anchored thought


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OK. You need to make a decision. Maybe it’s a decision with high consequences. Maybe it’s a trivial decision with low consequences. Regardless, you have to make a decision.

As a trained engineer and engineering educator, I immediately start to think about the pros and cons. I will then often write down the pros and cons of the alternatives related to making my decision. If the pros and cons can be quantified, that’s even better! So my piece of scrap paper or napkin looks like the following

If I do 1…

  • pro a, b, c …
  • con x, y, z …

If I do 2…

  • pro a, b, c …
  • con x, y, z …

If I do 3…

  • pro a, b, c …
  • con x, y, z …

Doing Nothing

But there’s a consideration that many people don’t realize is floating around constantly in the back of their head. It’s called the “do-nothing alternative.” I teach this concept in my Engineering Economy course at CCU and I think considering it is important as we make decisions throughout our lives.

As you can likely surmise, the do-nothing alternative is the decision you make, either intentionally or due to apathy or for whatever reason, when you… do nothing. I won’t get into things like MARR (minimum acceptable rate of return) in this post but if you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link.

More formally, if I’m comparing alternatives that are independent (I can choose none, one, or more than one acceptable alternative) or mutual exclusive with revenue (only one alternative can be chosen and both costs and revenues are considered) {1}, then I compare against the do-nothing alternative.

Considering Our Spiritual Growth

Psalm 19:7-11 clearly tell us that there are great returns on our investment in reading scripture, praying, and becoming more like Christ. The image below {2} provides the verses. I’ve underlined in green what we need to learn. We can consider the time spent on learning and growing in these areas the “costs.” I’ve highlighted the benefits in orange. We can consider these the “revenues.”

So here’s where the do-nothing alternative comes into play for our spiritual growth. We only have so much time and attention when it comes to life. In order to glorify God and love our neighbor, we need to learn to imitate Jesus and learn the:

“law” “testimony” “precepts” “commandment” “fear,” and “rules”

of the Lord. There are many ways we can do this. Each of these would be considered an alternative with it’s own unique set of costs and revenues. For example, we can personally study the bible or we can find a group of like-minded people and study the bible together or we can attend church weekly. Each of these alternatives is associated with costs and revenues. So, we can compare these alternatives against each other.

However, there are many time when we choose the do-nothing alternative instead of doing the work to realize the rewards of a closer relationship with God. Sometimes the things pulling our time and attention away from growing closer to God are noble (e.g., parenting, providing for our family, serving, resting, etc.). But I would argue these things are doing nothing to achieve the rewards outlined in Psalm 11. In this context, I think the do-nothing alternative doesn’t manifest as literally doing nothing (although it might). But in the spiritual sense, I think it means doing nothing to grow spiritually. Doing nothing, in addition to the noble things mentioned above, could also look like sleeping in or overly entertaining ourselves with social media, TV, movies, and books. Regardless of the aforementioned alternative, we are choosing to do nothing to grow spiritually and reap the rewards.


So the next time you’re considering how to effectively invest your time and attention, don’t just consider the alternatives that are directly linked to spiritual growth. Consider situations where you're doing something, but unintentionally choosing the “doing-nothing alternative” regarding your spiritual growth.

Even more practically:

  • How can you move some of your time and attention from doing nothing to doing something according to Psalm 11?
  • Can you remove a podcast, TV show, movie, or book and replace it with the Bible or a biblical alternative?
  • What are the small changes you can make in your day, week, month, or year to grow in your knowledge of and relationship with God?


{1}: For more on alternatives see this article