Monday, July 13, 2009

The Cost

Acts 19:18-20, “Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”

The cost. I look at this passage and I have to think of the cost of following Jesus. This passage comes from Paul’s time in Ephesus. Paul’s ministry, alone, can tell us about the cost to follow what you know is true.

I admire Paul, and learn from him when I see his testimony about the three years that he spent with the Ephesians in Acts 20. As I am thinking about cost, these verses say everything that I need to know. He says, “I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, (Acts 20:20)”, and “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:27)”

For three years, Paul did not shrink back. I am really convicted of this right now as I am trying to decide where God is placing me for ministry in the fall. Am I shrinking back? I am willing to give it all? I can already tell that the words “shrinking back” will take a permanent place in my prayer life.

I would say that the Ephesians met him in this boldness forward. I have been a Christian since I was 9. I have not always been a biblical or active Christian. I remember what it was like when Jesus wooed me back to Him. I had to make changes. I left my job, I moved, I broke an engagement, I went back to school, and started attending a new church. I started over.

When I was nine, I did not have so much to give up. When I was in my 20s, I had to turn it around. Mine was the cost of consequence. I was experiencing the consequence of my choices. I had to endure the heartache of removal. It was like God took a scalpel and expelled me from my life. Then he plopped me on a blank slate. I cried a lot, in sadness and joy, but the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. That is just what He does, prevail.

When I think about the people in this verse, I am elated for them, but I know the cost was extreme. They were professionally, personally and financially tied to a lifestyle. Now, they belonged to Christ. The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

God makes us want to change. He gives us value and strength, courage that we can’t know on our own. I remember explaining this time in my life as standing on a cliff and being told to jump. I just jumped. I knew that I could. For some reason the cost seemed higher if I didn’t jump.

When I remember these days, the cost was so obvious to me. It makes me wonder, what the cost is today? I know that there is one. Galatians 2:19b-20, is my verse, “I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” On my good days, I understand that this is the cost. Some days these words can roll off of our tongues. They are like little kids on a slip-and-slide, but should they be?

If we are truthful, these words stick in the back of our throats. Their failure to escape makes us linger on the taste of phrases like, “I have been crucified with Christ” and “it is no longer I who live”. The cost is so much more precious the longer we are allowed to sit at our Savior’s side.

The cost is, also, not as obvious as it used to be. The decisions that we once had to make were black and white, and now they are nuanced and carry such a privilege. They are in the way that we use our time. They are in the elimination of our comfort as we seek out the lost. They are in the choices that we make about our money. It is the way we speak to the people we love. It is not running away from intimacy but making ourselves vulnerable to this painful world.

The longer we are with Him, the more precious the cost. It is sweeter than we can imagine, and sometimes more bitter, as we disappear and Christ grows. It seems contradictory, but another way to speak of our disappearance is by using Paul’s phrase from Acts; we don’t shrink back. It is hard to not shrink back while being pruned, refined, but this is the task at hand. Refusing to shrink back reflects commitment and courage; just as me no longer living in this flesh deals with commitment and courage. As we fail to shrink, Christ is more powerful. When the cost is high, we press on.

Father, thank you for giving us the courage to press on. Thank you for letting us see the cost and know that it is worth everything to be at your side. As we grow in you, let us not shrink back but boldly live by faith in You.

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