Why is it we never associate risk with Christianity? Think about it. When was the last time you thought of a great risk when you thought of your relationship with Jesus? How often do you connect the dots of faith and risk in your regular dealings with church and spiritual things? Most of us have our faith down to a science. We have found ways to eliminate any and every possible risk from our lives and we like it that way. For many to risk in anything is to test God’s will and to show a lack of faith.
Ironically enough, faith itself is a huge risk. John’s Gospel shows us that, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” No one has ever seen God, yet we trust that he exists and desires an intimate relationship with us by faith. That’s a risky proposition. We trust that there is eternal life or eternal death and that our souls are protected by the sacrifice of Jesus for all eternity by faith in the words of those who claim to have been eye witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That sounds pretty risky to me.
There are other places in our lives that we take risks with regularity. Marriage is a huge risk. Two people who can’t see beyond the moment into the future declare their undying love for each other in a day and age where half of every marriage ends in divorce. Think about those odds in other areas of life. Few people would fly in airplanes if 1 out of every 2 planes crashed. How many people would commute via automobile if 1 out of every 2 cars crashed. I wonder how many people would eat fast food if 1 out of every 2 people to eat fast food dropped dead? Yet we let love push us into marriage where the odds are nearly against us. It’s a risky proposition, but one that we choose to take.
If you were brave enough to risk getting married chances are your friends decorated your vehicle with “just married” all over the back windshield and tied cans to drag behind the car as you ran through a storm of raining rice into your newlywed car. As you and your new spouse pull out into oncoming traffic headed toward your honeymoon destination be careful because you just took another huge risk. In America approximately 1 person dies every 16 minutes due to an automobile accident. That means that in the time you sit through one church service around 7 people die in a car accident. So you took a tremendous risk just getting to the church for the wedding ceremony!
We take more risks than we acknowledge every day. Chances are we have become so numb to the reality that we are taking a risk that we simply fall into “autopilot” and mindlessly perform the task at hand. I think that we do the opposite of that when it comes to our faith. I believe that we slip into “autopilot” and mindlessly walk away from any chance of a risk when it comes to Jesus and Christianity. Somewhere along the line we have bought into the lie that to be a follower of Jesus means that we simply go to church regularly and say a few prayers from time to time and by all means avoid any and all risks. That may be a form of American Christianity, but it is in no means authentic Biblical Christianity.
To be a Christian is to be a risk-taker. To step out of the boat and onto the water requires us to let go of all that is familiar and walk out onto the risky waters of the unknown. We will never fully experience the breathtaking heights of Christ by avoiding the risks God directs us toward. We have to be willing to strap into his plan and hold on tight trusting that every twist and turn is part of His great plan to create within us the traits necessary to light up the world with love and truth. We cannot hold tight to the reigns of control while gripping the mane of the Wild One whose image we bear.
In my walk with Christ I don’t always live as risky as God would want me to. I have had moments of risk, but most of the time when the dust settles I wind down into a more manageable lifestyle. The greatest risk I ever took was to adopt our children. I had no idea how in the world to take care of twin boys, yet I knew with all my heart that God wanted us to move forward with faith and trust him. Today we still encounter places as parents where we don’t know how God is going to do it, but we trust that if He is leading us to the risk then there will be a reward eventually.
Another risk that was pretty big for our family was to pack up everything we owned in a U-Haul truck and move nearly 600 miles away from everything we knew. We had no guarantee that Forward Church would grow. We had no idea that you would eventually make Forward Church your home. What we did have was a strong sense that God wanted to use this place to do something special. We set out in faith and took a risk that is still paying off today. As I look to the future of our church I know that as long as we continue to trust God and take great risks we will continue to see lives changed and people who are far from God be brought near and begin a new life with Jesus.
I’ve found this rule to be true: The greatest moments of my life have always been on the other side of a great risk. I am married to the most amazing woman on the planet who loves me and has been there every step of the way. I wouldn’t have her without taking a great risk. I have the most awesome, curly-headed kids around. I wouldn’t have them in my life without taking a great risk. I am literally living my dream of being a part of a life-giving church that helps people connect to Jesus. I wouldn’t be a part of this at all without taking a great risk. The greatest moments of my life have always been on the other side of a great risk.
What about your life? Do you see that rule to play out in your life? Think for a moment about the greatest moments of your life. Are they tied to taking a great risk? Maybe the greatest moment in your life is your marriage. That certainly was a great risk…if not for you trust me it was a great risk for your spouse! Maybe the greatest moment of your life was the day your children were born. That was (and still is) a huge risk. Maybe the greatest moment of your life was graduating High School or College. You had to take some pretty big risks along the way to achieving that moment. Maybe the greatest moment of your life was overcoming a huge obstacle. Maybe your parents divorced when you were young and you had to overcome feeling like you were the reason or that nothing would ever work out for you. That takes great risk to overcome. Maybe you were the one in an abusive relationship and you experienced a divorce and now you’re starting to find yourself again and learning to trust God as He restores your life. That is a tremendous risk to overcome. Maybe you are pursuing a Master’s Degree or deciding to go back to school. That’s a great risk. Wherever you are in life your greatest moments will always be closely connected to great risk.
