So, one of the stories in the Bible that has struck and always stayed with me is from 1 Chronicles 21:1 (and from 2 Samuel 24:1). Basically, God had ended a three-year famine, and David’s kingdom was thriving. His nemesis Saul was dead, and he had recently crushed the Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites, and he was pummeling any enemies that went up against him. And everything was going along quite epically during this mountaintop season of his life. But then it says that David was incited to take a census of his fighting men. That is, he felt led to count up the size of his army.
No big deal, right? Actually, it was.
Back in the day, we learned that God (in Numbers 1) told Moses and Aaron to count up the people in their respective families and then organize them in preparation for war. So, there was nothing inherently or fundamentally wrong with the action itself. However, this situation was different – because David’s motivation wasn’t pure. And it’s pretty clear what prompted his decision: pride and vanity.
David did it because he wanted to see how strong he was. How vast his army was. And he wanted it to bring him confidence, and assurance, and even a perception of control. Maybe after he was finished counting, he was like, “I got this!” or “Man, we are going to kill it and go #beastmode on anyone who even tries to mess with us!” And while it seems pretty harmless for David to quantify the enormity of his kingdom and influence and power in this way, God was not pleased. And David and the people of Israel paid a steep price, and things got really bad, really fast. Because God is all about the state of our hearts, and the reasons behind why we do the things we do. And it’s clear that David’s decision demonstrated that he had begun to trust a little too much in himself, instead of exclusively on God.
And it’s clear that David’s decision demonstrated that he had begun to trust a little too much in himself, instead of exclusively on God.
I do this. More often than I would like to admit.
Now for sure, I’ve gotten better over the decades because this cautionary tale seriously pops into my mind sometimes. But it’s still a struggle, and I still mess up some days by rationalizing away my actions as just not a big deal. And I thought that since this chapter of David’s life has left such an impression on me, it might be useful to catalogue the ways in which I have counted and numbered things.
Again, it may not seem like a big deal. But I know my heart is in the wrong place when I consider the reasons why I’m doing it….
To feel good about myself.
To feel better about my situation.
To reassure myself that I can exert some level of control on how things are going to turn out.
To validate the way I am living my life.
But all of this takes my eyes off of Him, and hollows out the marrow of my faith, and makes me think that I am the source of certain things in my life, instead of Him. I don’t want to be the source, because then everything is up to me, and that is such an exhausting and desperate way to live. I don’t want that at all.
I don’t want to be the source, because then everything is up to me, and that is such an exhausting and desperate way to live. I don’t want that at all.
So what all do I find myself counting?
- My followers on Instagram and Twitter. I know, it’s ridiculous, but the ugly part of me sometimes believes that the extent of my social media influence proves that people like me and are interested in my life and what I have to say. And that the larger my online platform, the more professional opportunities will come my way. Most days, I know I am deluding myself because I’m pretty sure a double-tap on my latest photo doesn’t mean very much at all. But it still helps me a little when I’m struggling with self-doubt and fogginess. And most days I remember that God is in charge of giving me opportunities – and can do so in spades even if I wasn’t on social media at all (He exalts in due time (1 Peter 5:6)). But when the opportunities aren’t coming, I am so tempted to count and measure and number. And crave more. And work for more. Just to grasp at a perception of security that is completely intangible and has no real-world equivalency.I am not actually more loved, or more successful, or more fulfilled based on my metrics in cyberspace. I’m just not.
- My money. Now, I know that it’s not really my money – I’m simply a steward of what God has entrusted to me and He expects me to use it to bless others and make His name great across the world. But here again, in the interest of trying to control my future, the temptation is to frequently take stock of where I am financially – to make sure I close to where I want to be.
For a nest egg.
For my kids’ schooling.
For the cars I’ll have to purchase when they turn 16.
For the medical expenses we may have to face during our sunset years.And yes, I understand the value of financial planning, and wise investments, and money management – and I can’t be oblivious to what is going on with my bank account – but I know (and you know) when we are doing it just to feel in control, or so it can offer some reassurance that the bottom won’t fall out. But the control we feel is a complete illusion because we honestly have no clue what the future is going to bring. Life has a tendency to level us unexpectedly – perhaps to keep us on our toes, and perhaps to remind us where (and who) our source really is.
- My citations. I don’t know what your own comparable is for this, but as an academic I am able to see how many times other scholars have referenced my papers in their publications and bibliographies. And in academia, much prestige is bestowed upon those who are cited a lot – because it means that their work is influencing the research of others. It is super tempting to keep checking this statistic. But seriously, it should not matter to me. I should do great work, to the best of my ability, and if people want to cite it, they can. And if my boss or a new potential employer wants to look it up to evaluate me, they can. But I shouldn’t, because it feeds my pride and vanity. And that is so distasteful to me. And again, a demonstration of distrust in God as my sole source.I don’t want the world’s prestige. I want His favor and kindness upon my life.
- My years. Like everyone else, I’m growing older, and on crappy days there is this tendency to take stock of the breadth of my life and measure it against that of others….
What awesome things have I accomplished as compared to what he or she or they have accomplished?
What cool experiences have I had, as compared to what they have had?
What all do I have going for me, as compared to them?And I do this so subtly, and so momentarily that I can get away with it in my head without calling myself out as a petty, jealous, insecure jerk. But I am those things, in those moments. I am. Those things are in my heart. And I do not want them there. At all. And God is not honored at all. It doesn’t matter whether I act on those feelings. And Psalm 66:18 says that if I cherish sin in my heart, He will not listen. I so need Him to always listen….
I find it really interesting that right after David had made his decision, he was immediately wracked with guilt. How many of us have been there, right after the questionable and prideful decisions we make? He felt awful and foolish, and actually begged God to forgive him and take away his iniquity and rescue him out of his conscience-stricken state. Yep, I’ve done that too. Multiple times.
I just want to trust my Heavenly Father more and more and more, with every passing day. He is sovereign, and He holds my life in His hands. There’s this great verse and truth I am reminded of from Psalm 20:7 (that was first introduced to me in a Jennifer Knapp song!) that states: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. I love that. And actually I am now remembering another verse, from Psalm 33, which Mike Donehy of Tenth Avenue North inspired me to memorize:
No king is saved by the size of his army…no warrior escapes by his own strength…a horse is a vain hope for deliverance…despite all its great strength, it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him…on those who hope in His unwavering love…to deliver them from death, and keep them alive in famine.
Actually, that Psalm gets even better, and ends quite triumphantly with what I would totally want to be the anthem of my life as I think about all of this:
We wait in hope for the Lord…He is our strength and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, even as we put our hope in you.
Oh man, just reading again that gets me fired up! I truly and wholeheartedly believe that. I stand on that. I have built my house on that, and I have built my life on that. I want Him to keep making me ever so sensitive to when my heart is not in the right place, and to make sure that any counting I do is not motivated by pride or vanity. I know I will still stumble here and there, but I’m committed to keep getting better. Because He is worth that. And He has never let me down.
Counting on Him is so much more the better choice than counting up anything else.
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