When Numbers Lie

Numbers.  Too often, it all comes down to numbers.

I have no intrinsic attraction to math and statistics don’t send my heart aflutter.  It’s just that I’m so frequently bound by whether it all adds up on paper.

Like when your husband rattles off all the expenses over the next few months: Car repairs from where a deer collided with the bumper, swim lessons, glasses, household repairs….

It’s no fun to scratch it all into your notebook paper and plan the budget that stretches and stretches until you just finally have to admit you just don’t know and you understand that the numbers need to add up, but they just don’t and that’s all there is to say about that.

And the trust and the confidence and the peace you had just yesterday disappears in that moment when column A is greater than column B.

Oh, it’s not just budgets truly.  It’s squinting your eyes up tight and running the figures in your head to decide whether this ministry is effective in a cost-benefit ratio kind of way.

Is all that effort worth this result?

It’s glancing at another and evaluating her worth based on her Facebook fans, Twitter followers, blog subscribers, and the number of women in her Sunday School class.  We calculate the math of comparison.  She is > me.

It’s listening to the report from the doctor and letting the statistical probabilities define your faith and constrict your expectation of a Mighty God.

It’s math.  It’s just math.  They are numbers we use to try to structure our world, form our decisions and guide our lives, and we say, ‘The numbers don’t lie.’

But sometimes they do.

Or at least perhaps they just miss an important part of the equation.  We too often leave out the God-factor.

God: Providing in ways we don’t expect at the time of our need.
God: Determining value not based on numbers and what we accomplish for Him, but simply because of obedience to His calling.
God: Doing more than all we could ask or imagine; yes, even doing the impossible.
God: Using the least of these and the smallest of all to perform His great work.
God: Multiplying loaves and fish—whatever is not enough—into more than enough to feed a crowd of thousands.

In 1 Chronicles 21, King David decided to take a census of all the fighting men of Israel.  He wanted to do the math.

The counting wasn’t the sin.  Census-taking wasn’t a sin.  Running the numbers wasn’t a sin.  At other times in Scripture, God himself calls for the occasional counting up of all the people.

When it’s God-initiated, sometimes math is what we need, if only to show off His glory.  He asks us to take poll our resources so we can see what little we have and how it’s never enough on its own, but always enough with Him.

Or perhaps He asks us to do the math and realize how much we’ve been blessed and how much more we can give to others.

But God didn’t tell David to take a census in 1 Chronicles 21.  David knew it.  The commander of David’s army knew it.

Instead, Scripture says, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 NIV).

Isn’t that so true with us?  It’s Satan accusing us of ineffectiveness, using the numbers as proof against us.  It’s the Accuser keeping a tally of the times we fall and again we fall and again we fall.  It’s the Prince of Lies telling us God can’t provide, the numbers don’t add up; this time it’s hopeless.

In The Daily Message, Eugene Peterson writes, “David substituted statistics for trust.

Oh, how often this is me, scribbling figures on a pad of paper or the back of an envelope: If this plus this equals that then this….  Then I scratch it all out and start again.

Evaluating, comparing, adding up, subtracting….I do it all day after day, always trying to substitute statistics for trust.

But in one of those verses that I return to over and over again, God says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. Proverbs 3: 5,6 (HCSB)

Don’t rely on my own understanding.

Trust in God instead.

We may not know how God will provide, or why He calls us to do what seems so insignificant, or how He expects us to give out of our need, or whether we’ll beat the statistical odds.  But that’s the God factor, the unknown value that we can’t ever fit onto paper, but that is always more than enough.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

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