The Bible is full of stories of great risk-takers too. There’s Abraham who took a great risk when God tested him asking him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. It was in the context of risk that he experienced God in a powerful way. What about Noah? He took a huge risk by building an ark to save his family and preserve life on the earth during the
Great Flood. By the way, it had never rained before when God told him that rain was coming. Everyone in his life ridiculed him as he trusted God and build the boat. His salvation came because he took a risk of faith and trusted God. Think about Moses standing up to the most powerful man on the planet at the time and demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites from their slavery. He led a revolution because he was willing to risk it all. David would have never slayed Goliath if he hadn’t taken a life-altering risk that day. In the New Testament, none of the disciples would have encountered Jesus without risking everything to follow him and become his disciples. Peter would have never walked on an ounce of water without risking getting out of the boat. Paul would have never started a missionary and church planting movement if he didn’t risk leaving his old life as a Pharisee behind and traveling from country to country preaching about the Kingdom of God. You cannot get away from the truth that Great Christians take great risks.
As we learn what it takes to move from good to great in God’s eyes we have to confront the reality that great Christians take great risks. They make their minds up that they’re all in. They push all their chips to the center of the table and trust God’s leading. They understand that where there is no risk there is no reward.
In Mark 1 we read of a great risk taken by those first soon-to-be-disciples of Jesus:
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
One of the key words in Mark’s Gospel is the word immediately. His Gospel carries a sense of urgency. In this story those first disciples immediately, or “at once” leave everything behind and take a great risk to follow Jesus. Today the story is still the same. If you want to truly follow Christ you will have to immediately leave everything behind and trust that the reward of God is worth the risk of following. There can be no other way.
Think about the implications of this moment. Had they decided that the risk was too great they would have missed out on the opportunity to influence the world for years to come. We wouldn’t hear about the Gospel of John because John would have stayed in the boat with his father and continued to fish. We wouldn’t know about Peter’s great teaching to the Early Church and the world because he would have continued to be a fisherman. They would miss their chance to be great in God’s eyes because they let the fear of the risk paralyze them from fulfilling God’s call on their lives.
Make no mistake about it these men left more than fishing nets that day. They weren’t on the docks fishing because it was a nice Saturday. They were fishing because it was their career. They were professional fishermen. It’s how they made a living. John and his brother were so successful at fishing that their family had a fleet of boats and hired men to work with them. Fishing was their business and business was good yet they left it all behind for a greater call.
Imagine if the only way you could fulfill God’s call on your life meant leaving your job tomorrow. If you had no sure guarantee that you would be financially taken care of would you be willing to let everything go to chase after God’s will for your life? What would you do if you had to walk away from your health benefits and 401k to pursue the life Christ offers? Those are serious questions with serious implications. Most of us would like to think that we would walk away from anything to follow Jesus, but I wonder if it really came down to it would we have the courage to risk it all for Jesus?
I wrestled with this early in my life as a pastor. The first church that I was a pastor of was a small church just west of Atlanta, Georgia. They were a tiny congregation located on the “wrong side of the tracks” and couldn’t offer much salary for anyone. There were around 12 people in the building and it was everything they could do to keep the lights on every month. My first salary as a pastor was $75 a week. On top of that after my tithe came out it left April and me with $67.50 to live off of. She never said it, but I’m sure that was not the fairytale marriage that April had dreamed of when she was a little girl.
While I served as the pastor there I also had another job. I was an assistant manager of a retail store. I had great benefits and the job was easy. It was really a great setup. When our store manager heard about me taking the position as the pastor he was excited for me and offered to work my schedule around my duties as a pastor. I had every Sunday off and they would let me work early shifts on Wednesdays so that I could make it to the church for the mid-week service. They were very kind and accommodating to me then. The only problem was the store I worked at was 118 miles away! Twice a week I was travelling to and from one job to the next. I was commuting 472 miles each week from one job to the other. It was grueling. I knew that eventually I would have to make a difficult decision about these two jobs. For nearly 3 months I made the drive – over and over and over again. If you do the math I drove approximately 6,000 miles in 3 months from one job to the other.
Around that same time I heard a sermon from Andy Stanley the pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. The big idea from the sermon series was that our lives are a series of stories that we will eventually tell others and he challenged us to ask this question: Do I want to tell my story to others or do I want to change the story before I tell it? I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. My story at the time was: I’m serving as a pastor of a small church, but I’m too scared to risk leaving my ‘good’ job behind and trusting God to provide for me. It was a harsh reality check for me. I had to come to terms with the reality that I was trusting more in my job to provide for me than I was in my God to provide for me. So after much praying and fasting and talking with April and other mentors in my life I decided that the story I wanted to tell was a story of how I trusted God more than anything else. I quit my job as an assistant manager and moved into a small house about 2 miles from the church and although it was tough financially for a while I knew that the risk was worth taking because God never fails those who are willing to trust Him with their whole heart.
