“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
This is one of the passages we read this week as part of the Good Morning Girls summer Bible study. It’s a familiar one, something I’ve read a zillion times but probably more in terms of reading through it as part of the chapter. Anyway, the part that always stands out to me is the most commonly used phrase from this passage, “calculate the cost” (usually “count the cost.”) That phrase is usually given to people as advice when they’re talking about making a choice of some sort, and the person’s supposed to look at their resources and determine whether or not they have all they need to choose the more difficult path being presented to them.
Well, that’s always annoyed me. I’ve often been called an “idealist.” Webster’s defines this as,
“One guided by ideals; especially one that places ideals before practical considerations.”
And what is an ideal, anyway?
“A standard of beauty, perfection, or excellence.”
Right. That would be my preference, haha! So over the years, as I’ve heard people encourage me to “count the cost,” it’s often rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it rubbed Amy Carmichael (another idealist!) the wrong way, too. She said,
“To any whom the Hand Divine is beckoning: count the cost, for He tells us to, but take your slate to the foot of the Cross and add up the figures there…”
That quote has stayed with me since the day I first read it many years ago. Figures have a way of … melting at the foot of the cross, don’t they?
So when I read this passage again this week, I noticed something I hadn’t before. Note the context. First of all, He’s told the disciples they’re to take up their crosses and follow Him. And then He talks about the guy who wants to build a tower finding out after he starts that he doesn’t have enough to finish, and the king who is heading out to war deciding he probably can’t overcome the opposing king who has twice as many soldiers. Jesus wraps it all up with an encouragement to give up all our possessions.
HUH? Honestly, I sat there yesterday morning saying to the Lord, “I don’t think I’ve ever really understood this passage, now that I really look at it! What does it mean? How on earth do these metaphors fit together?” I read it again and again. Finally, something stood out to me …
I don’t know about you, but to me it seems a person carrying a cross isn’t in much of a position to build a tower. Certainly not if he’s sold all his possessions. And I’ve heard very few stories of kings defeating armies twice their size. So is it possible that Jesus isn’t saying what I’ve always read/heard/thought He’s saying, here? Is it possible that rather than implying that we look at every decision and opportunity with the intention of making sure we have enough to complete it or succeed at it, He’s actually encouraging us to look at the opportunity and *know we don’t*?
I think so. To me, that’s what makes the most sense in context of the rest of this passage. Jesus is talking about two situations where a person is trying to figure out a strategy of defense on the first hand (towers were built mostly as watchtowers, where a person would be able to see attacking enemies) and offense on the other (the kings were going out to battle; that was often for the purpose of gaining more land.) He’s implying that in both situations, the person involved is at a disadvantage. And the answer? To take up our crosses and follow Him. To give anything we *do* have (or think we have!) away, and place all our hope and trust in His resources rather than our own, whether spiritual or physical. As Paul said …
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Phil. 3:7-11
When God calls, He calls us to things we can’t do. He calls us to kindness and self-sacrifice and love. He calls us to homeschool and go to the mission field and love our mother-in-law. Or He calls us to clean our kitchen and take cookies to our neighbor and *not* go to the mission field. Either way, our flesh rebels and our human nature rises up and we find that we can’t do what He’s asking because we just “don’t have it in us.” Counting the cost and then counting what we’ve got leaves us nothing short of depressed. God’s expectation seems immeasureably above our resources.
And that’s exactly as it should be. That’s the bad news and the good news all in one. Because when we realize we don’t have what He asks within ourselves, we can take up our crosses! We can lay down everything we thought we had to offer–our brains or our talents, our social skills or our spiritual legacy or whatever we brought to the table–and we can say, “It’s got to all be You, Jesus. Without You, I can do nothing.”
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Pet. 1:2-3
So go ahead. Count the cost. But use the new math–Jesus’ math, where our resources =0 and His =everything, and He’s chosen to give it all to us so we can do all He calls us to. Hallelujah! Jesus’ everything + my nothing = Plenty! Now that’s a mathematical law we all can appreciate. Happy calculating!