Risk-taking in Christian service is serving God despite the danger of suffering loss.
Most young people and adults today think that the purpose of life is to have a good time. For the sake of a good time, they are willing to take enormous risks. Why? Because they value the fleeting pleasures of life more than life itself. That is why teenagers are easily drawn into dangerous sports, reckless driving, drugs, promiscuous sex, and violence. That is why these same vices persist into adulthood.
Although many people take risks to please themselves, few are interested in taking risks to please God. Certainly there are risks in Christian service. But this kind of risk may yield no immediate pleasure. It is not glamorous or exciting, and the consequences may be very unpleasant.
- If you work in the nursery, there is a risk that all the babies will start bawling at the same time.
- If you sing a solo, there is a risk that you might miss the high note, or lose your place and have to start all over again.
- If you go on door-to-door visitation, there is a risk that people might heap verbal abuse on you, or laugh at you, or shut the door in your face.
- If you stand up to give a testimony, there is a risk that you might get nervous and talk in circles and make yourself look foolish.
- If you become a Christian school teacher, there is a risk that you might not have enough money to live on.
- If you become a preacher, there is a risk that your flock might rebel against the truth and against you and remove you from their pulpit. Jonathan Edwards, a towering figure in the church back in the eighteenth century, a man credited with sparking the Great Awakening, lost his church when his congregation voted him out in protest against his strong convictions.
- If you become a missionary, there is a risk that you might get sick on the field and die for lack of proper medical care. Jonathan Goforth, a great missionary to China back in the early 1900s, lost four children due to accidents or diseases they would not have suffered in this country.
- If you stand for Christ in a country without religious freedom, you might die a martyr's death.
What stops us from taking risks for God? Fear. Fear in itself is not bad unless it keeps us from doing right. Then it is bad indeed. Among the people who will be excluded from the New Jerusalem are the "fearful" (Rev. 21:8), referring to those who let fear drive them away from believing in Christ. For a Christian also, fear is dangerous. Any fear that keeps us from doing the will of God puts us out of fellowship with Him and forfeits His blessing.
What empowers us to overcome fear? Faith. How important is faith? "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
Jonathan is one of the few major Bible characters that the Bible never criticizes. It shows us no fault whatever in this man. In his innocence he is superior to his close friend, David. He compares favorably with David even in the mighty feats he accomplished with the power of God. David took a great risk in going against Goliath, but to overcome the Philistines, Jonathan took an even greater risk (1 Sam. 14:1-23).
As the Philistines advanced into Israel, they occupied a hill next to a gorge, across from the hiding place of a small force of Israelites. Jonathan was growing impatient with his father, King Saul, because he was unwilling to attack, and so the son decided to take matters into his own hands. But being reluctant to throw away his life rashly—that would not be faith, but presumption—he conceived a way of testing the Lord's will. He told his armor bearer, "We will go to the bottom of the gorge and show ourselves. If they chase us, we will retreat. But if they say, 'Come up and fight,' we will take that as a sign from the Lord that we should go up and fight." He meant that just he and his armor bearer would attack the whole garrison of Philistine soldiers.
Notice how Jonathan justified a plan that seemed suicidal. "It may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (1 Sam. 14:6). Here was heroic faith. He had no doubt that with God's help, two men could defeat a host.
The Philistines shouted, "The Hebrews have come out of their holes. Come up and fight." So Jonathan and his servant climbed the hill and joined battle. Jonathan led the charge, while his servant came behind and finished off his master's victims. Within a short time they had overcome about twenty men. Then the Lord sent an earthquake, causing such great confusion and commotion that the Philistines began to fight each other. The men of Israel across the gorge and everywhere else in the vicinity rushed to join the fracas, and they soon put the Philistines to flight. The great victory of Israel on that day followed from the willingness of one man to face a whole army.
It was dangerous to be a Christian in pagan Rome. The Romans were bloodthirsty and depraved beyond anything we in the modern civilized world can imagine, and they hated nonconformists. They accused Christians of being misanthropes (people-haters) because they kept to themselves, refusing to join in public festivals or to attend public spectacles, such as at the arena. They also accused Christians of ritual cannibalism, saying that the blood of communion was the blood of babies they had sacrificed. From time to time, with popular support, the Roman government unleashed a ferocious persecution of Christians.
