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Stephen Chandler: Taking a Wise Risk

One of  my favorite stories in Scripture is found in 1 Samuel 14. The Israelites found themselves at war—again—with the Philistines,  and  it  wasn’t  going  well.  The  biggest  challenge was a shortage of  weapons. Only King Saul and his son Jonathan had swords, which made going into battle tricky. Even if everyone had had a sword, however, they were also vastly outnumbered.  Saul  and  his  six  hundred  fighting  men  were camped out, trying to decide what to do, while the Philistines waited  with  “three  thousand  chariots,  six  thousand  horsemen,  and  so  many  soldiers  that  they  were  as  thick  as  sand along the seashore” (1 Samuel 13:5, TLB).

Stephen Chandler is the senior pastor of Union Church in Maryland and author of books like Stop Waiting for Permission.

Jonathan decided to sneak away to get a closer look at one of  the enemy outposts. So the prince and his bodyguard crept down  this  narrow  pass,  and  then  Jon  delivered  the  best action-movie  line  of   all  time.  Forget Braveheart or Black Hawk Down. Forget Rambo. Jonathan turned to his bodyguard and said,  “Let’s  go  across  to  those  heathen.  Perhaps the Lord will do a miracle for us. For it makes no difference to him how many enemy troops there are!” (14:6, TLB). 

Don’t miss this: Jonathan moved forward on a perhaps.

But  that’s  not  even  the  craziest  part.  In  response,  Prince  Jon’s  bodyguard  said,  “Do  as  you  think  best;  I’m  with  you  heart and soul, whatever you decide” (verse 7, TLB).

I’m literally screaming right now at how gangster that is. The Bible doesn’t say so, but in my imagination, heaven was a  little  caught  off  guard.  (According  to  the  Gospels,  Jesus  often  marveled  at  expressions  of   great  faith,  so  it’s  not  a  completely outlandish notion.) I can almost see God yelling, “They said what? Wait— where are they going?” Even though He’s  never  really  surprised,  I  bet  He  still  gets  excited  every  time somebody says “Perhaps the Lord will” and moves forward in faith. 

Maybe  you’re  deeply  risk  averse.  Reading  1  Samuel  14  gives you hives. You like your life predictable, consistent, and safe.  You  say  things  like  “Rome  wasn’t  built  in  a  day”  and  “The tortoise wins every time.” You govern your life, family, and work with measured care, and it has paid off insofar as you’ve never had a major setback. But you’ve also never had an exponential success. 

Or maybe you’re highly risk tolerant. You’re all about the big leap. In fact, either you’ve just jumped or you’re getting ready  to  do  so,  because  you  love  leaping—almost  (but  not quite)  for  its  own  sake.  It’s  thrilling.  You  say  things  like  “God’s got this” and “We’ll fix it in postproduction.” Some of the  time  your  leaps  pay  off,  but  you’re  no  stranger  to uncontrolled  free  fall  either.  Somehow,  so  far,  you’ve  managed to bounce back from failure. But who’s to say whether the next leap will be your last?

What  if   there’s  a  third  option?  What  if   inertia  isn’t  an  inevitable  side  effect  of   wisdom?  What  if   recklessness  isn’t  the only way to take a leap of  faith?

Faith  isn’t  blind.  It  has  weight  and  mass.  Hebrews  11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of  things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (NKJV).

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As bold and eager as Jonathan was, he didn’t just run full speed toward the  Philistines’  outpost, swinging  his sword over his head. He devised a plan to move forward far enough to be seen but not far enough to be in harm’s way. He and his bodyguard  would  show  themselves  and,  based  on  the  enemy’s  response,  decide  whether  to  continue moving forward or run for their lives. (You can read how their gamble paid off in 1 Samuel 14:8–23.)

“I’m with you heart and soul, whatever you decide” sounds reckless, but what if  the prince’s bodyguard had been watching  him  take wise risks for  years?  If   he had seen Jonathan balance risk-taking with strategy and godly counsel time and again,  it’s  no  wonder  he  was  so  confident  in  his  leader’s decision-making ability.

Wisdom and leaps of  faith aren’t opponents; they’re dance partners.  Risk  and  strategy  aren’t  adversaries;  they’re  comrades. You can be risk averse and still learn to take leaps of  faith that feel comfortable. You can be drawn to every risk that you see and still be intentional in your journey. Taking a risk doesn’t have to mean throwing caution to the wind. In fact, when I contemplate a risk, I start with the worst-case scenario and plan from there. What if  this is an absolute disaster? Can I  live  with  the  consequences?  How  long  would  it  take  to  recover from a setback? (If  recovery is unlikely, it’s not a risk; it’s self-destruction. I won’t do it.) What can I do now to mitigate some of  the fallout if  it all goes horribly wrong?

When I decided to hire Destiny Church’s first staff members, we didn’t have the monthly revenue to cover additional employee  salaries.  However,  I  was  reasonably  certain  that  adding ministry staff would eventually, among other things, increase congregational giving. But what if  it didn’t? Could I ask  someone  to  leave  a  reliable  source  of   income  for  their  family and just trust that it would all work out? No. I couldn’t ask someone to risk a setback they would struggle to recover from. So I waited to hire staff until we had one year’s salary for each new employee in our savings account. Hiring was a risk, but we had more than a wish and a prayer. We had wisdom plus peace plus godly counsel, which is the formula for a confident leap of faith.


Excerpted from Stop Waiting for Permission: Harness Your Gifts, Find Your Purpose, and Unleash Your Personal Genius. Copyright © 2022 by Stephen Chandler. To be published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on September 27, 2022.

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