Several years ago, one of my friends authored a book and a few months after it was released, I asked her how many books had been sold.
She replied: “Well, the publisher made enough to cover the cost of my advance.“
In other words, the book hadn’t made a profit.
It wasn’t until I wrote a book that I appreciated just how awkward it feels to get the “how many books have you sold” question. It’s like being asked about your salary, your weight, or why you aren’t having a drink at the party. For better or worse, the answer invites evaluation about something that’s very personal.
The numbers game really can mess with an author’s head. Like, what’s enough for book sales? Five hundred? Ten thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? How about just one?
We’re all tempted to measure success by the numbers. We count church size, Bible study attendance, conversions, godly children, and Facebook likes. The higher the numbers, the happier we are.
But what happens when the numbers don’t add up — when church attendance is down, people don’t show up for the Bible study, the neighbors don’t get saved, none of our kids are following the Lord, and only nine people like the Scripture meme we shared on Facebook? The Bible offers a story of childlike faith that can guide our hearts to a healthier place.
Remember the little boy who gave Jesus five loaves and two fishes to help feed the hungry crowd? In one of the most memorable miracles recounted in Scripture, Jesus multiples the boy’s offering and feeds a crowd of 5,000 (John 6:1-14). Jesus took so little and made so much.
Imagine the little boy returning to Jesus the next day and saying, “Jesus, I’m so sorry that You could only feed 5,000 with my offering. I wish I could’ve given You more.”
What an absurd statement that would be — and how revealing. The boy would essentially be saying: “Jesus, the number of people who were fed depended on me.” And that’s what we do when we measure our success by numbers. Instead, we should celebrate that God uses us at all.
What if, instead, the boy ran to his friends and exclaimed: “Guess what? I got to give my bread and fish to Jesus today. I’m serious! Jesus — like, the Jesus — used my bread and fish today! I can’t believe it!” That’s what we want to be like — to simply focus on the privilege of being used by the Lord, regardless of how many (or how few) seem to benefit from our offering.
A friend of mine once said that, when it comes to weighing the impact of how God has used us, “the numbers simply aren’t our business.” Our business is to give God what we’ve got and let Him do what He’s going to do with it — to marvel that Jesus — the Jesus — used our little offering to bless others and draw attention to Him.
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