Learning To Count Right: Loss As Gain

Hot air balloon tethered with one rope to ground
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Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Philippians 3:8a

If I’d Have Known

If you would have told me 10 years ago that this is where I’d be, I think I would have collapsed in a heap.

If you would have told me, as I gazed down at the beautiful rosy-cheeked, long-lashed baby feeding from me, that this child would be the first and last from my womb, I’d have wept.

If I had known how the sought-out son who came from God on a plane and wowed us with his memory and wit and thrilled us with his skillful hands would have this years-long fallow season, I’d have cried.

If I had known that the speaking gigs with the book deal, the bright, sunny home on the prairie, and the Sunday dinners with missionaries were mostly fantasy, I’d have crumbled.

I would have. But I’m not. Because my non-coddling, loves-me-to-the-end God is with me and in me and for me. So please know that I’m not looking for sympathy, nor, at least as I write, in a funk of self-pity.

I’m actually rejoicing.

I know that sounds a little crazy. But it’s not.

At least not once we start to count right.

Re-Learning To Count Loss

How can you possibly count the loss of a child, the death of a dream, the loss of wealth as gain?

Great question. That is why I’m writing. I want to show you the right way for a Christian to count. Let me hasten to add, I am learning to count. Learning. Sometimes I still count the old way. I count loss as loss, not as gain.

But Apostle Paul is teaching me. The syllabus is his life, condensed into a few verses in Philippians, chapter 3:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know him…

I bolded so you would notice how Paul is counting. He just finished recounting the things in his life that had given him purpose and meaning—his Jewish heritage, moral excellence and religious upper-crustness, for three. Then comes verse 7, quoted above, “But whatever things were gain to me…”

So what exactly is this new, right way to count?

Count, Consider, Think

First, we’ve got to know that in the Bible, counting means much more than simply numbering. It means considering and reckoning. Turns out, it’s an accountant’s term for balancing the books.

When James wrote, Count it all joy when you face trials of all kinds (James 1:2), Peter wrote, Count the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and when Paul wrote, I count all things as loss (Philippians 3:8), they all used the same Greek word, hēgeomai.

The word can mean to deem or consider—to account, suppose, or think. To think. Christian growth demands we think rightly. We must train ourselves to frame the circumstances we face biblically. We must discipline our minds to think, to consider and count certain things as loss and a certain thing as gain.

In other words, we need to build new associations in our minds. Here’s a fitness example.

Retrain Your Brain to Reframe the Pain

We need to know that there is good pain and there is bad pain. To grow strong in our faith we must be able to differentiate between the two.

After decades of regular exercise, I have trained my brain to actually crave a certain kind of pain. After I do a squat and lunge workout, I want to feel sore. When I lift weights, I want my muscles to quiver. After 40 real push-ups, I want my biceps to sting.

When I train for a marathon, I want to feel the sore legs and lung burn that come from a fast(-ish) 10 mile run. If I get a cramp in my side, I don’t panic—I run through. In fact, if I don’t hurt, I’m not getting my money’s worth.

Over the years, I have trained my brain to know that these are good pains. They are pains I associate with endurance, speed and strength. You could say I’ve learned to connect this sort of “suffering” with growth.

Therefore, I welcome the pain. I don’t count it loss, but gain.

Build Up Useful Associations

Now let’s go beyond the realm of exercise. I love this bit from Oswald Chambers about making associations.

We have to build up useful associations in our minds, to learn to associate things for ourselves, and it can only be done by determination. For instance, learn to associate the chair you sit on with nothing else but study: associate a selected secret place with nothing but prayer […] If we learn to associate ideas that are worthy of God with all that happens […] our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.

