Each month, three staff members respond to an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s teachings. For this round, Jamie A. Hughes, Joseph E. Miller, and Kayla Yiu discuss the risks of following Jesus.
Obedience is a critical part of being Christian, but we never know where that might lead us. How do we reconcile our feelings of fear? How can we learn to trust His calling, and move forward with courage? This month’s excerpt comes from Dr. Stanley’s book How to Reach Your Full Potential for God:
Consider the nature of a risk. It involves the possibility of suffering danger or a loss of some kind. We often associate taking risks with doing something that holds out the possibility of rejection or failure. There are elements of fear and disappointment that are part of every risk we take. The flip side of a risk is the possibility that we just might experience a great blessing or reward!
“We are not to make decisions based on the degree of perceived risk. Rather, we are to make decisions solely on the basis of what God says.”
How do we determine which opportunities to pursue in our quest to reach our full potential? We are not to make decisions based on the degree of perceived risk. Rather, we are to make decisions solely on the basis of what God says.
The truth is, choosing to do something solely on the basis of your limited understanding and ability leaves too much to chance. But pursuing God’s command—an action or decision that is the product of His unlimited wisdom and power—is not risky at all. If it is God‘s idea, we cannot fail in our pursuit of it. The challenge we face as opportunities come our way is to understand what God is doing and where He is leading.
Jamie: I find myself hesitating with statements like, “If you know God’s will, it’s not a risk at all.” Sometimes, God’s will feels impossible to discern.
Looking back, I can say, “Yes, that was the will of God, and I’m glad I listened” about some things. But at the time, I had no idea. We grow in our understanding of this via hindsight.
Joseph: I think the heart of the matter is in submitting things to God instead of our own concept of risk/reward. We ought to ask Him before we even take into account the possible effects of our decision.
Kayla: True, He has a different definition of risk than we do.
Joseph: Perhaps we could look at that statement, “There are elements of fear and disappointment that are part of every risk we take.” Would either of you say you’d lean more toward fear or disappointment?
Jamie: I’d say I lean toward disappointment when it comes to risk. I come up with grand plans, set high expectations, and more often than not, things don’t materialize the way I might want. It makes me think of that passage from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (talk about a dude who gets disappointed!): “That is not it at all, / That is not what I meant, at all.”
You put yourself on the line for something that you think it going to cause great change, and then it turns out to be something far more subtle. You end up thinking, God, was that seriously all You meant for me to get out of this experience?
Joseph: For me, it’s a little more about fear when avoiding risk—fear of failure. There’s a lot tied to a fight-or-flight response, and typically someone who’s had some trauma in childhood develops a broken fight-or-flight response. I prefer flight.
Jamie: Fear of failure is a legitimate thing, Joseph. I experience it more now as an adult than I ever did as a child. Anything that could incur loss—finances, friendships, my place in society, or safety.
Kayla: Have you ever done something that looked risky to other people, but you weren’t worried because you were listening to the Spirit?
“Pursuing God’s command—an action or decision that is the product of His unlimited wisdom and power—is not risky at all.”
Jamie: Taking this job. I was looking to get another one, and ITM just presented itself to me. I went for it, and now I’m celebrating 10 years here in June.
Kayla: Same for me, too. My family didn’t understand the job change. The pay cut didn’t make sense, and I wasn’t really qualified. But somehow I seemed to float through the interview process.
Jamie: I sat on an interview panel with almost 10 people and wasn’t even nervous. That’s odd for me. Maybe that’s the assurance the Holy Spirit gives you in such a moment.
Kayla: Also, buying my condo seemed risky for me. I was young with a small salary, moving to a different part of town. I had no idea that my future husband’s parents would end up living there.
Joseph: I would say my marriage proposal was a legitimate risk, but I felt empowered by the Spirit. I sweated over that decision with a lot of prayer.
Our marriage could have gone wrong so many times, but it didn’t. I firmly believe that’s the case because it was a God-ordained thing.
Jamie: Marriage for sure, Joseph. My husband and I were talking about it last night. We hitched our wagons to one another when we were so young. It could have gone wrong so many times, but it didn’t. I firmly believe that’s the case because it was a God-ordained thing.