Consider what happened during the reign of Nero. A great fire swept through Rome in AD 64, and the people of the city whispered that Nero himself had set it. To divert suspicion from himself, Nero blamed the Christians, and he decreed that being a Christian was a treasonous crime punishable by death. The forms of death he inflicted on those judged guilty were gruesome. To entertain guests at a great banquet held in his private gardens, he had Christians fastened on poles, covered with pitch, and used as living torches. He dressed others in the skins of wild animals and then released dogs to tear them apart. It was probably during this persecution that both Peter and Paul lost their lives, the former by crucifixion, the latter by beheading.
From these examples we learn that there are two kinds of faith.
- Jonathan's victory over the enemies of God illustrates the kind that enables us to perform great feats. We read of other great feats done by men of faith in Hebrews 11, the "Hall of Faith." They "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again" (Heb. 11:33-35).
- The patient suffering of early Christians shows us another kind of faith—the kind that enables us to endure persecution and death. Again in Hebrews 11 we find examples: "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:35-38). Notice in the middle of verse 35 the switch from one kind of faith to the other.
If we as Christians have power to perform great feats, why are we unable to stop persecution? Faith can move mountains, but it cannot change the world. The world will lie in wickedness until Christ returns, and until then it will continue to hate Christ and the followers of Christ and will seek to kill them. And God will allow the world to have power over His people, even to afflict and kill them, because He wants to see His people standing fast under persecution. To endure trouble for His sake is a convincing way of showing that we love Him.
How did Jonathan die? The Philistines killed him at the battle on Mt. Gilboa (1 Sam. 31:1-6). His life is a parable of the Christian life. In wars against the Philistines, he won many victories for God, but at last he succumbed to the enemy. Likewise, after winning many victories for God as we serve Him in this world, we too will fall by the hand of our enemy death. But as Christ rose from the dead, so will we, and so will Jonathan.
How can we gain enough faith to gladly undertake risk in the service of God? We need to know and apply the five principles of faith.
Principle 1: Without Risk There Is No Reward.
Getting married involves risk. Some years ago when my nephew was approaching marriage, he told me he had heard a piece by Berlioz (a classical composer who lived in the early 1800s) that he thought would make a good wedding processional. He hummed a few bars, and I said, "Oh yes, that's a famous march in his Symphonie Fantastique. Do you know what it's called?" "No," he said. "Well," I said, "it's called 'The March to the Scaffold.'" There is risk in marriage, but most people are willing to take the risk to gain the rewards.
Yet we allow the fear of risk to keep us from gaining the rewards in Christian service. Anyone who works hard for Christ will stand before Him and hear Him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21). But we would rather be safe in suburbia, or in the country. We would rather sit in our climate-controlled homes, surrounded by every conceivable electronic gadget to save work or provide entertainment. We would rather live unruffled but empty lives.
Principle 2: The Only Risk Lies in Not Serving God.
Consider what happened to Jonah. Perhaps Jonah thought it was dangerous to go to Nineveh. But if so, how did he escape the risk? He boarded a rickety boat and set sail on the tempestuous Mediterranean. The boat came near to sinking, and Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. We can draw many lessons from his book, but perhaps the main lesson is that God can use even a man with no common sense.
Consider what happened to the mother of Isobel Kuhn. Isobel was one of the great missionaries of the last century. As a young school teacher in the 1920s, she sensed a clear call to become a missionary to China, but her mother, a Christian woman, was absolutely opposed to her answering the call. She did not want her daughter begging money from people. She was afraid too that her daughter would end up destitute. Isobel persisted in her desire, however, and finally obtained her mother's permission to go to Moody Bible Institute. But her mother still refused to let her become a missionary. After Isobel had been at Moody awhile, the time came for her to crystallize her plans for the future, and she prayed fervently that her mother would change her mind. The prayer was answered in an unexpected way. The girl received a telegram informing her that her mother had died suddenly. Isobel went on to become a great missionary, with at least hundreds won to the Lord through her ministry. The lesson for us? It is not safe to hinder someone else from serving God. If this is true, it must also be true that it is equally not safe to refuse serving God yourself.
As we consider Isobel's story, we cannot avoid a probing question: Was she herself at fault in any way in her dealings with her mother? Yes, she was. She had a wrong concept of authority. She made going to the mission field contingent on her mother's permission. Consequently, because God never overrides a person's freedom to oppose His will, the only way He could get Isobel on the field was to take her mother's life. How much better if the girl had simply done what was right without regard to her mother!