When we become accustomed to connecting things, every ordinary occurrence will serve to fructify our minds in godly thinking because we have developed our minds along the lines laid down by the Spirit of God. It is not done once for always; it is only done always. Never imagine that the difficulty of doing these things belongs peculiarly to you, it belongs to everyone. The character of a person is nothing more than the habitual form of his associations 

The Moral Foundations for Life

Don’t you love that? Even more than the word fructify, I love the idea that Chambers normalizes this mental training. It’s done always, for all believers who want to count right. When we learn to build useful associations, “our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.” In the context of Philippians 3, that means that rather than wallow in self-pity’s mire when our life isn’t the life of our dreams, we press on to know Christ.

We look to him for comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) and healing for our broken hearts (Psalm 147:3). In other words, we learn to associate our losses with deeper intimacy with Christ.

And that is gain.

The Intimacy Factor Prepares Us For Loss

In a message on Philippians 3, Pastor John Piper calls this “the intimacy factor.” When the saints suffer in faith, their relationship with God becomes less formal and distant, and more personal and deep. At least if they count right.

Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and writing “LOSS” over everything else in the world in order to gain him. “He sold all that he had to buy that field.”  (Matthew 13:44).

Then Piper asks, Why is writing “LOSS” across everything in your life but Christ a way of preparing to suffer?

His answer? “Suffering is nothing more than the taking away of bad things or good things that the world offers for our enjoyment—reputation, esteem among peers, job, money, spouse, sexual life, children, friends, health, strength, sight, hearing, success, etc. When these things are taken away (by force or by circumstance or by choice), we suffer.”

But if we’ve been learning from Paul, we are already counting our losses as gaining fellowship with Christ. This prepares us for life’s inevitable suffering and loss.

4 Ways to Count Loss as Gain

These four guidelines from Pastor John have been so helpful to me.

  1. It means that whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
  2. It means that I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world.
  3. It means that I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
  4. It means that if I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all.

That is what it means in practical terms to count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. When my mama dreams, and wifely hopes, when my author aspirations and fall away, or are delayed, I’m learning to rejoice.

Because in their void Jesus Christ, the treasure that will never rust, fail or fall away. But that doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. Jesus wept. He sweated blood in Gethsemane.

But we grieve with a measure of hope. We cry with a twinge of joy. Jesus rose from the grave and he meets us in our loss and pain.

What’s Up With The Balloon?

We’ve seen that suffering is losing what gives us pleasure. Losing these things, even these relationships and people, is a very real loss. But when we learn to count them right, we gain. We gain freedom to be content whatever the circumstances.

Now, about that balloon up top. What in the world does a hot air balloon have to do with counting right?

It’s my visual for loss and gain. The ropes that tether the balloon represent earthly enjoyments my heart gets set on. Each rope released is a loss of a pleasure—a child, a spouse, my health or a dream.

But the ropes released are also gain. Because their release frees me to soar heaven-high.

I’m starting to make helpful, “fructifying” associations, to reframe the pain of loss, and to taste the sweetness of knowing Jesus Christ better as the ruins fall.

In sum, I’m learning how to count loss right.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:2-3

Graphic of counting loss as gain

Make Like A Bee: Extract Some Good

Bee clinging to flower

Can what is effortful be graceful, too?

I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.

Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.

Exertion And Elegance

A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.

Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.

The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.

Meek Like A Bee

But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?

Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and that it is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.

For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).

Bumble bee extracting nectar
Extracting

Effortful

How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.

We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.

How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?

Spiritual Bees Extract Good

If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.

In his 400 year-old classic, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, Matthew Henry compared the meek to “spiritual bees.”

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…

So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.

Susanne and me, just after the spicy-sweet sample

The Sweetness

Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.

But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.

Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.

Exertion, elegance, meekness, sweetness. Fresh joy. Good.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 29:19

We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:3b-5, The Message

He Wept & He Slept: Do You Take Discipline Like David?

Woman with head down being disciplined

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Psalm 3:3

What do you know about David? I mean, beyond slaying Goliath and sleeping with Bathsheba?

Did you know that God said (Acts 13:2), “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart“?

