I spent about ten years living and ministering in a small town in southern Wisconsin. A number of the families in our church body were raising farm animals. One family had goats.
Not once (in all my years in that fellowship) did I ever hear that family express worry over what would happen to the poor coyotes and mountain lions if one curious little goat managed to escape the pen.
Because we all know full well the fate that would await such an adventurous little guy: coyote food.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus gathers together his disciples to give them an encouraging word about his calling on their lives. So, what does he tell them? How he will always be with them? How he has given them every place they set their feet? How a thousand may fall at their side, ten thousand at their right hand, but it won’t come near them? How power will come on them and they’ll be witnesses to the outermost parts of the earth? How he loves them so jealously?
No, he tells them simply, “Look, I’m sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure not one of the disciples heard that and thought to himself, “Poor wolves. Did anybody warn them the sheep would be coming?” No, they all would have thought, “Poor me! I don’t wanna get eaten!” (Y’know, this is probably why Jesus said in Matthew 9:38 to pray for the Father to THRUST out laborers into the harvest. The laborers don’t wanna go ’cause they know they’re gonna get eaten.)
I have been thinking about risk lately.
Our whole lives are built around removing risk or at the very least negating its affect on us. We want safety, we want comfort, we want to feel good. We hate pain, we can’t stand uncertainty, we won’t tolerate discomfort. Our bodies crave security like we hunger for food or for water. In fact, I would say that our aversion to risk is so much a part of who we are and how our culture behaves that we hardly even notice it any longer. Think about it, we call it wisdom when we live in a way that decreases risk, and the opposite we call foolishness. Our flight from risk affects everything, from our dreams to our daily routine.
Oh, how we hate risk.
But Jesus did not call us to live safe, comfortable lives. He called us to follow him, and he is far from family-friendly or safe. (Sorry, Life 102.5.)
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man?” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
“I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”
Jesus is not safe, and neither is it safe to follow him. (Think about it, in Matthew 11:29, he invites us to be yoked with him. Like it could ever be safe to be yoked to a lion!)
Risk is in the very nature of God, and from the beginning it has been integral in his plan for humankind. Have you ever thought about how unsafe was the Garden of Eden? Aside from the obvious danger involved in walking around a forest in your birthday suit, there’s more to worry about here than thorns in low places. Right in the Garden, God plants a forbidden tree. He puts it right there in the garden, right where Adam and Eve live and work, right where they’ll be every day. And then he even allows for temptation, giving an open door for Satan in the form of a snake to come on in to paradise for a while. (We know Satan didn’t sneak in since God is omniscient and omnipresent; nor did he force his way in since God is omnipotent. The only answer is that God let him in.) Talk about hazardous working conditions! This is paradise surely, and yet risk abounds.
Where I grew up, hunting was very popular, especially deer hunting. I love the taste of venison and would have loved to try my hand at hunting, but every fall when the season would come around, I couldn’t help but think a bit about Bambi. We all know the story of Bambi, the poor little deer whose mom is killed by a hunter. If only she had stayed home.
Seriously, though, what if a deer responded to risk like we in the church have responded? It would never leave the den! And it’d die the slow death of starvation.
Perhaps this is why so many of us are far more zealously attacking one another than we are standing up for righteousness in the world or declaring the gospel to those who haven’t yet heard it. We’ve fled the risk and so now, holed up in our dens, we’re slowly eating ourselves to death. (I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”)
As I read the other day about when Jesus first sent out his disciples, it hit me that these men chose to lay down their comforts in order to walk in risk. God did not take away their money or their resources; the men chose to leave them behind for a season. They very deliberately chose to practice risk.
Mark 6:7-9 reads, “And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff–no bread, no bag, no money in their belt–but to wear sandals; and He added, ‘Do not put on two tunics.'”
It’s not like the men didn’t have tunics and bread and belts and money available. They surely had them; they probably had plenty. But they deliberately left them behind for a time.
There are times when risk comes to us whether we want it or not. It is thrust upon us when we are much unaware and sometimes not at all ready for it. But we roll with the punches and continue all the better for it.
But then there is the discipline of risk.
Just as fasting is a discipline we use to awaken our hunger for God or as Bible-study is a discipline we practice to fill our minds with the Word of God or as solitude is a discipline we keep to grow our fellowship with the Father, so is risk a discipline which we choose to practice to awaken our trust in God.
When I think about practicing the discipline of risk, I get excited. I’m excited to put myself into situations where, if God doesn’t show up, I’m lost. (Now, I should say before someone gets the wrong idea that I’m not talking about throwing your brain or the guidance of the Holy Spirit out of the picture here. I’m not advocating going to the poisonous snake exhibit and finding a new pet or testing out the flavor of bleach or proving the ability of God to preserve you from STDs or whatever crazy stunt you can think of. Keep your brain, listen to the Holy Spirit, be wise.)
I think about taking a train to share the gospel in a city to which I’ve never been before, bringing only my Bible and the clothes on my back. I think about approaching the drug-addicts I pass by every time I go to the grocery store, opening my mouth, and fumbling my way through the gospel in Romanian. I think about heading into town and choosing to not come back until I’ve prayed with someone for healing. I think about being deliberate in creating room for God to show up in power in my life and for me to fail.
In closing, check out this awesome ad campaign by Apple from the 1980s.
I don’t know about you, but I for one am tired of letting my aversion to risk decide my life.
It’s time to get back to Christianity.
Romans 8:35-36, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘for Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'”