by Gary Corwin
EVERY UNDERTAKING IMAGINABLE entails risk. Risk is everywhere, but it’s not all the same: Some is avoidable; some is not. Some is necessary, even if it is avoidable. Some is worthy; some is not.
Jesus speaks forthrightly about the risk that comes with following him: “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death” (Luke 21:16). He does not say that all will be put to death, but some will. That is the nature of risk—not knowing the outcome.
Risk discussions in missions that begin with the task start at the wrong place. One must begin by understanding that risk comes with simply being a follower of Jesus Christ. Every believer is subject to the same dangerous calling: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). It follows then that:
1. Risk is part of everyone’s life and can never be avoided completely.
2. Christians face additional risks simply because they are followers of Jesus Christ.
3. The risks that missionaries face are not different from those of other Christians, but may be different in frequency and intensity.
Given then the universality of risk and its significance in the lives of all Jesus’ followers, what models does the Bible provide for handling risk? Examining some of them will help us differentiate between risk that is worthy, and risk that is not.
Old Testament examples of risk handled well include the story of Joab and Abishai leading the army of Israel against the Ammonites and the Assyrians (2 Sam. 10), the story of Queen Esther boldly entering the king’s presence in order to plea for the lives of her Jewish people, and the story of the three young Jewish slaves at King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, who entered the fiery furnace rather than bow to an idol (Dan. 3).
In each case, there was trust in the power of the sovereign God to save, combined with an absolute trust in his wisdom should he choose not to do so.
• Joab to Abishai: “Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him” (2 Sam. 10:11-12) [emphasis added].
• Esther to Mordecai: “Go gather all the Jews to be found in Susa and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esth. 4:15-16) [emphasis added].
• “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.’” (Daniel 3:16-18) [emphasis added].
One could go on to recount the incredible life pattern of the Apostle Paul. He recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:24ff all that he suffered as a result of risks taken to achieve God’s purposes. He never knew where the next painful challenge would come from, yet each new day he risked his life for the cause to which he was so totally committed.
Joab and Abishai, Esther, the fiery furnace threesome, and the Apostle Paul are shining examples of how right and how glorifying to God it is to risk for the sake of God’s purposes. A counter example from Numbers 13 and 14 is the story of the twelve spies, and the refusal of the people and of all of the spies except Joshua and Caleb to go forward. Their murmuring against their leaders and desire to pursue the illusion of safety back in Egypt was a rebellion against God, and led to death in the wilderness.
These biblical examples reveal additional principles for knowing and responding well to worthy risk:
4. It is right and God-glorifying to take risks to further God’s purposes.
5. Even the prospect of death should not deter such risk-taking, because God’s glory and our good are guaranteed.
6. Pursuing the myth of security (when risk-taking for God’s glory is called for) is to travel the path of disobedience and disappointment.
Worthy risk, then? It is what the Spirit of God is calling us to for his glory. Knowing it, like knowing the will of God in other matters, will require knowledge of his word and purposes, and a prayerful submission to the Spirit’s still, small voice. And it will almost always be scary, requiring focus on the assured presence and loving purposes of God.
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Gary Corwin is staff missiologist with the international office of SIM.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 2 pp. 116-117. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.