Counting the Cost of Discipleship
Jesus, speaking to a multitude who were following Him said:
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
But this is not about the physical temples of the past or the future, but us, our minds, bodies and souls being rebuilt, remodelled ready for the day of glory when indeed He fills us with His glory. But for now we must do the best we can and not push Him away or say to Him, I cannot go any further with this.
(Okay, we do not hold to the doctrine of God living in us, though we do want the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion.) However, Lewis concludes his chapter on counting the cost with words that do sound familiar, he says:
The command 'Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him— for we can prevent Him, if we choose— He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
I have a personal confession to make. Although I have to a degree submitted to a church and its program of betterment, I have not really internalised the desire to let Christ work on me from the inside out. My submission has been more to accept whatever the Church wants from me than a real desire for Him to take over. Maybe I have been too hopeful of grace and mercy and so not wanted to undergo it. While reading Mere Christianity it has given me a new craving, a new desire, I want to think of myself as a true Christian. Although I fear, I am willing my pride and fallen nature have stood against that for too long. As three score years and ten is now history, I hope I have not left it too late. It has to be a daily craving, a motivating force. Lewis has taught me that to do my part is to act the part, even if it is putting on an act. Perhaps I have always been putting on an act, in one sense, that is by suppressing my judgement of myself; not being negative or self condemning, which is right. But now I want to look positively at my flaws, my nature and say, I can do better than that.
I will consider my ways..I will count the cost.
Haggai was a prophet who came to Judah when they had returned to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. They had been told to return and re-build the Temple that was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, but they had other things to do that they felt were more important. Now my talk is not about building physical temples but the temple Paul refers to in Corinthians where he says ‘which temple ye are’ comparing the process of becoming what God wants us to become to building a Temple and although Haggai is talking about a physical temple, let us explore how it applies to us as individuals and the temples God wants to make us into.
First, God fully aware of their lack of commitment, says to these ancient Jews what they themselves are thinking, in their hearts, about this project they have been sent to do, that is to re-build the temple.
2 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.
The reasons why they thought that could be many, there are not enough of us, the city walls have not been re-built etc. But then God gently asks them:
4 Is it time for you to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?
Now a ceiled house is not just a house with a perfectly adequate ceiling, ceiling here means what in England we call panelling, walls and ceilings that are not just painted but are clad with expensive, wooden panelling. These people had been adorning their homes while the Temple still lie in waste. The Lord then goes on to say three mortifying, humbling words.
5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Oh my, how often do we need to consider our ways? I certainly have to consider mine daily! But let us read on:
6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. (Sounds like the exchange rate)
7 ¶Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
The Lord is not saying we do not need to sow and eat, drink, clothe ourselves and earn a living, but he is saying you are not just trying to be self sufficient you are spending more time on this than you need to and are neglecting the all important work of rebuilding the temple. We too can spend more effort on feeding, clothing, earning a living, adorning our homes, entertaining ourselves and whatever, things we decide to make a priority, than on doing those things that will really allow God, our Master builder, to perform His work on us.
Now all of us who have entered the waters of baptism and have embarked on this journey, or rather have submitted ourselves to this process of being rebuilt, have come to a point where His work on us is started, but is nowhere near completed. In the story of Haggai and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, after God reminded them not just by the words of the prophet but with some hard times too, like famine and economic distress, he asks this question:
3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory?
There could have been a few old enough; they were only 70 years in Babylon,
and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
Oh dear, it does not sound like they did a very good job of it. How good a job are we doing in building ourselves into a glorious Temple? But the truth is we cannot build or remodel our lives by ourselves we have to let Him rebuild us and He will. To the ancient Jews He first says, be strong, go to work, my spirit is still with you:
4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
Then He says what He will do, in His time:
6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.
9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.
Now there are many levels on which we may understand this prophecy. Yes, the new temple which became known as Zerubbabel’s temple and would later be Herod’s temple was more magnificent than was the one Solomon built. But ‘the desire of all nations’ is Christ and when will He come and the temple be filled with glory? In the latter days when Christ shall then come to His holy temple.
In his book called Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives a simple parable regarding what God wants to do with us:
‘When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother— at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took a yard.
Our Lord is like the dentists. If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect— until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.
And yet— this is the other and equally important side of it— this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.’
Returning to the building project analogy C S Lewis also uses one:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of— throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.