Counting by Ones

This devotional is being shared today on Encouragement for Today, the daily devotional offered by Proverbs 31 ministries. To receive daily nourishment for your heart, go to and subscribe!

I tossed the alumni newsletter aside, blinking back tears. There in print were the achievements of my fellow music school graduates. They were singing with opera houses, playing with a prestigious military band, and teaching at large universities. I wrestled with a sense of failure, wondering if I had done anything that mattered.

Compared to the lives my former classmates were living on the national stage, my own world was small. I taught music in the local schools for several years, and then resigned my position when our family grew.

Maybe, like me, your dreams were large, but your life feels limited. Loving the little handful of hearts God has entrusted to your care doesn’t feel very important, and you long for something … more. If your heart hungers to do something big for the Kingdom, I invite you to look at numbers the way Jesus does.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” Matthew 18:12-13 (NIV)

A career missionary summarized this passage with the statement “Jesus counts by ones.”

My heart leapt as that phrase reminded me how Jesus carried out his ministry. Though throngs came to him for healing or teaching, he often interacted with individuals. He reassured a leper with kind words and physical touch, engaged a Samaritan woman in redemptive conversation, and searched a crowd for one timid woman who touched his cloak. Thousands sought him, but he invested in twelve men. 

As these truths brought healing to my heart, I took another look at my life. I read through notes I have received from the mom of a teen I mentored, a private music student who shared how I had impacted her singing and her faith, and a struggling young woman I had cared for while on a mission trip in Eastern Europe.

The value of the ways I have chosen to serve and lead came into focus as I realized that my resume is found in these handwritten notes. Unlike some of my college classmates, I won’t be recognized by tens of thousands or leave behind critically acclaimed recordings. But stardom is not the same as significance.

Are your days also spent in the quiet places – at home caring for family, in the Sunday school or youth room, in the kitchen making meals for new moms or a sick friend, or visiting the elderly? Faithfully doing a job with little recognition or encouraging a friend behind the scenes? If the work you do is mostly unseen, let me remind you that it is not unimportant.

Jesus counts by ones!

His story of the lost sheep shows us that every individual heart matters to him.There is great and lasting value in simple acts of love, especially those done for the lost, the least, or the lonely. Fulfillment and joy are within reach, as we choose to serve the people God has placed in front of us, one precious soul at a time.