Hope for your financial life and beyond

Count the Cost: The Secret Step for Success at Anything (Luke 14:28)

Hidden Nuggets Series #101 – “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish…” – Luke 14:28

count the costWould you like to have success at anything you do? Of course…so would I. Nobody sets out with the intention to fail. However, many times we do fail and it’s often because we refused to count the cost ahead of time.

What do I mean by count the cost? Does that have something to do with money? Well, maybe but not necessarily.

Put simply, when you count the cost you plan ahead. You take inventory of everything that needs to happen before you pursue a goal. Now, you may not know every little detail that needs to be achieved in the process. But you can at least get a sense of all the big rocks that will need to be accomplished in order for you to have success.

This concept isn’t a new one. The term “count the cost” actually has its origins in the Bible. And Jesus used it with his disciples to prove a very important point about planning ahead.

Count the Cost Through Planning Ahead

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus is encouraging his followers to think about what it means to follow him. You get the sense his disciples really didn’t understand what it would take for them live out Jesus’ teachings. Jesus would be die soon. In order for the disciples to stick by Jesus to the end they would have to be willing to die themselves.

They would have to forsake everything – including family – in order to make this type of commitment to Jesus.

So, in order to get his point across, Jesus uses two examples of how planning ahead of time can lead to a successful outcome. The one I’ll focus on involves building a tower.

Jesus says in Luke 14:28-30:

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

The teaching could not be more obvious. Achieving success at the end of the journey starts at the beginning of the journey.

We all want to finish what we start. There is great satisfaction in seeing a task through to the end. Finishing propels us forward and motivates us to achieve even more.

Most of us would like to leap to the finish and be done with the task. But we can’t because we don’t start a task at the finish. We start at the beginning and must endure the process.

The problem with starting something is there are a great many scary questions that prevent us from ever starting in the first place. Can I do this? What will others think? What if I mess up?

All these questions can paralyze us and keep us from moving forward with our task.

That’s why it’s important to count the cost at the start. Doing so helps you develop a blueprint for what’s ahead. Blueprints help answer the scary questions by giving us direction. They help us see the big picture and fill in the small details.

Blueprints also tell me someone’s already figured this out. There is already a proven method for how bolt A goes into slot B. If I follow the established plan, I’ll have a greater likelihood of success than if I branch out on my own.

Problem is we tend to ignore blueprints, even ones that have been successful. Why is that?

Ignoring Blueprints

Why do we ignore blueprints that could help us succeed? Why do we not search out quality plans as we count the cost of our task? I believe it’s because of the answers we tell ourselves to some of the scary questions we are forced to ask at the start.

When we ask those scary questions about our task we don’t like the answers we get. Ever talk yourself out of something based on answers like these:

“I’ve never been good at that.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“My friends or colleagues will think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t want to risk it…I’m doing OK as it is.”

Based on answers like this we think the cost of the process will be too great. We don’t want to go through the struggle and the pain. So we never start, never commit and never succeed.

Jesus knew the cost for the disciples would be great. They would ultimately lose their lives in service for him. That’s why he challenged them to count the cost ahead of time. He wanted them to evaluate the circumstances that lay ahead so they could finish what they started.

But he also gave them a blueprint to follow. After his death and resurrection, he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. Then he said they would be witnesses to his teachings in Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-8). Sounds like pretty clear direction to me.

Did they follow it? Yes. Did they have success? Absolutely.

The disciples knew what to do. But how do we find a good plan to follow to complete our task?

Finding a Plan

Regardless of where we start everyone needs a plan to be successful. However, most people don’t know what a good plan looks like. It’s easy to get confused as we piece together things from here and there.

Here is what you don’t want to do. Don’t follow the advice of person who has started 10 businesses and all of them have failed. Don’t listen to the marriage counselor who is on his or her 4th marriage. Don’t take financial advice from your broke family member.

Instead find people who have won and are continuing to win. Take them to lunch. Pick their brain. Find out what they did to be so successful. Then do what they did as it fits into your circumstances.

If you don’t have people in your circle like this, it will be more difficult. But you can still read, right? Get on the Internet (or go the library if you must) and track down literature about people who have had success.

Success stories are out there. You can find solid plans to follow for just about anything you’d like to know. It just takes a little patience and digging to find things from reading through the Bible in a year, to planning an herb garden, to starting a small business, to planning a vacation, to even starting a blog.

A few years ago my wife and I stumbled across a plan for our finances developed by Dave Ramsey. He laid out a system for eliminating debt and building wealth by working through seven progressive steps. Here is what that plan looks like:

Step #1: Build $1,000 in a savings fund for life emergencies.

Step #2: Pay off all debt (except the house) starting with the smallest debt first.

Step #3: Build 3 – 6 months of expenses in a savings account.

Step #4: Invest 15% of your household income for retirement.

Step #5: Start saving for the kid’s college.

Step #6: Pay off the house early.

Step #7: Build wealth and give generously.

So that’s what you are looking for in any plan. Simple, to the point, outlined in a fashion that is easy to understand and follow.

So in the count the cost process, plans are essential to find. Jesus had one for his followers. But there was one final ingredient they needed in order to complete what Jesus called them to do.

From Knowledge to Conviction

Once you count the cost and find a plan you’ll have the knowledge. Knowledge alone won’t be enough though. You’ll have to put the knowledge into practice and that’s where the rubber meets the road.

The one crucial step towards having success with a plan is actually following the plan through to completion. It does no good to say you are going in a direction and then refuse to follow the plan that can get you there. But we do this all the time.

We treat plans like an option instead of a requirement. When this happens we end up losing momentum and sliding backwards. If that happens and discouragement sets, we may never recover.

Seeing something through to the end is what Jesus intended when he told his disciples to count the cost. There task wouldn’t be completed in a few days or months. They needed years to finish what Jesus called them to start.

To do that they needed something something deeper than knowledge. They needed conviction.

And so do we on any task we set out to achieve.

Once I begin to act on what I believe I’m committed to it. Commitment involves our emotions, mind and will working in conjunction with one another. Once my will is involved, I am more likely to follow through on my commitment.

Sometimes wills can be broken though by the toughest of circumstances. So how can we keep ourselves going? What is it that can drive us so hard for so long?

It’s our conviction.

Conviction to a plan is a step beyond commitment. A conviction says, “I’m ready to die for my commitment.” When convicted, that commitment has now become a passion in your life. You eat it, sleep it, live it…every day…every moment. There are no lengths (within the bounds of morality and law) you won’t go to for the cause.

How you reach this level of determination you will have to find out for yourself. It’s different for each of us. My conviction to get right with my money came from a spiritual conviction after reading the Bible. However, it happens, you’ll be more likely to follow through with your plan if you can move from simple knowledge to deep conviction.

Count the Cost Conclusion

So there you have it. The beginning (count the cost), middle (find a plan) and finishing steps (develop conviction and see it through) to achieving success. You’ll need all three. Neglecting any of them will be harmful.

The secret step of course is to count the cost ahead of time. That’s the one we usually forget. We jump into planning mode without considering what it will cost us. If we make the effort to do that ahead of time, we will be able to determine if the task ahead is or isn’t worth it.

Questions: Do you make it a habit to count the cost ahead of time? Or do you plunge right into planning mode without considering what your task may cost you? Do you find it hard to keep at something for a long time? What drives you to succeed? When did you last find a plan that helped you accomplish something?

Image courtesy of jayneandd at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    That is a good reminder, Brian. I agree with you that most of us plan without considering the cost. Doing this determines if it’s worth pushing through. This post is perfect for those who have new year’s resolution like me. Thanks!

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