Why was David a Man after God’s Heart?

Why did David receive such an honor? What was it about David that would have God give him such high praise?

I don’t know all the reasons why. But I think they include the way he worshiped with his whole heart (Psalm 86:12), fearlessly fought for God’s glory (1 Samuel 17:45), and persistently sought the LORD’s face (2 Samuel 21:1).

But I think there’s another reason.

David was God’s man because David took God’s discipline with meekness. Whether it came directly from the hand of a holy God or through the second cause of a sinful man, David received it as from a loving God who intended his good. He did not “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when reproved by him” (Hebrews 12:5b).

In other words, he neither blew it off nor withered into a self-pitying heap.

What Was It About David?

David knew that the presence of consequences does not mean the absence of God’s love. Centuries before God breathed it out, David knew the truth of Hebrews 12:6, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.”

Which is probably why he could say, Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.

David was used to God’s hand. He was a tamed horse, easily steered, not a foolish mule or a bucking bronco. The Latin word for meekness is mansuetus. It means tame, a compound of the words that mean “used to” and “hand.”

David was a man after God’s heart because he was used to God’s hand.

If meekness is key to delighting God’s heart, then how can we grow more meek?

Curses And Stones

Well. It turns out meekness grows when we are provoked. Like when Shimei hurled curses and stones.

Shimei was a pain in King David’s neck. He was a distant relative of King Saul, and a bitter provocateur. Now, decades after Saul’s death, he still resents David’s kingship. Shimei is not afraid to kick a man— even a king—when he’s down.

Here’s the scene: King David is running for his life, fleeing a hostile takeover by his usurper son Absalom. He and his loyal followers are just outside the city when they hear Shimei heckling, “Get out, get out, you worthless man. The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul… you are caught in your own evil” (2 Samuel 16:8).

To which Abishai, a loyal, right hand man asks, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”

A less meek, wounded dog would have.

But David didn’t.

Leave Him Alone

He didn’t let Abishai take revenge. Even though it was well within his power to avenge Shimei, he did not. Instead, I think he realized that God might be speaking to him through this cursing critic.

Here’s David’s reply,

Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.”

And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust.

2 Samuel 16:11-13

He that is down fears no fall, John Bunyan wrote. The king is down, running from his rebel son while Shimei goes alongside, hurling curses and stones.

But David calls off Abishai. He doesn’t defend himself, but leaves vengeance to God.

He lets Shimei speak.

3 Reasons David Let Shimei Speak

Bible teacher David Guzik offers three reasons why David let Shimei curse. He doesn’t use the word meek, but do you hear it?

David let Shimei speak because:

1. He saw the hand of God in every circumstance (The LORD has said to him). He knew that God was more than able to shut Shimei up; David didn’t need to give the order.

2. He put the “Shimei problem” in perspective. (See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite?) David knew that his real problem was Absalom not Shimei, and he did not lose this perspective.

3.  He knew that God’s hand was on the future as well as the present. (It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day) David knew that God would take care of the future.

But that doesn’t mean David didn’t grieve.

David Wept

In 2 Samuel 15 we read, David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.

Forgiveness does not mean consequence-free.

In a probing message on David and Absalom, Paul Tripp explains why the king wept.

This is a monarchy—in order for Absalom to take the throne, David must die. David weeps for the people he loves, people he can no longer lead.

But there is another reason for David’s weeping…When Nathan confronted David with the sin of adultery and murder, he predicted that evil would rise from the house of David against him—as a direct result of David’s sin. He is not just mourning his son. He is mourning the consequences of his sin.

The man after God’s own heart experienced God’s forgiveness (Psalm 32:1). But he still mourned the consequences of his sin. David’s sin with Bathsheba brought consequences on himself, his family and his kingdom.

So he wept.

But godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. We do well to weep over our sin

So David wept.

