What is the place of risk-taking in the life of the Christian? Does God want us to be safe?
We are preaching through the epic book of Nehemiah at TAC this fall. One of the reasons I wanted to walk through Nehemiah is there is this fascinating interplay between action and prayer. Nehemiah is constantly praying and attributing their successes to the hand of God. And at the same time, Nehemiah is a man of action, a Choleric/Lion-type personality.
It seems to me that most Christians seem to view these as conflicting choices. A big problem comes along, and the super-spiritual people organize a prayer vigil, and the super-practical people make an action plan. So which is right? Nehemiah teaches us that there doesn’t need to be a choice. It’s a false dichotomy. It’s not unspiritual to plan and act. It’s not impractical to prioritize prayer. Nehemiah demonstrates prayerful action.
Prayer as Excuse
I believe there is a problem that many have of praying without doing. Prayer is used an excuse for inaction. A person prays for their spouse to come to Christ but never shares Christ with them. A person prays for missions, but neither gives nor goes themselves. I’ll prayer for my marriage, but not work on it. I’ll pray about my sin, but not fight it. People are right to pray, but wrong to feel like prayer gets them off the hook and they don’t need to act and obey.
I’m not saying don’t pray. I would never suggest that. One of the great lessons from Nehemiah is to put prayer first. We need to fast, to pray on our own, to pray with others and to persevere in our praying. Nehemiah was praying for four months before the day of action came.
What we learn from Nehemiah is that while God definitely calls us to pray and trust him and seek his face. God also calls us to be strategic, to take risks, to plan ahead. God does his work through our prayer-saturated planning, through our strategic thinking. God is not limited to working only through foolishness and stupidity and people who are unprepared. He also does his work and builds his kingdom through good planning.
The Role of Risk
Sometimes fear dresses up as spirituality. We pray and pray, but want God to make our choices easy and obvious and safe. Whoever said that God wanted us to be safe? We pray first and pray often, but there comes a time when God calls us to step out in faith and take a risk. We won’t have all the answers. We won’t be certain that it will work out as we plan. We aren’t guaranteed of our safety. But we pray and risk. Those who never risk and always play it cautious and safe may seem more spiritual and mature (and they may be), but they may in fact be suffering from a fear of man, unable to step out in faith when God calls.
To clarify, I am not saying that every foolish risk is godly. There is only a certain king of risk-taking that we are talking about here. I believe that God calls us to a prayerful, faith-filled risk-taking for God’s glory. Each of those words are intentional and necessary. This is not prayerless risk-taking. A sort of, I’m going ahead whether God’s in it or not, type of risk-taking. That’s foolish. Nor am I advocating a self-reliant, arrogant risk-taking. A sort of Evel Knievel spirituality. We don’t take risks because we can do it, but because we serve a God of the impossible, and if he calls us to it, we don’t fear the risk. Nor am I supportive of a risk-taking that is vain and self-glorifying. Much risk-taking is glory-hunting. I risk so that I look adventurous and brave, so that others will marvel at me. All of these risks are backwards of the risks we are called to.
But instead God is calling us to prayerful, faith-filled risk-taking for God’s glory. This is the unsafe life that God wants for us. This is the example of the great heroes and martyrs of our faith. Nehemiah. Esther. Paul. Carey. Bonhoeffer. The Auca 5. And thousands of unknown Christians who prayed hard and followed God’s call into dangerous and risky places for God’s glory.