Let me ask you the same question that Andy Stanley asked me: What do you want your story to be? Do you want your story to be like that of those early disciples? Do you want to say you trusted God or do you want to say that you were too scared to take a great risk? Do you want to tell your children that you “immediately left your nets and followed him” or do you want to say you passed up the risk of a lifetime? Let me encourage you to take the risk. If God is leading you to it He will see you through it.
For those first disciples they had to ask some tough questions. Can I trust this young teacher named Jesus? How will I take care of my family? What will I do to provide for myself? How will this pan out? It’s never easy to walk away from what has been a good thing. It’s never easy to chose risk over certainty. If we are truly honest we would all say that we would rather follow Jesus while still being fishermen. After all we can have it both ways right? Later in Mark’s Gospel he records Jesus’ response to that question:
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
The truth is Jesus demands all of us not just part of us. He told the crowd – and his disciples – that the only way to follow Him is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and then follow after him. There is no other way. Our story has to be a story of risk.
Imagine what your life would look like if you decided to trust God and take a great risk. Think of the payoff to actually pursuing God’s call on your life. Maybe God is leading you to go back to school, but you’ve been putting it off for years…stop avoiding the risk and step out in faith. Maybe God is calling you to start a ministry to serve scared, pregnant teenage girls, but you are too scared to try…step out in faith and take the risk. Maybe God has been nudging you to ask that girl out that you see at church every week, but you are scared of rejection…spray your best cologne on, comb your hair and take the risk. Maybe God is calling you to serve in the nursery, but you don’t want to leave the nets of the comfortable church service…let go of yourself, take the risk and volunteer. Maybe God is leading you to start a Bible study with your family at night after dinner, but you don’t feel like you know enough of the Bible to do it…buy a study Bible, join RightNow Media, open Google up and take the risk. Whatever God is leading you to do stop waiting for the perfect conditions and step out in faith. If you want to move from being good into being great in God’s eyes trust him and take a great risk!
When Jesus talked to the crowd in Mark 8.34-35 he taught a profound reality about how life works. He said that everywhere we try to save our lives we really lose our lives. We can’t save love by never giving it away. We only experience love when we take the risk to give love away. He taught that in life when we hold onto things what we are really doing is holding onto the potential for a great life. If you remember your high school science class you’ll know that potential energy doesn’t move anything only kinetic energy makes a difference. Your life is full of potential energy. You have potential energy to make a difference in the world. You have potential energy to be a great Christian. I hope that you will be willing to take great risks and turn your potential energy into kinetic energy and see movement happen all around you. Jesus promised that, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” In other words, when we make the decision to let go of what is holding us back then (and only then) will we really gain what matters in life. Losing our life means letting go and taking the risk. It means getting out of our comfort zones and getting into the kinetic zone.
I’m willing to bet that there is at least one area in your life that God has been leading you to take a great risk. Chances are there is more than one area. You’ve heard his voice and felt his hand pulling you toward a greater life. Make your mind up today that you will begin to leave your nets behind and follow him. I know that the nets are a security blanket and it’s hard to leave the comfort of them, but I also know that your greatest moments are on the other side of great risk.
God understands where you are today. He knows how hard you fight to keep a tight grip on the nets. He understands how painful and scary a great risk is. After all He modeled great risk for us in His Son Jesus. Think of the risk it took to leave the security of Heaven and be born in a manger. He extended His hand of grace to us by showing us the greatest of all love and dying on the Cross for the sins of the world. He was willing to do whatever it took to redeem and restore us. Yet in all that Christ did on the Cross he never once demanded that we love Him in return. He doesn’t override your own decision to either love him or walk away from him because real love doesn’t demand a response. He took a risk that you and I would experience His love and turn to Him for salvation and freedom. That’s not the message of the Gospel…that is the Gospel. Jesus risked it all for you and me. He let go of the nets and he trusted the plan of the Father. My prayer for us all is that we learn from Him as we love on Him.
One day you will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren a story of complete trust in God’s will because you decided to take great risks. You won’t look back with regret on the risks you didn’t take because today you made your mind up to trust with your whole heart. One day you and your spouse will look back on the way God carried you through the times you stepped out in faith and smile. One day you will be sitting across a table from someone who needs the lessons you are learning today because of your trust in God through great risks. You won’t have to say how you wished you had taken that new job or started that ministry or gave that money to feed the homeless or led that small group or moved to that new city because you have decided to trust God and take great risks. One day you will look with joy and pride at your children when they tell you how they trust God because they saw you trust God. One day you will hold hands and pray with a close friend knowing that God is in control of their situation because you have lived out his faithfulness since you trusted God. One day you will stand before the Throne of God and hear him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” because you chose to take great risks and trust an even Greater God.