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

Hygge, on Earth as in Heaven?

Hygge, fuzzy blanket, mug of tea, Bible open
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Here we are traveling and our home is a distant home in another world...
Though we meet with traveler's fare sometimes yet it should not be grievous to us....
Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers, so do not think to satisfy yourselves here.  
—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

What’s Not To Love About Hygge?

I’ve been wrestling this week. I mean really grappling, straining to pin two ideas down right. HYGGE (or “hue-guh“) is on one side of the ring. It’s the Danish word for comfy coziness, and the feeling of contentment and well-being (Anna Altman, The New Yorker) that mightcome as you savor that Gevalia Gold Roast with your Bible and journal open on a sunny Saturday morning.

On the other side of the ring of my mind is SELF-DENIAL. As in, go out in the dark 2 degree cold this morning because you’ve offered to do the carpool after work and it’ll be too late to get out then. As in, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

 Hygge is my good friend’s word of the year and was the subject of my workplace inservice last week.

What’s not to love about it? Shouldn’t Christians be all about hygge?

Is Hygge Living “As An Enemy of the Cross”?

But this morning I read this.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 

Paul, Philippians 3:18-19 (NIV)

Their God is their stomach? Their mind is set on earthly things? What? Is that hygge I hear?

Theologian D.A. Carson explains, “There’s no principle of self-denial. There’s no no sold-out principle to die daily for the sake of the gospel.”

Which isn’t to say hygge isn’t a lovely thing. Only to say that idols form when, in Tim Keller’s words, we turn a good thing into an ultimate thing. (These 4 questions can help identify our idols.)

Hygge may not be idol, but comfort, health or security might.

Hygge, on Earth as in Heaven?

Carson continues,

Far from being drawn to suffer for Christ’s sake, they are endlessly drawn to creature comforts. Their mind is on earthly things. It’s not as if they focus on immoral, wicked things. Rather all their values and cherished goals and wishes are tied to what belongs to this earth.

Christianity prepares people for heaven. It is not about getting it all now. Someone said, Christians are “later people.” The meek will inherit the earth. Those who mourn will be comforted. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. These blessings will come later.

So does being a “later” person mean we have to hold out till heaven to enjoy hygge?

No. But whether or not we see ourselves as pilgrims on a journey and travelers passing through has everything to do with how we handle hygge. It determines whether we give thanks or grumble. Because pilgrims don’t grumble.

Here’s what I mean.

At Home Or On The Road?

When we are at home, we demand our just-right sleep number bed and just-right fluffy enough pillows. The thermostat is set so high and no higher and the food is just right. At home we can have it our way. 


But when we’re on the road as overnight guests, we make do. We put up with a too-flat pillow or a rock-hard bed, grateful for a place to stay. We’ll endure the stiff neck and sore back because we’ll be in our own bed next week. 


It’s the same with travel food. We don’t expect hygge on the road. We eat what’s put out for us—mushy French toast or weak French roast, runny eggs or rubbery yolks. It’s not how we fix them at home, but that’s okay. We’ll eat and drink what’s set before us because we are travelers, on our way. 

At home, we will feast.

Hygge In Another Man’s House?

This metaphor is not new. Four hundred years ago Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote,

If a man travels, perhaps he does not meet with conveniences as he desires, yet this thought may moderate his spirit: I am a traveler and I must not be finding fault, I am in another man’s house, and it would be bad manners to find fault in someone else’s house, even though things are not as much to my liking as at home. So they are contented while away with the thought that it shall be different when they come home…Thus it should be with us in this world…here we are traveling, and our home is a distant home in another world.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Our earth is another man’s house, and there is Christ-like self-denial.

But There Is Also Honey-Almond Peach Tea

Hygge tonight is sitting with my smart-wooled feet up, a mug of hot, honey-almond peach tea between my knees, a short stack of books and journals beside me and a Dorothy Sayers mystery in my hands.

All the while a wood fire crackles in the stove as Wisconsin winds blow wild. Oh, and there’s some happy Irish folk behind me.

As hyggeligt as all that is here at “home,” I don’t think we will ever feel completely comfy and cozy in this life, if only because we know this life won’t last. The world is not our home. We are “pilgrims” (Hebrews 11:13), travelers en route to a better country. I know this is true.

And Pleasant Inns Along The Way

But I also know—I mean, “experience” know—that God is kind and good. He gives us countless pleasures in this life.  C. S. Lewis captured this idea.

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast…It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world…: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

The Problem of Pain

Hygge is a pleasant inn. Enjoy it.

Hygge is a pleasant inn. Enjoy it. Embrace your creatureliness, Joe Rigney wrote. Go embrace the fact that creation is a magic glass, the kind that allows you to see God more clearly the thicker it becomes. Embrace your body and your five senses and the wonders that they can perceive and receive in the world… 

Anchor yourself in a supreme and expanding love for God and go enjoy his gifts.

Share them. Create that place. Refresh some souls.

Enjoy God’s gifts and give him thanks.

Italian Hygge And Prison Fare

But you’re still wondering, who won that wrestling match—HYGGE or SELF-DENIAL?

Well, back to the Bible for that.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, that he knew how to deny himself and make do at the inn. But he also knew about hygge. He didn’t call it hygge. The Danes hadn’t coined it yet. Paul said, instead, that he knew, “how to abound.”

I think Paul enjoyed some Italian hygge, some fine wine and bruschetta.

I know Paul handled prison fare. He was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, about learning to be content in any and every circumstance.

Jesus knew both too. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, he said, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). He came to serve (Matthew 20:28) and to pour himself out (Philippians 2:7-8).

Still, I think Jesus relished Judean hygge. Picture him reclined at Matthew’s table and resting in Mary and Martha’s hospitality. He enjoyed good gifts enough that his enemies accused him of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

On earth, Jesus knew the delights of his senses, even as he obeyed unto death. He knew hygge and self-denial. I think it’s safe to say his followers will too.

Back in the ring, that’s why hygge and self-denial tie.

Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20