Learning To Count Right: Loss As Gain

Hot air balloon tethered with one rope to ground
Click here for the “Keep On“ podcast of this post.
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