When you wonder if you measure up

The chairs were arranged in an inviting circle and the coffee was sputtering cozily in the corner. On the door was a sign saying “Welcome to the 24-hour prayer meeting”

I walked around, fluffing pillows and making sure that the keyboard was plugged in. I checked my watch: 5:34. Maybe they’re all still getting off work. 

Over seventy people had been invited, but I knew that it was Memorial Day weekend and I might have only a handful show up to pray.

At 6:45 the room was still empty, so I sat and held out my similarly empty hands. Lord, I said, this is for you. You asked me to pray with other people, so here I am. I’ve sent the invitations, but I can’t make them come. I hope you like this. I hope you can use this, even if it’s just me all night. 

Suddenly, into the expectant space, I felt these words:

“It’s already a success. It’s already a victory.”

I sat up straight and opened my eyes. Really? You aren’t disappointed if no one comes? You like it already–before anything happens–just because I obeyed? 

In that moment, relief blew through my heart and the anxiety I didn’t know I’d been holding dropped on the floor. I sat there for a minute or so, just enjoying the realization. He was pleased. He even called it victory! Wow.

I felt like Samuel, learning that man looks at the outward appearance while God looks deeper. (Check out 1 Samuel 16:7 for the story)

Things that look”unfruitful” or “a waste” may tip the scale in unseen battles that we will never know until later.

If He calls it a success, who am I to call it failure? So why is the prospect of Christ being formed in me somehow less significant in my eyes than twenty people showing up to a prayer meeting?

Friends did come to pray with me 🙂

The thing is, we live in a culture pretty obsessed by numbers, stats, and feedback. 

At school, we measure success by grades.
At the gym, it’s the number on the scale or the pounds lifted.
At work, we are evaluated on a sliding scale in dozens of categories designed to measure output, growth, and efficiency.
In online dating, it’s the number of winks or likes.

So what if the grade is borderline, the scale doesn’t move, and the winks don’t roll in? 

In the absence of measurable, positive feedback, we can easily conclude that the effort was a failure. Like that age-old riddle about the tree falling in the wood, we ask, if the Instagram post didn’t get any likes, was it any good? No, we conclude, it wasn’t.

This formula is dangerous and inaccurate. Inaccurate because numbers are only a partial measure of value, often dependent on the human dolling them out. And what if that human is having a bad day? It is dangerous because the value of something–or someone–may be wildly mis-represented.

Now, please don’t misunderstand–numbers are good, helpful tools. I use numbers every day at work to help me reach targets. I learn from feedback and rankings. And, in the world of social media, the number of clicks can give helpful clues as to what stories mean the most to readers.

But when the numbers become the only feedback that matters to me, or when I become unwilling to obey the Lord’s leading if it flies in the face of those numbers, my heart needs to be re-aligned. 

These are questions that I’ve been asking myself:

  • Do you feel discouraged when no one notices your efforts? 
  • Do you get the urge to quit when you feel like your best try just did a bellyflop? 
  • Do you hesitate to embark on something that you know won’t have a tidy accompanying list of accomplishments to check through?
  • Does the thought of being graded–in school, at work, or by friend’s opinions–make you nervous?

Oh, yeah, been there. Still there, friend. The good days are the days I choose to step back, and purpose to remember truth.

And the truth is that our God is a God who sees. He sees holistically, accounting for the state of my heart, not just the tally marks on my list. (Genesis 16:13)

Faithfulness in little things matters to him immensely. He notices when you turn to him, try that brave thing, choose to obey–even if no one else is impressed. (Luke 16:10, Matt 25:21)

He does not break the broken–he lifts and heals. Failure or depression or mental illness or addiction do not disqualify you from his love or from serving Him. In fact, He tends to choose weak things and people over the strong ones. (Romans 8:39, 1 Cor. 1:27-29)

The economy of the Kingdom sounds backward. The weak and lowly–even kids–are rulers. The King bends to serve his subjects. The poor are rich and the rich are poor, and the small, weak things are chosen over the strong so that God will be magnified.

It sounds so crazy…but maybe we are the ones living topsy-turvey.

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