“Why won’t you take a risk for God?”
I’ve sat in multiple small group gatherings when that question came up as part of a speaker’s discourse on a teaching DVD or within the paragraphs of a glossy study guide.
Usually, most of us in the room, myself included, squirm as we hear stories of missionaries moving to Africa, folks who gave up careers to move across the country or to take a job that was beneath their education level, Christian musicians who risked everything to go on tour with their families or nonprofit founders who ate Ramen for months on end.
When it comes time for sharing, we nod our heads about “stepping out of the boat,” to leave everything behind, to take that big risk for God by going somewhere in the wilderness or pursue a profession that serves others but doesn’t make much money.
Step, leave, go, abandon—these are the words we normally associate with risk.
And we shouldn’t be surprised—it’s how we’re taught. Risk-taking is a big deal—and a big industry—in our society. Skydiving, free-climbing, wilderness hiking, whitewater rafting, obstacle course racing, alpine skiing—the list of activities goes on and on. There’s a pride and honor that comes with going somewhere or doing something “out there”—even if your adventure is tethered to steel beams or conducted through a travel agent.
Posting a selfie on top of a mountain or falling out of the sky solicits a lot of attention. Participation in these kinds of “safe” risks enables us to feel alive, bold and accomplished—without actually having to put too much on the line. We “go” to say we’ve gone. There’s admiration that comes along with it. And many of us in Christian circles come to applaud “risk-taking for God” in the same way.
But in a society that is constantly telling us to chase the latest and greatest and change ourselves with the seasons, what if, more often than not, the riskier thing to do for God is to stay exactly where you are and keep doing what you’re doing for the time being? What if instead of jumping from here to there, thinking God will do a miracle when we’ve chosen the right thing, person or place, we should really be standing firm? What if we should be allowing our feet to sink in a while and keep at the hard, dirty, messy work in which we’re involved? In the words of Ecclesiastes 11:6, “Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow—perhaps it all will.”
What if God wants you to start a ministry where you are instead of going to one? What if it’s actually more God-honoring to deal with an uncomfortable family situation than moving away from it? What if instead of leaving this position and that location again and again to “find ourselves,” we should be staying put? What if instead of leaving church after church, we should just keep coming to the same one? What if instead of abandoning all that is ours, we should be continuing to invest ourselves, our gifts, our resources?
What if “taking a risk for God” were less about jumping off cliffs and going and more about examining our motives and opening our eyes to how God might be wanting to use us right where we are, embracing the uncomfortable in our midst? Maybe God is wanting to use you as a change-agent in your workplace, as the glue in your neighborhood, as the light in your social circles and family. It’s possible that quitting your job or moving your family across the country right now to be “risky for God” is exactly what God wants you to do, but I think that more often than not, it could actually be counter to what God wants.
Reflecting on my own 30-something years of life, I can say that the risks I’ve taken to follow God have come in many forms and actions. I’ve quit a job and moved to another state to pursue a calling to ministry by going to seminary. I’ve stayed put in a place during a very difficult time when it would have been easier to go—and now look back to see the fruit God was bearing. I’ve jumped for the sake of “taking a risk for God” and found that I was really just following my own desire to be somebody—and landed flat on my face. I’ve stayed in a place when, looking back, it was clear God wanted me to move on—but I was too scared to do so. In any case, God used my decision, my risk, my going and staying, and I learned something through it, something about myself, something about Him.
So how do you know whether taking a risk for God means staying or going? In my experience, it helps to consider a few things:
1. Scripture: Is leaving it all behind detrimental to the things God holds precious—marriage, promises, responsibility, etc? Or is fear alone keeping you where you are?
2. History: Did you just take a risk to go somewhere or do something new last week? Are you running away from something or someone?
3. Wise Counsel: What are trusted mentors, teachers, elders, your spouse or best friend saying to you? Has God revealed to them that the risk He wants you to take is to go, or to stay?
4. Peace: Can you have peace where you are or is there peace that comes with making a change? Has God revealed to you any hidden motives? Are you assured that you are already loved and that doing something “risky for God” is not going to make Him love you more?
As I’m reading Scripture, I see countless stories of men and women whose biggest challenge is not stepping out to go and follow God but continuing to follow Him. The biggest risk is often continuing to live in a God-honoring way, day in and day out, when it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure. It seems that many of us are in the same boat—where Jesus might be calling us to step out and walk on water, but He also might want us to just keep paddling.