Years ago I discovered a website that allows you to set goals and stake a sum of money on them. If you fail to keep the commitment, your money will go to a charity you don't support.
This unusual style of motivation illustrates an important truth about human behavior: the more we invest in something, the more we care about it. Look how closely an investor watches the stock market. Putting something on the line—our money, reputation or time—makes us treasure the object of our investment.
Our most important investment
How does this play out in our lives as Christians? Lasting obedience comes from our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We must invest in this relationship—while we can’t drum up genuine zeal by our own power, God has given us his word to know him and prayer to commune with him.
You won’t always want to do this. I often feel like there are a hundred better things I could be doing with my time, but if I act on that feeling I’m only confirming it to myself. If instead, I choose to spend time with God despite feeling lukewarm, my heart changes. Over time my slothful soul learns what’s truly valuable.
Investment in action
God demands all of us. You must love him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5)—so our time, energy, money, and affections should all be surrendered to him. How can you start investing these things today? Apart from Bible reading and prayer, I've found the investment of time and money in reading good Christian books to be worth it many times over. For the past year, I’ve been tackling Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and I don’t expect to even finish it by the end of 2018. It’s hard work, but this long-term investment has sharpened my theological thinking and stirred my heart to worship God.
Let's consider an alternative use of your time. I’m sure you’ve all grown attached to a TV series that has aired for years. With all that emotional investment, you feel like you couldn’t possibly miss the ending. You can’t quit, even if the show started to prick your conscience with increasing violence, nudity, or materialism.
Excessive investment in pursuits like TV and social media inflate their importance in our minds and makes us dependant on them. It certainly doesn’t help us value our heavenly inheritance. Compare how Jesus commands us to invest our lives:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19–20)
You may say this recommendation is legalistic. If you powered through your Bible reading to feel less guilty about skipping it, and maybe earn some credit with God, I’d agree with you. But we don’t call it legalism to do daily therapeutic exercises after an injury—this is exactly what you need to get your strength back. Choosing to act against your feelings and open that Bible or pray is training your feelings.
We cannot earn our relationship with God. But by pouring ourselves into it we look at what Jesus achieved for us on the Cross—our underserved salvation—and proclaim to ourselves that he is the most valuable thing. Christ alone is worthy of all our investment.
What’s at stake?
If we were going to live for eternity on this earth and had infinite reserves of money and energy, perhaps this wouldn’t matter so much. But this life is fleeting, a “mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). One day everyone who has ever lived will stand before the judgment seat of God. Only those who belong to Jesus Christ will enter eternal bliss.
What should we invest our resources in now: knowing Jesus better and bringing others to know him, or wasting our hearts on entertainment? We can only have one true treasure, only serve one master (Matthew 6:24).
Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the pearl of great price:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45–46)
This is how we know what our heart’s true treasure is—would we be willing to give up everything else to gain it?
This is not a risky investment. The danger of playing the stock market is that we could lose it all in a moment. There’s no chance we’ll really lose out if we invest in heavenly things. Every minute spent reading good theology, praying on our knees or serving our church is an investment in our ultimate joy. Our relationship with God is the most valuable thing we could ever have—so anything we lose for its sake pays dividends many times over. Whatever it costs, get that pearl.