In my last post I introduced the idea of remaining vigilant in the process of growing in grace, and not doing the easier things of life and ministry as a means of avoiding the harder things, or next things, that need doing. I used the metaphor of caber tossing and triathlons as a means of expressing those things that come easier to me versus those things that I tend to avoid like the plague.
I said I would write in my next few posts about those things that can be very hard for many of us, so in this post I want to explore “paying the cost”. “WHAT?” I can hear the theological gears going into overdrive in response to a phrase like that. “Jesus paid the cost! What kind of craziness are you proclaiming here?” Before I lose you in your own theological tangent, follow me to Luke 14:25-35.
In this oft mentioned portion of the Gospels we read about “the cost of discipleship”. The standard sound byte we hear associated with this passage is “counting the cost”. I say, “wrong!” If we look closer at the passage we see that the metaphors Christ used involved both counting and paying a cost. That was the whole point, in fact. If you don’t count to see how much you have to invest in the endeavour before you begin then how can you pay what’s necessary to carry out and complete the task? When it comes to discipleship, we must not only count… but pay.
Before answering the call to foreign missions there was an admonition from others to “count the cost” in advance. I did so. I truly searched my heart, surmised certain scenarios and circumstances, imagined ill-fates, focused on hard realities and uncomfortable truths. I carefully considered the costs! And after much meditation and prayer concluded that we, as a family, understood the costs.
Some of the “costs” I had counted were in relation to my children (aged 9, 6, 4, and 11 months at the time). I counted the cost that I was separating my children from their grandparents who loved them dearly and loved to spoil them. I counted the cost that my children wouldn’t be able to see and play with their friends any more, that they wouldn’t have English-speaking kids all around them, making it much more difficult to make new friends and playmates. I counted the cost that my children would only be able to bring a couple of their toys with them in the move, and not get to enjoy cartoons or the latest instalment of “Ice Age” at the movie theatre. I counted the cost that they would have to eat very basic diets and be cautious of dangerous creatures. I counted the cost that my children might be unhappy, uncomfortable, and upset, that they would be exposed to life-threatening illnesses and in the worst case scenario even death. These were the costs I calculated in regards to my children.
But counting and paying are two different things!
These costs were easy enough to calculate, but very difficult for me to pay because I often struggle with viewing success as a father as heavily dependant upon my success at blessing my children with fun, toys, activities, friends, playmates, food they enjoy, and entertainment. Even though I know better, I’m honest enough to admit that I still have a hard time in this area. So for me this was, and is, a “hard thing”; a cost easy to count but painful to pay.
I thank God — truly, truly thank Him — that some of the costs that could have been required were not. We still have all of our children. In fact, we gained two along the way! I thank Him that some of the tolls on our road weren’t as high as they could have been. Though two of our youngest girls had a deadly strain of malaria on a couple of occasions and our oldest son contracted Tuberculosis while on an outreach to an extremely remote village, we all still have our overall health. But even now, as we have left the more physically threatening environs of East Africa and live in the more modern world of small-town Ireland, I still struggle to pay the cost of not being able to bless and spoil my kids! It sounds silly in comparison to the costs I was willing to pay in so many other areas. But as I said in my last post, different things are hard for different people. Not being able to afford to take my kids to McDonalds — or by them treats or snacks or toys or ice cream — is still a cost painful for me to pay.
Counting and paying are two different things.
I bring this up only as an example. Many times it’s easy to think we’re moving forward in sanctification and growth because we’ve become experts at counting the costs, talking about the costs, telling others about the costs, but we still avoid wilfully paying the cost the way a fat man avoids a triathlon (yes, I’m fat so I’m allowed to say that).
Shepherds… we can blog about how pastors or churches should do this or change that, telling others how important and necessary it is, and yet never really do it ourselves. We can teach about true discipleship and yet never make any true disciples. We can preach about holiness and yet never implement church discipline for fear of the potential financial implications involved. We can proclaim the importance of church planting and yet never implement a plan to plant a church. Scriptures tell us not to muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. Are you an ox that treads grain, doing the hard things and paying the cost of discipleship by the power of the Spirit? Or are you an ox that pontificates on the nature of grain and grain-treading?
Sheep… we can talk about how “the church” should do this or that or the other, but never be the ones to do it. We can agree with the pastor that we need to support local outreach and foreign missions more but never give a dime towards it. We can ask for prayer for our neighbours’ salvation but never share the good news with them. We can make a stand for righteousness come November, but not live and walk in the light of Christ’s righteousness in our thoughts, in our homes, and in the secret places of the heart year-round. Scriptures call us “the body” of Christ. Are we paying the cost of discipleship that the Spirit has empowered us to pay by moving according to the commands of the Head? Or are we spastic and undisciplined members of the body, moving on our own and even against the signals from the Head?
Counting and paying are two different things. But the Spirit gives us the ability to pay!
If I were going to actually enter a triathlon there would be MUCH to count as far as costs go (not many 6’3″ 340lb men in triathlons). I could talk about the triathlon and the costs involved in entering it. I could even sign the forms to enter, preach every Sunday about how good and necessary it is, and encourage others to enter as well. And doing all of that would probably make me a popular pastor. But it wouldn’t make me a healthy pastor… a true leader of God’s sheep… a disciple who does the hard things God calls him to by the Spirit of God, for the glory of God, and the good of the Kingdom of God.
Please pray for me, and consider yourself as well. May we as shepherds (and sheep, too) go beyond our mastery of counting and get to the often difficult duty of paying the cost of discipleship — a spiritual discipline made possible by the Spirit of God in us. Christ has laboured in this discipline before us, and bids us to be yolked to Him and join Him in the unexpected joy of slavery.