What is the opportunity cost of living a life devoted to the Lord?
Now, opportunity cost may be a foreign word for you, but it is extremely familiar in practice to you. Taking the term from the field of Economics, opportunity cost is any benefit that you forfeit and give up when you decide to do something. So for instance, if you’re trying to lose weight this year, then the opportunity cost of making weight loss a priority may include not having desserts after dinner, not being able to snack or eat the foods you really enjoy, and not being able to relax during your free time because you need to work out. As you can see, we are all very familiar with opportunity costs in our everyday lives, but are we equally as familiar with the opportunity costs of following after Christ?
There are passages in the Bible that speak on the cost of discipleship in Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 9:23-26, 57-62, and Luke 14:25-33. But this portion of the Luke 14 passage stood out to me:
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ –v. 28-30
For a lot of us, we start off our Christian journey well. We have a good sense of the people we no longer need to hang around….even if parting with them is difficult. We have a good idea of what’s expected us in terms of character and the basic Christian duties of prayer, reading Scripture, fellowship, church membership, etc. And even if you come to Christ as a young person, even a child, you have an inward impression upon your heart and mind of the seriousness of following after Christ….even if you don’t know everything that will come your way in the future.
As I’m growing older, I realize that we often forget the opportunity cost of living the Christian life. I don’t know what happens to us. But at some point along the way, we forget that this life does indeed cost us something. And I know a lot of the costs don’t seem obvious, especially if you like your circumstances or if things mesh well with your personality and natural tendencies. But eventually…and inevitably… there is always something that we love that we will have to consider whether or not it is worth the cost of following after Christ. Now, those costs look different for every person because the Lord knows His children intimately, and He will have our whole hearts or nothing at all. So for some it may be a promising career, wealth, a nice home, earthly comforts, having a family, being near family, having to live with your family again (lol), and anything else the Lord sees as necessary to test and secure your affections to Himself.
And as a parent, I also see the opportunity costs as my husband and I are choosing to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. As we labor to instruct them properly and teach them how to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord, we are praying that the Lord will truly save their souls and make them His own. And if that happens, we will be most overjoyed! We will be praising God daily for His great and wondrous mercies in saving our children!
But…but, there will continue to be opportunity costs even in their lives, and they may be costs we, as their parents, don’t necessarily want our children to bear. ….if I’m being perfectly honest. Because even in our own lives, we want to know how much this Christian life is actually going to cost us; we want to know how much we’ll have to give up during our entire life right now. Now, the example of the tower in the scripture verses above is an example with a fixed cost. A person can plan and budget for that project, even including a little cushion in case a couple of bricks break or the foundation needs to be reinforced because of poor drainage. But you can’t really plan and “budget” for the Christian life. I mean, you could die a martyr’s death in the prime of your life bravely proclaiming the gospel to your captors, or you could die of dementia at an old age in a nursing home halfway neglected by your own children. You could sell all your possessions and become a great, revered missionary to a distant country, or you could be called to live a faithful, God-honoring life in the crummy area of your local city as your work a job that barely covers your basic needs. I mean, we literally have NO IDEA what the Lord will do with our lives and what He will require of us.
In addition, we don’t know if we have the internal fortitude to give it up (however near and dear “it” may be to us) if the Lord requires it. We may have to struggle to do it. He may have to discipline us for a while to pry it out of our hands. We may beg and plead with God not to require it of us, or we may vainly try to bargain with Him. We may go ahead and give it up but face years of discontentment and bitterness over the loss of it. We may have to deal with the incessant questions of (mostly) well-meaning people who ask us, “Whatever happened with _____? I thought you were going to do something with that.” Or, “Why haven’t you done ______?” Where we once were looked upon approvingly, we may find ourselves bearing the “reproach of Christ” (Hebrews 11:24-26) as we fail to live up to people’s (including our own) expectations.
And I think it’s in that place of shame and dejection that we have to remember why we’re doing this all in the first place. Yes, the opportunity costs abound, but what are the benefits of following after Christ? What are the joys set before us? Who guarantees God’s promises to us? What is our assurance that we will one day see what we have only hoped for and lived by faith for? And after all of that, we have to simply ask ourselves, is He still worth it? Is Christ worth this walk? Is everything else in this life, yes….everything, truly worthless compared to having Him more and more (Philippians 3)?
We definitely need reminders in this Christian life. Along with our personal “Ebenezers”, we need to hold on to the reason why we are living this life and to the hope and the joy set before us that compels us to go on, whether we’re understood or not or whether our lives have “amounted” to anything noteworthy or not. We have to hold on and press onward.
And for parents, as we’re encouraging our children to love the Lord and work hard in this life, I think we also have to remember that they need to labor in storing up a treasure above, not just earthly comforts and luxuries, and that laboring may mean more self-denials for them than we are personally comfortable with. Yes, we want them to be “successful” in their endeavors and have a strong work ethic, but Christ explicitly stated that you can’t serve two masters. Only one will have your full devotion (Matthew 6:19-24). So as we’re training our children up to love and serve the Lord, make sure they realize that. And if they choose to follow after the Lord, rejoice with all of your heart! But hold your tongue when that choice begins to cost them. Hold it even when it costs things that you thought were perfectly fine. As much as we know them, God knows them perfectly, and He will do everything for their good in Him. So as much as you have to hold on to Him during those difficult times when the costs of following after Christ become high, encourage them to hold on too. Speaking from personal experience here, they need your encouragement above all else. It may be painful for us to go through, it will be painful for them to go through, but we have a joy set before us that far outweighs every opportunity cost that we can possibly imagine.
So I pray that you stir yourself up at the start of this year dear Christian. Be diligent to remind yourself of God’s promises and why you began this life in the first place. Encourage yourself and others (including your children) at every opportunity. And remain humble under the mighty hand of God…after you have suffered a little while, He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you for all eternity (1 Peter 5:6-11).