on taking risks

I’ve been enjoying a new blog lately. My sister Taryn shared her with me. I wouldn’t say home decorating is a passion, not even that much of an interest before recently (a topic I hope to explore in the next few weeks), but the Nester has good thoughts.

Anyway. Yesterday she posted this commercial and talked about taking risks. Maybe you’ve seen it – I have no idea how old it is. We don’t really watch much TV and when we do it’s streaming online either without commercials or with the same three playing over and over again. So it was new to me. And I actually got teary. During a commercial. And for a Canon no less! (I’m a Nikon girl.)

So it got me pondering this idea of taking risks. I get a little leary when people start using language like, “Live the life of your dreams!” because it’s a false gospel I bought into for years and one I’d love to challenge. It needs some serious qualifications if you’re going to line it up with the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.

And a call to take risks often falls hand-in-hand with this kind of talk – take risks to follow your dreams! And the dreams we’re encouraged to pursue are often purely self-seeking. Or fall neatly in line with the American dream, promising health, wealth, and prosperity. Or perhaps the dreams in and of themselves are not faulty, but the motivation is – the search for fulfillment and purpose and meaning will all be found if you follow this particular dream.

I am not saying a) I think it’s wrong to have dreams, b) I think it’s always wrong to follow those dreams, c) I think it’s wrong if those dreams happen to lead to health, wealth, and prosperity, and d) I think it’s wrong if the process of following and achieving one’s dreams contributes to happiness and some sense of purpose. Just fyi.

But what I am saying is that I’ve heard “take risks and follow your dreams” as the Gospel. And when my dreams didn’t pan out or they trampled everyone in their wake or they left me feeling like an empty failure, or even an empty success, the bottom fell out. I was lost. Sitting in a pile of shattered dreams, wondering what I was supposed to do next. A year later, after more dreams came crumbling to the ground and I was in another mess of my own making, I sat in the back of a new church and heard my pastor utter these blessed words – words I came home and scribbled in my journal – words that began to take root and transform my heart – words I’ve quoted here many times I’m sure:

“The gospel is never try harder. It’s actually try less.

I had been trying – trying so hard I was exhausted and broken and left feeling like an utter failure. So I had given up. What I didn’t realize is that in so many ways, that was exactly what I needed to do –

Give up on trying to earn my righteousness and instead embrace the righteousness Christ earned on my behalf.
Give up on trying to pay for my sin and instead accept that Christ paid for my sin in full on the cross.
Give up on trying to earn approval and instead rest in the loving approval already granted to me in Christ by my Father.
Give up on trying to find satisfaction in all the wrong places and instead run to Jesus, the Bread of Life, ready to meet my every need.

So then does “take risks and follow your dreams” fit in the Christian life?

That silly commercial stayed with me and I pondered the thought all day. I’ll be honest, I still have a hard time reconciling “follow your dreams.” Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). He didn’t live a perfectly obedient life and die a substitutionary death so that we could follow our dreams. Rather – “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). To follow Jesus is to choose the way of the cross. To embrace a life that is hard, full of suffering and trials, rejection and uncertainty. Yet somehow, Jesus tells us in losing our lives for His sake, we will actually find our lives. By forsaking our dreams for the redemptive good of others, we will find new dreams – dreams for His glory – dreams to see God’s purposes achieved in and around and through us – dreams to lay down our lives more so we can find our lives more. And that is where the risk is. Jesus didn’t hold back. He gave everything on the cross, on my behalf – not just to give me an example of laying down my life but as the very means through which I can lay down my life for others.

I came across this post by Tullian Tchividjian that I thought was helpful in thinking through these things in Gospel terms:

If it’s true that Jesus paid it all, that it is finished, that my value, worth, security, freedom, justification, and so on is forever fixed, than why do anything? Doesn’t grace undercut ambition? Doesn’t the gospel weaken effort?

Understandable question.

But the truth is, gospel grace actually empowers risk-taking effort and neighbor-embracing love.

You see, the thing that prevents us from taking great risks is the fear that if we don’t succeed, we’ll lose out on something we need in order to be happy and so we live life playing our cards close to the chest…relationally, vocationally, spiritually.

We measure our investments carefully because we need a return–we’re afraid to give because it might not work out and we need it to work out.

But, because everything we need in Christ we already possess, we can take great risks, push harder, go farther, and leave it all on the field without fear. We can invest with reckless abandon because we don’t need to ensure a return of success, love, meaning, validation, and approval. We can invest freely and forcefully because we’ve been freely and forcefully invested in.

The fear of not knowing whether I’ll get a return is replaced by the freedom of knowing we already have everything: because everything I need, in Christ I already possess, I’m now free to do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me.

I can now actively spend my life giving instead of taking, going to the back instead of getting to the front, sacrificing myself for others instead of sacrificing others for myself.

The gospel alone liberates you to live a life of scandalous generosity, unrestrained sacrifice, uncommon valor, and unbounded courage.

When you don’t have anything to lose, you discover something wonderful: you’re free to take great risks without fear or reservation.

This is the difference between approaching all of life from salvation and approaching all of life for salvation; it’s the difference between approaching life from our acceptance, and not for our acceptance; from love not for love.

So, what are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything…

One Response

  1. As I have thought about this and what we talked about when you visited, Eric’s words keep coming to mind. When we are pursuing a “dream”, faith is so important. I am always sinful. There will never be a point in my life where I can say I did something completely selfless-ly. But like your excerpt says, that doesn’t mean we sit around and do nothing (because if I do something it might steal God’s glory). I think that is thinking too highly of myself – to think I could swipe something from God accidentally. What I can do though is pray. A lot. As my business starts it has become painfully obvious how little I pray. But while I flounder to figure out what I’m doing and dream of being successful, the cross reminds me that I need help. I want to impact people’s lives but my efforts won’t mean a thing past this life if I don’t get out of the way and ask Jesus to enter in to each training session and every food conversation. I’m thankful for the grace of God that allows me to pursue this dream…and I don’t say that lightly. It is a dream. A dream that lies deep in my heart along with many others. The Lord is choosing to put me to work on this one right now. So I pray for faithfulness and obedience. And that even when I am trying too hard to be perfect, people would see Him instead of me. And that I would be teachable along the way – willing to do a course correction when it becomes clear whether through internal conviction or external criticism. I don’t think we should be waiting for God to explicitly tell us what to go after next. I honestly feel I have learned more about the character of God by taking a risk and seeing later that he had actually orchestrated every step (cue movie reference) and there was actually a path already laid out. My leap wasn’t really a leap, ya know?

    What makes you more excited to live each day? What inspires you to joy? Maybe this is flawed (probably) but don’t you think that if it leads to a greater enjoyment of what you have been given (like real enjoyment) then maybe it’s direction from God of a dream you should go after? I don’t know. You’ve got me thinking today. And maybe a better question is what leaves you feeling joy at the .end. of the day?