As we train up our children, we emphasize to them that they must obey their parents. The Bible says, "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord" (Col. 3:20). It is vitally important that children hear and accept this command. Rebellion against legitimate authority is a rampant sin in our society. Children are naturally carnal in their desires and foolish in their choices, and they need the guidance of parents. But sometimes we fail to reckon with the whole counsel of God. Elsewhere the Bible says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1). Notice that the authority of parents is limited to the sphere where they truly speak for the Lord. If they speak contrary to the Lord, in opposition to His law or His will, they have no authority at all, and a child is not obliged to obey them. Of course, a young child must generally assume that his parents' will is in harmony with the Lord's will. But an adult child is perfectly capable of judging whether his parents are telling him the same thing that the Holy Spirit is telling him.
The issue of parental authority is relevant here because this lesson falls in a series on Christian service. If a person is called into Christian service, the place where opposition is likely to arise first is within his own family. There have been times beyond measure when parents and family have tried to keep someone from following God's call in his life. Jesus anticipated this. Therefore, He left us the following instructions:
59 And he [Jesus] said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Jesus was saying, "Don't let family obligations or family pressure keep you from following me, whether in salvation or service."
Principle 3: There Is No One to Fear.
The psalmist asked, "Of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psa. 27:1). Is it the devil? The devil is a powerful being. Few Christians today understand the extent of his control over the world system, or even the extent of his influence in the church. We should not revile him or seek to pick a fight with him (Jude 9). Yet we also should not fear him (1 John 4:4). As we work steadily at the tasks God has given us, we should let God take care of the devil.
Afraid of man? We should not fear man, but God (Matt. 10:28). We should fear what He can do to us. If we belong to Him, He will not cast us into hell, but He may chasten us. Anyone who has suffered the chastening of the Lord knows what it means to fear Him.
Principle 4: There Is No Power without a Step of Faith.
Before Jesus exercised His power to heal, He required the afflicted person or someone else on his behalf to take a step of faith. For example, when He met a man who was deaf and dumb, He took the man aside and "put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened" (Mark 7:33-4). Why did Jesus touch the man's tongue? He was letting the man know His intention to heal him so that he could respond with faith.
A step of faith is therefore the key to obtaining God's power. If we lack faith, our prayer should be what the man said who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus. When the man pleaded with Jesus to heal his son, Jesus replied, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23). The man "cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24).
When you serve the Lord, you may not sense much help from the Holy Spirit until you get busy. When you go soulwinning, for example, the Spirit will not carry you to the door or ring the doorbell or open your mouth. He may not even relieve your jitters. But when you open your mouth, He will help you. He will help you because by faith you have positioned yourself to need His help.
You say, "I've tried that, and it didn't work. When I opened my mouth, I still stumbled and fumbled and made myself look foolish." Or maybe you tried to sing a solo, but you lost your place and stood like a stone through two whole stanzas. Or maybe you tried to teach Sunday School, but the kids refused to sit still and listen, and a fight broke out in the middle of the closing prayer. The explanation for such fiascoes lies in the last principle.
Principle 5: The Proof of the Spirit Lies Not in the Process but in the Result.
When you are serving in the Spirit, God may or may not enable you to give a good performance. If He does not, there are three possible reasons.
- He wants to keep you humble.
- He wants to keep you dependent on Him—to preserve in your heart a constant seeking after His help.
- He wants to test your willingness to persevere despite difficulties.
Yet if a good performance is necessary for some good purpose, God will enable you to give it. When you speak for Him, He may put an awe-inspiring authority in your voice. They said of Jesus, "Never man spake like this man" (John 7:46). James and John were called Boanerges, which means "sons of thunder," no doubt an allusion to their powerful preaching.
But again, the proof of the Spirit lies not in the process, but in the result. The greatest moving of the Holy Spirit in America was the Great Awakening, back in the 1730s. The preacher that God used to spearhead the Great Awakening was Jonathan Edwards, who was one of the most learned and intellectual men ever to fill a pulpit in this country. His works on philosophy are still read today. But he was hardly an exciting preacher. He did not move around. He looked straight ahead. He did not raise his voice. He spoke very slowly and distinctly. Sometimes he read his sermon. Yet when people heard him, they felt that they were moments away from standing before an Almighty Judge.
Was Edwards effective because of his preaching methods, his rhetorical devices, his vocal technique? No, because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. If we must take risks for Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who is the key to success. He overcomes our fears, gives us faith, and works through us to bless others.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.