And David Slept

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

That’s what Psalm 3 verse 5 says. David wrote that. But do you know when?

The superscript over the third Psalm reads, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”

David wrote that when he had every reason not to sleep. In How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep, Kevin DeYoung, explains,

When David wrote “How many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1), he is not just waxing poetic. There were literally thousands of people risen against him. David had massive, life-threatening, family-disintegrating, career-shattering problems.

And yet, David slept.

There was an army trying to kill him. His own son hated him to death. His family had turned against him. Yet God was a shield about him, his glory, and the lifter of his head.

So David slept.

Do you take discipline like David?

In the face of discipline, David did what maturing children of God do. It’s explained Hebrews 12:5, “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when you are corrected by him.” The meek avoid both extremes.

David didn’t take God’s discipline lightly. He didn’t “blow it off” as if his sin was no big deal. He wept.

But he also didn’t crumble into a heap. David did what the meek do when they’re disciplined: He confessed his sin and trusted God’s love. Then he slept.

He wept and then he slept.

At the moment we kiss the rod of his discipline meekness is being formed in us. We are growing into men and women after God’s heart.

But David’s is a tough act to follow.

I Hang My Head

A friend cared enough to confront me about some unkind words I spoke to her recently. I listened to her and agreed.

Guilty as charged.

But I hung my head. I was a puppy cowering beside her on the bench, my tail between my legs. My friend called me on that too.

Why are you sitting like that, with your head down?

I’m a complex case and I know it. But a big part of the answer was the obvious one.

I guess I still don’t like to be corrected.

It’s part of the “all or nothing” syndrome. Does it challenge you too?

It rears its head in relationships this way: When I realize I’ve hurt someone, I’m tempted to disengage and walk away. That’s the “nothing.” But the “all” would have me go hyper-verbal, defending my cause and explaining why her thin skin is the problem.

But that’s not what David did. All-or-nothing is not how the man after God’s own heart took discipline.

What about you?

Like great David’s Greater Son, David entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). He didn’t face off with Shimei. He accepted hard words because he trusted that God would right wrongs.

When you face discipline, even from the mouth of a sinful man, will you let the LORD be the shield about you, your glory and the lifter of your head

What about you? Are you moving toward David’s wept-then-slept response? Do you graciously accept God’s discipline while trusting in His love?

The Lifter Of My Head

My friend Jen told me a story about her four-year old. Grace did something very naughty one morning. She made a mural on the wall with Jen’s Sharpies.

So they had a talk. Then Jen sent Grace to her room.

When lunchtime came, Grace slunk in, chin down, eyes glued to the floor.

But Jen loves Grace. That’s why she disciplined her and why she knelt beside her and stroked her tear-smeared cheeks.

Then Jen did what God does. She lifted up her child’s head.

And Grace did what meek ones do. She melted in her mama’s hug.

Let us pray that we may kiss the rod and bless the hand that holds it.

Let us pray unto God that we may see His hand in every affliction and say, as David does, “Oh, Lord, Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me!”

Thomas Watson

Rough Day? Rest on the Pillow of Providence

Child sleep on pillow of providence

We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.

To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”

So why do I disclose this much?

Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear this as a brag, because I mean to boast in the God of all grace: I slept like a baby last night.

Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.

When It’s Hard To Sleep

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9

The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

What happened this week marks years of prayers still answered, Not now. That answer, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.

At least, without the right pillow.

But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me: when I travel, I pack my pillow.

It’s well worth the space because to sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.

Providence Is A Soft Pillow

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic. Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.

Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.

Quoted by C.H. Spurgeon

The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.

Begg confides,

Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.

Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.

Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.

My Times Are In Your Hands

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a

My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”

Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.

Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.

And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”

Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Mark 4:37-38a

As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.

Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 

For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.

Into Your Hand

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5

How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:

Into your hand I commit my spirit.

I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said,  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44-46, ESV

Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.

I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.

Because I trust my loving Father knows best.