Referencing the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, and their apparent tension with Christ’s call to take up our cross and die to self, Willard writes:
“Do you think the businessman who found the pearl was sweating over its cost? No one goes sadly, reluctantly into discipleship with Jesus. The counting of the cost is to bring us to the point of clarity and decisiveness. It is to help us to see. Counting the cost is precisely what the man with the pearl and the hidden treasure did. Out of it came their decisiveness and joy. It is decisiveness and joy that are the outcomes of the counting. There is no such thing as a dreadful price for the ‘pearl’ in question. Suffering for him is actually something we rejoice to be counted worthy of (Acts 5:41k; Phil. 1:29). The point is simply that unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him. We will not be able to do the things required to learn his lessons and move ever deeper into a life that is his kingdom.
I’d love to say that I first counted the cost like this, but I didn’t. Instead, there was a lot of fear. Fear of God removing his presence from me. Fear of going to hell. Fear of missing out on the abundant life Jesus offered. I was counting the cost of what I might lose more than what I could gain. There wasn’t much joy in it for me. That’s only come later as I’ve slowly awakened to the beauty of Jesus and his kingdom.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that how we count the cost probably sets the tone for how we follow Christ. I wonder how many of us have sacrificed for Jesus out of guilt, fear, self-interest, or popularity rather than exuberation, and now we feel like we’re stuck in some sort of bad relationship.
But I also I wonder how many of us have started backtracking to discover that this pearl we’ve bought is of far greater value than we ever imagined.
What has counting the cost looked like for you? Has it been morbid or joyous? If following Jesus makes you feel sad, it might be time to look in, look up, look around, and recognize just what it is you’ve got.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”