Recently, I was in the checkout line at the grocery store with my overloaded cart when a lady behind me caught my eye and said, “You must have as many kids as I do. The three gallons of milk give it away.”
I smiled and reached into my cart. “Yes, three gallons- PLUS a half-gallon of almond milk!” I held up the carton like a trophy.
We both chuckled and secretly sized each other up. The Game has begun.
She started it, didn’t she?
She motioned toward her stack of cereal boxes and said with a wink, “Yes, but do you have to buy four boxes of cereal like I do?!”
I pulled my inferior number of boxes onto the belt. “Nope. Only three. I guess you win!” We laughed again at the joke, but we were both aware that the Game is serious and the score was now tied. “How many children do you have?” I asked with a confident smile. This line of questioning usually leads to my victory.
“I have four,” she said, watching my face for her expected reaction.
I remained outwardly stoic, but felt a bit of a panic. Then, thankfully, I composed myself and my next move came to me. Nonchalantly, I pulled two bags of apples from my cart after noticing that she only had one. “Oh, really?” I said sweetly. “I have four kids, too. And that’s why we are both at the grocery store…”
We both nodded and smiled, but it was clear that her confidence was fading. The score was still tied, but she could sense that I had more. I waited until my four frozen pizzas and three loaves of bread were lined up in plain view before I made my final play.
Finally, I added, “AND, three of mine are teenagers, so…yeah.”
And…boom goes the dynamite. She lowered her gaze in defeat. Game over.
I left that loser in the dust holding her two measly loaves of bread.
I pulled out of the parking lot satisfied with how I played the Game. But within minutes, God’s Spirit blew the whistle on my personal foul. He convicted me of my pride. Even though it seemed like a friendly “game” played in fun, I had missed an opportunity. Instead of glorifying Him so that another may know Him, I glorified myself so that another was dismissed. Outwardly, it seemed like a innocent exchange, but my heart was far from innocence.
With a troubled spirit, I prayed as I drove. I needed to repent of using His blessings to puff myself up, as if I should have credit or attention for them. God gently reminded me of how often I use numbers to validate my success, worthiness, suffering, and even my dedication to Him.
I have to admit, on some days, it seems I have mastered The Number Game. Sometimes I have the right numbers in the right places and they serve me well. This happens just often enough to keep me hooked. Shamefully, like a slot-machine player, I get a rush when my numbers line up…like at the grocery store this week. But this sense of victory is deceptive; our score is never enough.
On other days, it’s clear that The Number Game has kicked my butt. My bank account, my zip code, my completed tasks, my pant size, the times I sin each day… If the world, or even religion, catches me with the wrong numbers in these areas, I’m declared the loser. In defeat, according to the rules, I must hand over my status, my power, and my respect.
But I know better. The Number Game is a racket and even more dangerous than it seems. You see, we all stink at the Number Game. We’ve been playing it since the beginning and not one of us has ever won. Yet, our enemy keeps us distracted by giving us a false sense of victory, and our pride doesn’t want us to quit. We insist on counting the things we can count, and forget that we will always come up short.
When I lose sight of these truths, I find myself trusting the numbers:
God is gracious and calls me out of the Game time after time. I hear His voice and realize that the numbers have lured me once again, like at the grocery store. God, in His Mercy, is gentle with me as I stumble off the field. In His Mercy, He teaches me even as I drive away from the grocery store: “Instead of focusing on your own numbers, you could have asked her about her life and her kids. By quitting the game, you would have been able to lift her up, to encourage her, to love her.”
His Grace soothes my pain and quiets the Game.
How sad and pointless to continue to play a game that’s already over. Jesus, the only One who has the right numbers, died so that I could quit playing. He served as my substitute and played a perfect game. Then, because of an amount of love that has no number, He handed His victory over to me. Because of Him alone, I win. Because of His numbers alone, I live.
Are you counting on your impressive numbers to lead you to victory? Or maybe you feel defeated because your numbers don’t add up. Either way, it’s a scam. The Number Game doesn’t love you.
He is calling you out of the Game in which only the quitters live and experience His infinite love. Calculate the risk, throw away your score card, and trust the only One who has ever beaten The Number Game.
Only through victory in Him, you will live. You can count on it.