What is Your Net Worth?
by Joe Johns
I am told that a person's financial net worth is a frequent topic of conversation in some circles.
I am not in these circles.
The salary of my first job out of college was precisely nothing. The next year, my salary doubled…to nothing. Even now, 13 years since I earned my bachelor's degree, I drive a 1986 Audi with some 250 thousand miles. Two years ago, the odometer broke, along with the heater. I've not fixed either because these two inconveniences are only problematic when I'm trying to drive the speed limit, or in winter. The latter is more often a problem.
To minimize northern Indiana winter conditions while driving, I have securely bungee-corded a Coleman propane heater on the passenger seat. (Not to worry, it is a catalytic propane heater, which means there is no flame. Can you imagine the kind of idiot who would drive around in a car with an open flame device strapped next him?)
Even though I drive a German-engineered car with a heated seat, I am clearly not one to be overly concerned with the notion of my financial net worth. Financially speaking, net worth is defined as the value remaining after deduction. Perhaps the same can be said of following Jesus.
In Mark 1:16-17, Jesus told Simon and Andrew to follow him. At once, we are told, they dropped their nets and followed. Even more than a sudden career shift, which often happens when you really start to follow Jesus (like missionaries or exotic dancers), Andrew and Simon were confronted with a value judgment. Jesus was asking them to judge the value of what they were holding on to over and against the call to follow him. He was asking them to calculate their value remaining after deduction. In a sense, their true "net" worth.
In my journey of following after this net-naming Jesus, I have most consistently found the barrier to my following him further up and higher into Kingdom life is the value I attach to a particular net I hold dear. Being male (I am solidly in this circle), my net is like that of the Andrew and Simon: my occupation. It just so happens that my occupation is that of a minister. But true to most men and their occupations is a finer truth of the tendency to find our worth in our work. I was no exception. I say was because I learned through a painful season in my life that I was white-knuckling my net of achievement-based affirmation through the work I was doing.
Fortunately (I can say this now), my net got shredded. Which has only served to propel me into this more difficult life season of understanding why I so hang on to this net in the first place. I am coming to understand the deeper net to be named and dropped is about a family legacy of fathers who withheld words of approval to their sons. And in the absence of such words, we strive for that which we did not receive, from those not obligated to give it. To name and drop this net is to risk knowing whether there is truly any value remaining after deduction.
Sometimes I catch fleeting glimpses of the life I could otherwise live if I dropped this net. In these all-too-brief moments, I imagine living unfettered by the petulant voice within, crying out for a conveyed measure of merit as yet unspoken and ill-perceived. I imagine life beyond this net, cleanly taking value from the things I give myself to without the contamination of casting all who earn my respect as those who must therefore affirm mine. I can begin to imagine myself living this sort of life because it would be like…well…a lot like really living. Much more so, anyway, then the life I am prone to live, where the little I (and others) see above the water line belies the submerged frozen hulk of mixed motivations which lies beneath. I become entangled and caught up in this net which lies beneath, unable to drop it because I can scarcely even name it. And so I fail to live a wild and reckless life of faith, unable to follow after the Jesus who bids me come.
And yet, this is precisely why He calls. Jesus knows we will always resort to living a life that isn't. The good news of his gospel is that there is a life—an abundant, perpetual way of living that is good and beautiful and true. What's more is that this life is available to all without condition. The only thing that will keep us from living this kind of life is if we do not want it. In other words, if we prefer to hang onto our net.
I don't suppose Jesus would travel in circles where the conversation orbited around values of net worth. I take some comfort in that. But that doesn't he mean did not and still is not continually asking you and me, with great compassion and earnest, "What is your net worth?" I pray I will ever have the courage to trust that there is always more value after deduction in God's economy.
Joe Johns is a husband, father, and pastor who is continually being evangelized by the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom. He lives with his wife and three sons in Indiana and is generally consumed by attempting to order his life around the Kingdom of God. email@example.com