Friday, May 12, 2006
the righteous are bold
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.
I am the proud member of a family of risk-takers. Together, my parents and I have planned many thrilling adventures from bicycling the length of a volcanic island, to paragliding in the Alps. Even in ministry, the steps we have taken to further the gospel of Christ have been risky. However, together we examine the factors involved in each of our risks and determine if those risks fit within our priorities. Three years ago, the choice that lay before my family was between bungee jumping and mountain-scootering. While my father argued that the thrill of bungee jumping could not possibly be surpassed, I stood firm on the time factor. The jumping site was far away; besides, the jump itself would only last a few moments and then it would be over. Mountain-scootering, in my opinion, was a wiser risk to be chosen because it was nearby, not to mention a thrill combined with the enjoyment of the beauty of nature. (My mother was merely along for the ride.) After a family vote, mountain-scootering it was. One factor, however, we failed to consider was safety. Having rained earlier in the morning, the paths down the mountain were wet, making for a very precarious trek down the mountain. My father and I have rarely been so scared in our lives. From flying over fences into cow pastures to ripping my favorite pair of jeans as I skidded on my back side several feet after failing to control my scooter after it hit a wet spot in the road, the memory of mountain-scootering is a risk my family will hardly forget. But, in all honesty, we would do it again in a heartbeat.
John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, defines risk as, “… an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury” (Piper, 79). Such action should never be confused with taking a chance. As Martha Stewart’s ninth rule states (see The Martha Rules), “In business, there’s a difference between a risk and a chance. A well-calculated risk may very well end up as an investment in your business. A careless chance can cause it to crumble. And when an opportunity presents itself, never assume it will be your last” (Stewart, 170). Yes, a risk may potentially bring harm, but with careful assessment that potential for harm can be lessoned when one uses wisdom to think through the risk, developing lists of pros and cons, and seeking the wise counsel of those who have gone through similar situations.
Safety, however, poses a threat to risk-taking. Oren Harari, author of The Powell Principles, suggests that Colin Powell believes that “[w]hen people gain a secure position in what appears to be a safe and stable organization, they often feel that it’s their job to keep things exactly as they are” (Harari, 69). This safety in stability is not necessarily the wisest choice. It creates a cage in which one is imprisoned against the possibility of great new experiences. It does not allow for growth or creativity.
Piper asserts that it is possible that playing it safe could at times be a risk in itself. “What if the circumstances are such that not taking a risk will result in loss and injury? It may not be wise to play it safe. And what if a successful risk would bring great benefit to many people, and its failure would bring harm only to yourself? It may not be loving to choose comfort or security when something great may be achieved for the cause of Christ and for the good of others” (Piper, 80). Safety is a “mirage,” says Piper. “It doesn’t exist. Every direction you turn there are unknowns and things beyond your control.”
How does this apply for the believer? Consider the Hebrew nation. For two years they had prepared to enter the Promised Land. However, upon reaching the borders, the people of God turned away … in fear. In front of them lie the land of promise, a land the promised bountiful pastures for their flocks, luxurious foods for the their tables, and God’s blessings upon their descendants. However, they were caught up in the dreamworld of security. The word of ten spies who were afraid of battling the giants found in the land was against the words of the faithful men, Joshua and Caleb. Both pleaded with nation, having seen the bounty of the land themselves. “But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it’” (Num. 13:30). Joshua continued the plea for bravery and faith: “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Num. 14:7-9). But the people would not listen. Instead, they took up stones in the attempt to permanently silence these men pleading on behalf of God. As a result, the people wasted forty years in the wilderness; wasting thousands of lives were wasted. Safety is a myth. Piper declares, “It was clearly wrong not to take the risk of battling the giants in the land of Canaan. Oh, how much is wasted when we don not risk for the cause of God!" (Piper, 89)
As followers of Christ, we are called to a life of faith. Faith often requires risks to be taken. Piper suggests that there is risk because there is ignorance. God, on the other hand, is all-knowing. Thus, God takes no risks. Every choice he makes is made knowing the full outcome before it happens. This is precisely why Isaiah can declare Yahweh the God “over and against” all other gods of the nations (Is. 41:23; 42:8-9; 44:6-8; 45:21; 46:8-11; 48:3). Because he knows the outcome, the Lord plans accordingly. His omniscience rules out the very possibility of taking risks. James 4:13-15 correctly points out that, unlike God, we do not know the outcome of our choices. ”Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
Let us then examine several examples that Piper mentions of godly men and women who although faced with uncertainty chose to risk all for God’s glory rather than cling to the false hope of safety.
In 2 Samuel, Joab, commander of Israel’s armies, found Israel’s cities surrounded by Amalekites and Syrians. With no special revelation from the Lord, Joab made a decision to split his armies in order to attack both sides. 2 Samuel 10:12 quotes him as saying to the people, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” Joab based his decision on wisdom. His choice was to either take the risk or run. He did not know the outcome, but in faith left the fate of all of Israel in the hands of God.
