“Are you serious?! She spent $14,000 on her cat?!”
As our lunchtime discussion took a predictable turn to the topic of pet healthcare costs, each of us was amazed at this story of high-cost pet preservation. “You could buy a car with that amount of money,” one friend rightly commented. “You could then use the car to run over the cat,” was the less helpful contribution of another.
It’s a ridiculous amount of money, but as pet owners know all too well – it doesn’t take much for your credit card to feel their presence. In fact, the average pet owner in Australia spends $25,000 on a dog over its lifetime, or $2,452 per year. But for most, this is considered money well spent.
Not surprisingly, Australians are big spenders on their own health and well being, too. According to ‘The Cost of Being Fit’ report, Australians spend on average $75 a month on “gym memberships, sports equipment and the latest fitness trends”. We willingly part with almost $1000 a year in the hope that we will:
Have more energy,
Improve our mood and mental health,
Reduce our risk of diabetes, heart attack, etc.
For all these benefits, $75 a month is also considered well worthwhile. Both pet health and personal health have increasingly become non-negotiables in the family budget. So where does spiritual health fit in? How much are Australian Christians willing to spend per month in pursuit of our spiritual well being?
When the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, he affirmed the value of exercise – but he made clear that it needs to be kept in perspective:
“…physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
The Bible doesn’t dismiss exercise as a waste of time – it is good! But importantly, its value is limited to this life. Godliness, on the other hand, has value for all things – with benefits both for this life and the life to come. If you were an investor looking at where to put your money for the biggest return, you’d pick godliness every time.
And yet, many of us live as though the opposite were true. As if Paul had actually said:
“…godliness is of some value, but physical training has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
If you don’t believe me, consider which of the following is more common for Christians today:
Waking at 5am to exercise, or rising early to spend time with the Lord?
Pursuing a strict diet to lose weight, or abstaining from food to fast and pray?
Buying a gym membership, or buying a ticket to a Christian conference?
There is much that Australian Christians would pay, sacrifice and endure for the sake of physical fitness. But when a cost, particularly financial, is associated with growth in godliness, this is often met with firm resistance.
A friend is a pastor and he recently ran a marriage course in an effort to benefit the marriages of the couples at his church. When he announced that the course handbook would cost $10, he received complaints that the cost was too high!
Likewise, in the world of Christian conferences and events (where I serve full-time), cost pops up as a regular cause for criticism. The actual ticket price doesn’t seem to matter – the common refrain will often be: “Why is it so expensive?” or “This shouldn’t cost money” or “I can’t believe you are profiting off this.”
It’s true that for some people, cost is an issue. To register for an event or purchase a course handbook means their children won’t eat tonight. There is no margin beyond everyday necessities, and a $79 ticket is genuinely out of reach. I know of no church or Christian organisation that would allow people in this situation to be excluded.
But for many others, complaints about cost are code for “There are other things I would prefer to spend money on instead.”
Spending money on Christian events and resources is often considered unnecessary because spiritual growth is often regarded as unimportant. “I go to church and Bible study,” we say. “That part of my life is sorted.” But godliness isn’t a box to be ticked – it must be an ongoing top priority because as George Whitfield said:
“The care of the soul is a matter of the highest importance; beyond anything which can be brought into comparison with it.”
The Bible provides sobering reminders to watch our lives or risk falling or drifting away:
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Hebrews 2:1
Stand firm. Don’t fall. Pay most careful attention. Do not drift away. These warnings must be taken seriously because as Don Carson explains, growth in godliness doesn’t happen by accident:
“People do not drift toward holiness.
Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.
We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;
we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;
we drift toward superstition and call it faith.
We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;
we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
Avoiding the temptation to drift and slide and instead pursue holiness is a essential because “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” Caring for our souls is a matter of highest importance.
And in His kindness, God has provided us with various means to stand firm – means that require your effort, your time, and sometimes even your money. For example:
Seminars (and handbooks!) that improve the health of your marriage.
Conferences that exhort you to live well as a Christian man or woman.
Study guides that help you read and understand the Bible.
Apologetics events that equip you to explain your faith.
Biographies that inspire you to live a life worthy of the gospel.
Training events that teach you how to handle the Bible faithfully.
Youth group camps that provide time and space to hear the gospel taught and see it modelled.
Let me speak personally. There is nothing more important to me than to see my wife and children growing in their love for Jesus and standing firm in Him on that last day. Whatever I can provide that will help them to run the race and keep the faith is worth it. If this costs money, so be it.
We will go to church together, pray together, read the Bible together, serve together. But I will also send them to whatever event or buy whatever book they need that will propel them forward and cultivate their faith in and love for the Lord Jesus. I will do this because spiritual health trumps every other priority and I am convinced that not $1 spent here will be regretted on the other side of eternity.
I know that in light of the age to come, pursuing spiritual health as a top priority is a no-brainer. The challenge for me and for you is that we forget that this world in its present form is passing away. But there is a life to come, and in that life, the benefits of godliness will be enjoyed for all eternity.