Has anyone ever taken you for granted? Perhaps you’ve spent hours coaching, counseling or helping someone only for them to turn on you in anger. Maybe you’ve sacrificed time, money or resources only to find that person ungrateful. Have you ever helped someone out financially just to see them misuse the dollars?
While too often the costs of our labor and love are unappreciated. How often do we forget to count the cost of what we receive?
Cost Vs. Price
Receivers of gifts lack appreciation because they misunderstand the difference between what a gift costs the giver and its economic price. I’m going to use my own meanings for these terms, so let’s define them.
The price of an item is its intrinsic value. Twenty dollars is twenty dollars. An hour lunch with a mentor is the dollar figure on the check. Etc.
Cost includes the intrinsic value of inputs plus the sacrifice of all other reasonable opportunities. In the economic world we call this “opportunity cost”.
For instance, if I give someone $20 they see $20–Price. What they don’t see is me not eating lunch that day– Cost.
If I counsel someone over lunch, they see the total on the tab—price. They don’t see what I could bill for my time, the prayers I pray for them as the result of that lunch, the mental space they take up as I carry their problems around in my mind or the time away from my family—cost.
Counting the Cost
As followers of Jesus we often confuse the price of someone’s help, with its cost.
We ask the attorney in our congregation to work for free because- it’s easy for him. We don’t calculate the eight years of tuition, the hours of experience, the pro bono work he can’t do because he is doing it for us.
We negotiate with vendors to give us a deal because after all, we’re a non profit. It’s just X dollars, surely, they can afford it. We don’t see the missed opportunities for the business owner, the years s/he spent scraping by to build their enterprise, the worry lines from the uncertainty of their future.
Mentors sit with us, pour not just their time, but their prayer lives and counsel into our situation. They think about us, worry about us and have ideas for us while they could just as well worry about themselves. We don’t see the decades of experience we glean in just a few hours a year with them.
We see an hour of their time, but it costs so much more.
Acknowledging the Cost from Others
The Christian church has an entitlement mindset that dismisses prices as insignificant and doesn’t acknowledge cost.
It’s a vicious cycle between ministry leader and stake holder.
We rail for more volunteers from the pulpit, while our congregants demand more attention, time, transparency and encouragement from our ministry leaders.
We start another capital campaign and ask for more money. Our people question why the pastor needs a sabbatical.
We ask the business owners in our church for free or discounted services, then wonder why they’re checked out.
We need to end this cycle.
Jesus counted the cost.
Jesus praised a widow who put two small coins into the treasury. Why? Because he knew what it cost her. Her coins were a literal drop in the bucket in the temple treasury, but Jesus’ jaw dropped when he watched her give her gift. He knew it wasn’t just two coins, but it was the last piece of her financial security.
As ministry leaders, we need to start counting the cost of what we ask people to do. That faithful servant who volunteers for anything is probably a half-step from burn out. That family who only shows up once a month is probably still learning how to set family values.
As congregants and non-profit donors or volunteers, we need to start counting the cost from our leaders.
Preaching a sermon is hard.
Planning fundraising events is chaotic.
Counseling people is exhausting.
Living a life marked by faith, obedience and selflessness in a world that champions immediacy, relativism and comfort is often agonizing.
When you receive something, whether time, a good word or money, instead of dismissing the price as insignificant take a moment to think what it cost that person.
I recently received the opportunity to take my family to a beach house owned by a friend of a friend. That friend let me rent the beach house for what the management company charges him. On the surface, I could say that was the price. “He gave me a good deal”. But there was a greater cost.
He couldn’t rent the place to a full paying guest. He couldn’t enjoy his property as his own. He had to worry about our family totally destroying the place without a damage deposit. He had to coordinate our access and answer questions. It cost him something.
Maybe something this frivolous feels trivial, but it isn’t. When God offers us a gift through others, taking time to acknowledge the cost cultivates gratefulness in our heart. Dismissing the price sows selfishness and greed.
Anything we receive comes at a cost.
The Greatest Cost
The most important tenet of the Christian faith is the price Jesus paid on the Cross. He paid the price for our sins. He reconciled us to the Father. But there was a greater cost.
Jesus lived an earthly life and he gave it up on the cross and rose again so that we could live in his resurrection life, and for that I’m grateful. But he also left his throne in heaven, permanently altering his divine-only state, to become a man. He didn’t consider his power as something to hold on to but laid it down willing to become a mere mortal. (Philippians 2:6)
We don’t preach that message enough.
We don’t marvel at the cost of Jesus’ life enough.
We see Jesus’ death on the cross and think “How horrific. But he came back to life, right?” We dismiss the price, and forget the greater cost. The God of the universe wanted to be with us so bad, that he became us. That blows me away every time.
If we want to live grateful and content lives we must count the cost of the things we ask and the things we receive. Every act of housekeeping from our spouse is a gift. Every unexpected dollar is grace. Every helping hand, good idea or word of encouragement comes at the cost of prayer, experience and sacrifice.
Take a few minutes to consider the things you’ve received this week. A kind word, free advice, assistance with your car, house or a legal question. Realize that whatever you received wasn’t earned and it wasn’t free. We can value gifts by recognizing the cost or we can dismiss them as cheap.
Whether we decide to recognize the cost or ignore the price determines our contentment.