“For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Sometimes a thought about one thing can lead to an idea with an entirely different focus, which serves to take you back to the first thing after all. It’s a nice, little circular journey. If you do it right, though, you wind up a little further down the road than you started. Let me share a quick jaunt I’ve been on recently with you this morning.
I’m not really a New Year’s resolution guy. Perhaps it’s just the cynicism in me, but almost no one ever keeps theirs, and so I figure, “Why bother?” If there’s something in me that needs to be addressed, I’d rather start addressing it right away than waiting until some date in the future. Still, though, most years my internal goal is to read more than I do. I used to read a great deal more than I do now, but I too easily let life and digital distractions keep me from it. This year I’m actually doing better with that than I normally am by this point in the year. I’m already on my third book, which for me is pretty good. I’m a bit of a slow reader. I like to think that I read thoroughly.
In any event, the book I’m currently reading is called The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. It’s the first of a trilogy of stories about a girl named Avery who finds out one day that she was named the primary heir of a billionaire she had never heard of who in turn left his puzzled and angry family almost nothing by comparison. I’m only about halfway through it and have learned very little so far. It’s a great big mystery with puzzles upon puzzles for the main characters to solve together. It is intended to be a page-turner; a goal it achieves in grand fashion. While the story is most engaging so far, I don’t mean for it to be anything other than a mindless non-digital distraction to enjoy. Next on my list will be Biblical Critical Theory by Christopher Watkin which should be the opposite of The Inheritance Games in pretty much every way.
That’s all by way of setup for where I’m going. One of the facets of the fortune the main character has inherited is a charitable foundation that gives away $100 million each year to various causes. The billionaire’s daughter and grandson, Grayson, have been the two primarily running the operation, and it falls to the grandson to teach Avery about how the foundation has operated and what it needs to do in order to continue to be effective in its charity.
In explaining the approach he has determined to be the right one, Grayson tells Avery that at the scale of giving the foundation does it has to think not about individuals, but about groups. He advocates for using carefully collected data to determine how to apply the available funds in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Without a carefully laid plan, the money, while well-intentioned in its delivery, will not be able to accomplish as much good in the world as it otherwise could.
Earlier that day, I had a meeting with a company that helps churches plan, create, and use their facilities in the most effective way possible. The company’s founder talked about the approach most churches use when going through the process of adding on or otherwise expanding their facilities. As he described it (and accurately so, I might add), while there is a lot of careful thought and planning that goes into each individual step, there is not usually an overriding master plan guiding the whole process. As a result, the effort ends in failure – not to mention a lot of wasted money – about half the time. Potentially worse yet, they accomplish the goal they set out to accomplish, but when they do, they discover it wasn’t the goal they should have been trying for in the first place resulting in more long-term harm than good. Most churches (and most organizations for that matter) tend to be more reactive than proactive. They have lots of passion, but without a really good plan, it doesn’t get them where they want to go.
All of this brought my mind to something Jesus said when talking with a crowd of people about the challenge of being one of His followers. The context in which He said this was very different from what we were just talking about, so I want to be sure to acknowledge that, but the wisdom of what He says applies pretty broadly.
Jesus was talking about the costs associated with following Him. The crowds were becoming more and more devoted to Him, but He knew their devotion was primarily wrapped up in their desire to see or even experience more of His miracles. They wanted a show more than they wanted a Savior. He wanted them to know what they were in for if they were going to turn their curiosity into an actual commitment. He challenged them by saying that someone wanting to really follow Him had to be willing to put his devotion to Jesus ahead of anything else in his life. In a culture that was incredibly community-driven, this was a big idea. More than once someone came to Jesus wanting to follow Him…just after they honored some familial obligation. He rejected these folks every single time. Putting Him first meant actually putting Him first and that was harder than it sounded. It still is.
Because of this, Jesus wanted them to take stock of whether they really wanted to be His followers before signing on the dotted line. He used a couple of different illustrations to make His point, both of which expressed the same basic idea. He used the example of someone wanting to build a tower. Why exactly someone would want to build a tower is entirely beside the point. Think more basically than that. If you want to achieve something of significance, you have to go in with a plan in mind. You have to have a pretty good sense before you get started of whether or not you will even have the resources to complete the project. Otherwise, you’re going to wind up with egg on your face as the negative chorus always around you scoffs at your inability to get it done.
Following Jesus without any passion doesn’t make sense. If you’re not excited about it, why are you doing it? Because it’s right? That’s a fine reason to do anything, but without passion you aren’t going to enjoy it. And if you aren’t enjoying it, you probably aren’t going to be able to stick with it for very long. There should be passion to our pursuing the life of Christ. But we also have to have a plan. We need to have a plan for every part of it. We need to have set of clear goals in mind along with at least the sketch of a course for how we are going to accomplish them. Data isn’t everything, but it is our friend. It is good and wise to be careful in our thinking. We need lots of wise counsel before we set off down any particular path. Otherwise, we run the risk of not making it. No one wants that.
That’s all for today. I’m not really sure what prompted this thought beyond what I said earlier. Maybe God’s trying to tell me something. Maybe there’s something here you needed to hear as well. Maybe this is just an idea that needs to germinate for a while so that it is there when God needs it later on down the road. Whichever one it is, have a great Friday.