. Martin Luther prayed and the church was reformed. John Knox prayed and Scotland was revived. John Wesley prayed and America was restored. George Whitefield prayed and nations were changed. D.L. Moody prayed and America fell to her knees. Amy Carmichael prayed and India received the gospel. And so it goes…when you pray, you move the hand of God.

The dry, dead lethargic condition of the church simply reflects an impotent prayer life. While 5-minute devotionals and prayers are good, they aren’t going to cut it in these dire times. We need powerful times of prayer, devotion, and worship. “Without the heartbeat of prayer, the body of Christ will resemble a corpse. The church is dying on her feet because she is not living on her knees” (Al Whittinghill).

Sermons should not come from pop-psychology and the latest fad; they must come from the prayer closet where God prepares the messenger before we prepare the message. It takes broken men to break men. Unplug the tv, turn off Facebook, and get back into the Word of God, prayer, and worship.

2. Return to a separated life. If a pastor fills his mind with the world all week and expects the Spirit of God to speak boldly through him from the pulpit, he will be gravely mistaken. “The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher” (E.M. Bounds). Who he is all week is who he will be when he steps to the pulpit.

3. Worship must be a priority. A pastor who does not worship is not prepared to preach. Many sing “about” God but they have never truly experienced Him—head knowledge without heart knowledge. Styles of worship range from the old, beloved hymns to contemporary. All worship should be God-centered, Christ exalted, and doctrinally sound.

Worship allows us to shift our focus and praise toward God. Whether you prefer hymnals and organs or contemporary bands, is really not the issue. The issue is: are you truly worshipping God in “spirit and in truth”? He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is not a cosmic force, universal love, or a doting grandfather; He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. We must worship Him. He created, redeemed, and saved us. As one of the countless hymns declares so well, “O’ The Blood: washes me; shed for me…what a sacrifice that saved my life, yes the blood, it is my victory!”

4. Preach the difficult truths – they set people free. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching sin, repentance, or the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending or securing an audience. Difficult truths often offend, and rightly so, sin put Christ on the cross. The goal of preaching is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.

Let it not be said of us today: And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord because pastors failed to be preachers of righteousness. The burden of responsibility rests squarely upon our shoulders. It’s our choice—stand, or fall!

But there is hope: “Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you…” (Zechariah 1:3). That’s a life changing promise – return to Him and He will return to you.

 

Original here