Queen Esther also faced a difficult choice. She could either hide her heritage from the king, thus, putting to death her people by saving her own in keeping silent. Or Esther could risk her life by approaching the king when not called upon to plea for the lives of her people. She chose the latter, and in doing so sent word to her cousin. “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:15-16). Esther did not know the outcome. “She had no special revelation from God. She made her decision on the basis of wisdom and love for her people and trust in God. She had to risk or run. She did not know how it would turn out. So she made her decision and handed the results over to God.”
“In every city … afflictions await me” (Acts 20:23). Knowing this, Paul still traveled the ancient world boldly for the sake of Christ. Life for Paul was far from safe. Danger lurked around every corner. The roads, rivers, seas, cities, Jews, Gentiles, even his so-called brothers in Christ were not safe. Paul had the choice to either waste his life or risk it. His choice was clear. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Shortly after making this statement, Paul entered Jerusalem despite the prophecy of his arrest and the pleas of the saints who desired his safety. He entered the city in faith knowing that the trip was necessary for the cause of Christ. Arrest was certain. Pain and suffering, to be expected. But beyond that, no one knew. And yet Paul boldly proclaims, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
These men and women of faith throughout Scripture who risked for the cause and glory of the Lord did not do so because they were fixated on self-denial or self-exalting. Instead, they possessed childlike faith in God’s sovereignty. Resting in the knowledge that God knows all and has planned all for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). Our motive for taking risks for the cause and glory of God is “… faith in the all-providing, all-ruling, all-satisfying Son of God, Jesus Christ.” When we risk we rest in the Lord’s promises to help us. In the end, we do not get the glory, but rather God, for it was him who sustained us and brought about a manifestation of his glory. Piper says that in this way, “risk reflects God’s value, not our valor.” We ought to follow Peter’s instruction to pursue risk “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 4:11).
Fear keeps many women from taking risks. Women fear failure or not being adequate. Perhaps Timothy was experiencing similar fears when Paul wrote, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). As Christians we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, enabling us to act boldly for the cause of our Lord and Savior. In addition, the family of God provides us with the support and love we need to accomplish each risk that we take in the name of Christ. We exercise self-control when our emotions are balanced with our intellect, enabling us to think through each scenario, choosing through wise counsel, and then placing the decision in the hands of God to bring about events to bring him the most honor and glory.
Several secular sources suggest methods in which one can take on positive risks. Helene Lerner, in Smart Women Take Risks, lists throughout her book several characteristics smart risk-takers ought exemplify. Such qualities include: awareness, clarity, focus, honesty, resolve, insight, passionate, enthusiastic, team player, courage, strength, wisdom, gratitude, inner reflection, humility, perseverance, strength, and creativity. Her six-step solution to meeting goals by taking risks can easily be applied to women within ministry. Below I lay out Lerner's six-steps and describe how it may apply to women in ministry.
Step one is to commit to your goal. Once one establishes a goal, it is wise not to waver from it, especially if this is an area where you feel strongly that the Lord has led you to pursue.
Step two is to calculate—determine your risk quotient. Once you have determined where you are going, the next logical step is to determine how you will get there. This is where you weigh the possible risks that are ahead of you. Prayer and godly counsel are necessary at this point (as throughout the entire process).
Step three requires one to team with winners. Go to those who have successfully been through the experience you find yourself in for help. This is the beautiful thing about the family of God. Brothers and sisters in Christ are there to support and share each other’s burdens.
Step four is to take the leap and come from strength. Knowing we are always in the hands of God allows one to take such leaps of faith in confidence.
Step five is to claim the victory. As followers of Christ, we ought to immediately recognize the Lord has the true victor of the moment, and humbly thank God that he chose to use us to carry out his will.
Step six urges the reader to not stop once you have reached your goal—success breeds success. Our God is the same God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul. God used each of these men of faith to accomplish many mighty deeds. Allow yourself to be open to whatever new risks God might have in store for you.
What is the bottom line? John Piper states, “The bottom-line in all our risk-taking for Christ is that nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ. Paul asks, ‘Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom. 8:35). NO!” (Piper, 95)
There will be times when you will take risks and in the eyes of men, it appears to be failure. But keep your childlike faith. What appears to be failure in man’s eyes may be a part of God’s ultimate plan in achieving his perfect will. He has only our good and his glory in mind. So, let us use the faculties God has given us in the aid of his Holy Spirit, the love and support of the church, and the wisdom given to us by God to determine which risks we might take for the kingdom of God. Christ did not promise us a life of ease and safety, but he offers us a part in God’s ultimate plan of redemption. What an exciting opportunity! Enjoy it!
My family and I returned the following year to the same mountain. My father and I had been reckless and my mother had been too cautious (as she rode the breaks most of the way down the mountain). However, this time, we had each learned our lesson. We zoomed down the side of the mountain better informed of where to properly be cautious and where we could let ourselves fly. In the end we each had a blast, not to mention a fascinating story to tell. What an opportunity we have as believers to be a part of God’s story. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel. But live boldly for the cause of Christ.