“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16
“Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” Acts 22:22
Our culture is risk averse! I was reminded of this reality a few years ago when the family and I visited Lorna’s family in Norway. We were staying with them at their summer cabin on the south coast. Lorna and I were being good ‘responsible’ parents and keeping our children within sight and certainly not letting them do any dangerous things. However, it was very evident that Norwegians have a very different view of risk. We saw young children swimming a loooong way out in the sea. Lorna’s uncle told us stories of how, as a young boy and on his own, he would kayak to an island we could barely see on the horizon! Again and again I was a little shocked and worried as my risk aversion clashed with the more adventure-loving personal responsibility culture of Norway.
I believe we see this same risk aversion at play in today’s church. Firstly, there are the false teachers (yes I did use that phrase), such as Joel Osteen, who repackage God as a genie in the bottle to make your life comfortable and to give you all the things your heart could desire. Think I’m overstating things? Take a read of this: “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us” (Joel Osteen). There are countless other teachers and examples of this poisonous repackaging of the gospel where the ‘American dream’ has been dressed up in Christian clothing and presented to people as the goal of the Christian life. However, there is also a second and less obvious ‘risk aversion’ that can creep into church life. This risk aversion happens when we lose sight of the fact that we’re only ever pilgrims passing through this life. As soon as that starts to happen we inevitably will start to build kingdoms here to try and shore up our lives. These kingdoms can involve bigger houses, fatter pay packets, and bigger pensions. Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying; there is nothing wrong with having a nice house, a well-paid job and a good pension for the future. However, when those things start to become front and centre in your thinking, they will start making you risk averse! And that’s something very dangerous for our calling to Jesus.
Let’s return to our Bible verses. Here we have two moments in the life of the Apostle Paul. The first is at his conversion and the other is a seismic shift in his life. Before Acts 22, the Apostle Paul was travelling widely and planting churches all over the known world. After Acts 22, the Apostle Paul was going to be a man incarcerated, limited, constrained and restricted and yes, facing personal suffering and the sentence of death was going to cast a long shadow over his life. Yet, please notice how both his expansive church planting mission and his constrained and restricted ministry to the upper echelons of Roman power had been foretold to him at his conversion! Freewheeling adventurous missions and painful suffering in prison were part of what it meant for the Apostle Paul to be faithful to his Lord!
Like the Apostle Paul, our lives will often encounter moments of set-back, obstacles, pain and suffering, especially if we’re looking to live with the one single and blazing goal of making much of Jesus! This type of life is a risky life. This type of life will get us in choppy water. This type of life will put comfort, security and settledness at risk! Let me finish with a quote from John Piper … “And I hope that I can disabuse you, free you from the illusion of security that most people live for in this world. It is an illusion. It’s a myth of safety. An enchantment. People live in an enchantment of security, constantly padding their locks and putting big airbags in their car and operating as though life could be made secure, and it can’t. And it shouldn’t be. God is summoning you now to wake up to that, and now, not to risk for your own private pleasures, but to risk for Christ.”
So let us turn our lives inside out and live risky lives so that Christ might be loved, worshiped and adored all across the East Coast of Norfolk and Suffolk!
Dear Father, forgive me for any time I’ve lost sight of the fact that you’ve made me a pilgrim passing through this life. Forgive me for when I’ve attempted to airbag my life from risk. Would you take my life afresh and propel me into a risky life of living for the glory and fame of Christ! Amen