Kayla: In each of these instances, we all moved forward in spite of the apparent risk, but do you think there have been times we retreated instead, and possibly missed something?
Joseph: Though I completely affirm the sovereignty of God, He has also allowed us a measure of free will in this world. I do think we can miss out on things, have regrets.
Jamie: Oh, absolutely. But there are lessons to be learned in the failures as well as the wins. When it comes to my kids, there are so many things I don’t understand, and when I’ve tried to parent from my own experience or abilities, I fail constantly.
But I’m slowly learning to let go and trust God with them, and He usually guides me into the right way of thinking/being. You lean back into this position of dependency, and suddenly, everything seems clearer. Easier.
Joseph: Yes, I think it’s a little easier as we get older to learn how much more we need dependence on God.
Jamie: That’s hard for someone like me. I want everything to be perfect—just so. Kids rarely are that way. (There’s that disappointment thing again!)
Kayla: But honestly, even if we make a mess of things, won’t He redeem them somehow? Maybe that’s what Dr. Stanley meant by “we can’t fail”—God uses all things for good.
Joseph: I do think asking what is ultimately the “right” thing to do, meaning most like Jesus, is a great first step. It may seem cheesy, but asking “What would Jesus do?” isn’t such a bad question.
There are lessons to be learned in the failures as well as the wins.
At the same time, I can see where this becomes difficult, because what if God doesn’t “say” anything about the situation we find ourselves in?
I think this is why it’s vital to know the Bible—it’s the voice of God, really. I think He still speaks to us through the presence and prompting of the Holy Spirit, but the revelation of God’s will throughout Scripture is really, really essential.
Kayla: When people say it’s important to know the Bible, I always thought they meant having certain verses pop into their head. That may be part of it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been thinking it primarily means knowing the heart of God. As in, What do you gather about Him from His Word, and what is His character? It’s a lot easier for me to feel I understand His will that way.
Jamie: Absolutely. It’s like a paint-by-number picture. It becomes a piece of art as you complete it, but God is guiding what “color” goes where.
If God is backing us because something was His idea all along, we can’t fail.
And certain stories from the Gospels stick out differently at different times of life. What we need “pops” at the right time.
When I was younger, it was the cleansing of the temple or some grandiose moment, but now, I catch myself rereading the stories with verses like “I do believe; help my unbelief!” or “I am willing; be cleansed.”
Joseph: Risk of any kind is still scary, even if we fully trust the Lord to provide.
Kayla: I think that’s why this passage is a little difficult for me—because it doesn’t directly address the scariness of it all.
Jamie: I think we have to talk about the scariness. That’s where people really live!
Joseph: We often wonder, Where is God in all of this? or Where is God in this situation? But the reality is what it is: If God is backing us because something was His idea all along, we can’t fail.
Jamie: Sometimes God’s at the front of it. Those are the easy choices. Sometimes He walks through it with us. Those are hard, but okay. Sometimes He’s waiting at the end. Those usually turn out to be the greatest blessings of all.
Joseph: I told a friend once, “I think of trusting Jesus in the scary wilderness places like this: I imagine I’m in a clearing, walking to the edge of a dense forest. But I see that there’s already a path carved ahead of me.” That’s Jesus. He made a path for us to follow.
We may want to look at God’s wisdom as a set of facts, but it’s more a guiding principle.
Jamie: You develop the mind of Christ as you grow in faith, right? It’s bestowed on you, and over time every bit of your thinking is formed by Him. He increases as you decrease.
Joseph: God’s wisdom is above us always, guiding and directing, shaping and forming. We may want to look at it as a set of facts, but we don’t have that luxury. It’s more a guiding principle, back to what you both were saying: the mind of Christ.
Jamie: Which is built over time. Color upon color. Layer upon layer.
Joseph: So in light of this discussion, if everything is the Lord’s, why not risk?
Jamie: If Indiana Jones can take a leap from the lion’s head ...
Joseph: I’ll say this: It increasingly becomes for me, “What am I more scared of—not taking this risk, and missing the blessing of it, or the fallout if I do?”
Art by Jonathan Todryk