My mom isn’t swayed by numbers.
Last week she mentions that people will miss her Bible study because of the snow. I sympathize. It’s hard to prepare a lesson all week only to find out that just a handful can make it.
Mom laughs, “Actually, I’m fine having a small crowd. I know that God has appointed who is going to be there. I remember teaching Sunday school classes when only one child showed up. Those were always my best lessons because I could focus on one person. Besides, some of Jesus best sermons were given to an audience of one.”
I think about the times I’ve been disappointed because only a few people have shown up when I’m speaking. Somehow I place my value in numbers.
It’s all about pride. Thinking my time is too valuable to be wasted. Thinking it’s all about me.
As I reflect on the ways God has used me, I am reminded of an unforgettable encounter, over 10 years ago.
It’s a cold night. The rain is coming down in sheets and I’m leading a Bible study at a neighbor’s house.
I’m annoyed. Partly because I don’t want to go out in the wet weather. And partly because the rain will keep others from coming too.
Karen opens the door and I duck inside. Her house is warm and inviting. There’s coffee ready and we sit in the living room, making small talk as we wait for others. I keep glancing at my watch. No one else has come.
After 30 minutes, I concede, “I think this is it. Maybe I should just go home and we can do the lesson next week.”
Karen agrees and I’m relieved. I’d rather be home. As I am about to stand up, I sense God’s urging not to go. I need to stay.
I feel foolish, but mumble, “Actually, is it okay if I stay? We can talk about the lesson, or anything you want, since it’s just us.”
Karen nods and we start talking. She has many questions. About things not in the lesson. About truth. About Jesus.
I remember when she first came to our study. At summer’s end, she shared that her most significant takeaway was learning she wasn’t a Christian. She went to church, but was unsure if she wanted more.
But she kept coming back. For two years she kept coming. For two years she asked questions.
About why God wanted animal sacrifices. About why God seemed different in the Old Testament. About why Jesus had to be the only way.
But tonight’s questions are different, more personal. After an hour, all her doubts seem satisfied. She is quiet, processing all we’ve talked about.
I turn to her, hesitant. Haltingly, I ask, “Have you ever made a commitment to Christ?”
She shakes her head.
I press further. “Would you like to? Now?”
After she says, “yes,” Karen and I bow in her living room as she commits her life to Jesus. I listen as she prays, in awe of what God has done that night.
We hear the door. Her husband and children are coming in. Bible Study is supposed to be over. They take off their coats in the hall and she whispers, “Thank you. I never would have done that if anyone else had been here. I’m glad it was just us.”
We hug and I slip my coat on. I step out into the night, into the pouring rain. I don’t mind getting wet- it’s as if God’s Spirit is pouring over me.
I am so grateful to God. That He made me stay. That He used me, despite my reluctance.
That one night was better than any Bible study I’d ever led, better than teaching to a crowded room.
I almost missed that moment. I almost left Karen’s house, thinking that doing a Bible study for one person, when I had prepared for many, wouldn’t be worth it.
How foolish I am. I want numbers. Why? What’s behind my desire for numbers?
Me. My desire for applause and praise.
And the culture reinforces that. We feel good about ourselves if we get “likes” and “followers” and “favorites” and “retweets.” Our popularity on social media can define our value for us. So the more people notice us, and like what we say and do, the more worthwhile we feel.
When we do that, we start to live life on the outside, for what other people think. We can lose our focus- who we are and what we’re called to.
Life becomes all about us. Do I go to that retreat when none of my friends are going? Do I have lunch with that person who will drain me of all my energy? Do I help someone in need on an impossibly busy day? Do I teach a Bible Study to a few people?
When the world is about me, of course not. I need to maximize my happiness, feel good about myself, do what’s best for me.
But when it’s about God, I must think about what He wants me to do, where He is working, what His plans are. As Paul Tripp says, “As I think about my life and the glory of God, I need to remind myself that this life is not my party. You and I have been born into a world that was created to celebrate God.”
I have to continually remind myself of that. It’s not about me. It’s about God.
And He has invited me to His party.