I've been writing a bit about failure and risk aversion in the last couple of posts. Overcoming the fear of failure and seeking to trust God when he asks us to move, and to take a leap of faith is a discipline and a skill that can grow within you and I as we trust God when he leads. I was reading "Your Church is Too Safe: why following Christ turns the world upside-down" today by Mark Buchanan. This is a great read. It's challenging and exciting all at the same time.
I was reading through chapter four today yesterday and came across the following passages several hours after writing Failure and Failure 2. Here, Mark is speaking about the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. He says this:
...there's not way to be a faithful servant of God and God's kingdom without taking some hell-bent-for-leather risks...
The getting in or losing out [of the Kingdom] has a lot to do with the kind of risks we take, or not. We're well schooled, from the writings of Paul and others, that certain kinds of people do not inherit the Kingdom of God: the wicked, the impure, the deceitful, the rage fiends, and such. What we're less prepared for, though we've had ample warning, is the kind of person Jesus adds to that list: the cautious.
Good and faithful servants are those who shoot the moon. They run with scissors. They leap before looking. The bad servant - the wicked, lazy servant - is the cautious one.
These are hard words for many of us to hear because we want to play it safe, make sure it will work, get assurance of our protection, and stay in control. But it appears this is exactly the opposite of what faith is about. God tells Abraham to get up and go - not telling him where - and he does. God asks Elijah to trust him when he faces the prophets of Baal, and he does, calling fire down from heaven. Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo head into a fiery furnace and are not consumed. And the list goes on and on of faithful followers - the crazy ones. It's what Tim Hansel called "reckless abandonment" in his book Holy Sweat.
This all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Frederick Beuchner in Wishful Thinking:
What God says... is “The life you save is the life you love.” In other words, the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself, and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living. To bring this point home, God shows us a man who gave his life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to his name. In terms of human wisdom, he is a Perfect Fool. And if you think you can follow him without making something like the same kind of fool of yourself, you are laboring under not a cross, but a delusion.
Oswald Chambers says it this way in My Utmost for His Highest, the Patience of Faith:
Faith – [or trust] – is the heroic effort of your life. You fling yourself in reckless confidence on God. God has ventured all in Jesus Christ to save us. Now He wants us to venture our all in abandoned confidence in Him… Again and again, you will get up to what Jesus Christ wants, and every time, you will turn back when it comes to that point, until you abandon resolutely… Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense – and leap into what He says… Christ demands of the [person] who trusts in Him the same reckless spirit… that is daring enough to step out of the crowd and bank his [or her] faith on the character of God. [From My Utmost for His Highest]
Brennan Manning echoes the point in his book Ruthless Trust:
Unwavering trust is a rare and precious thing because it often demands a degree of courage that borders on the heroic.
Risk aversion is only truly safe when it is embedded in the womb of faith. I am free to seek, try, fail, and leap because I have a Father in heaven who will catch me when I fall if I am truly seeking to follow him in all things. It is this true safety that gives us life and the ability to take risks. And the thing is, he expects it.
Note how Eugene Peterson gets at this same passage, Matthew 25, in the Message: (Thanks to Eric Metcalf for pointing this out to me.)
"The servant given one thousand said, 'Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.'
"The master was furious. 'That's a terrible way to live! It's criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.
"'Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this "play-it-safe" who won't go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.'"
So, apparently, faith and risk-aversion are diametrically opposed, and God prefers the former.