Virtually every Christian feels some fear while trying to live out their faith in front of a watching world. I once asked renowned evangelist Luis Palau, who has spoken to millions of people in dozens of countries, whether he ever gets nervous before talking with someone about Christ. His answer was quick and to the point: “Yes, of course … always.”
Oh, good, I thought, Luis is still human. Yet look at how God uses him. If a guy like him still feels fear, then I guess there’s hope for us mere mortals!
We all love the idea of adventure, but here’s the truth: adventure inevitably involves risk, which in turn always entails some measure of anxiety or nervousness. So if you’re feeling apprehensive about a ministry opportunity, it’s probably a good sign. It means you’re well on your way to experiencing real adventure.
Think about it: anything considered adventurous also contains an element of risk. For instance, I love to ride my mountain bike, but why? Because I don’t just lazily tool around the church parking lot on Saturday afternoons. Instead, I zip through a wilderness area near my house along twisting dirt paths, dodging trees and shrubs and bushes, going around boulders and down steep inclines where there are elements of the unexpected. Sometimes I have to slow down to let a snake slither across the trail. Occasionally I scare up coyotes, encounter large bears, and hear rumors of man-eating mountain lions lurking in the vicinity.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not looking to lurch over a cliff, get bitten by a rattler, or become the afternoon snack of a big bear or a hungry cougar. But the risk of these dangers adds to the sense of the unknown, creating excitement for what otherwise would be a boring and routine bike ride.
Even at amusement parks, we gauge adventure by levels of danger. My kids used to be apprehensive about the kiddie rides. That choo-choo train actually moved, so who knew what was going to happen? Those innocuous rides offered just enough fright to make things exciting for them—at the time. But appetites for adventure advance with age, and before long my kids were taunting me to join them on Disneyland’s Tower of Terror.
It’s interesting that the apostle Paul summed up the biblical understanding of the life of God’s people by quoting a verse in the Old Testament and making it part of the New Testament as well: “The righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17).
Notice these verses do not say, “The righteous will initially receive salvation by faith, and then they will huddle in safe, predictable, and comfortable places.” Rather, we live—present tense—by faith.
What is biblical faith? I believe it is “God-directed risk.” It’s embracing God’s unseen salvation, trusting in his unseen protection, obeying his unseen Spirit, following his unseen leadings, building his unseen kingdom, and preparing ourselves and others for his as-of-yet unseen home in heaven. It’s the risk of taking him at his word in our daily actions.
It’s how Eugene Peterson describes the Christian life—that it should be “a risky, surprise-filled venture, lived tip-toe at the edge of expectation … a dancing, leaping, daring life” (Traveling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul’s Letters of Freedom, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988, 45).
So a good paraphrase of these hallmark Old and New Testament verses might be, “The righteous will pursue lives marked by obedient, God-honoring risk taking.” When we understand our faith like that, we can quickly see how the Christian life has been architected to be an ongoing and exciting adventure.
We see it in Jesus, where in John 4 he took the risk of hanging out with some Samaritans, starting with the wayward woman at the well. It was a dangerous move in his day of religious and ethnic separatism. He threw caution to the wind and entered another episode in his redemptive adventure, leading to that woman’s salvation and the formation of a church among the Samaritan people.
And notice how Jesus hung around so many shady characters: disreputable and despised tax collectors, even prostitutes. In a world stained by sin, Jesus never seemed to meet a sinner he didn’t like and in whom he wasn’t willing to invest some time. Risky? Of course, that came with the territory. After all, there’s always a risk with love.
The ministry of Jesus was attractive and exciting in part because it was filled with God-honoring danger, culminating in his risking everything for the redemption of the world.
I could add the examples of the exhilarating excursions of Paul and the other apostles, the risk-taking leaders of the early church, and the courageous missionaries who have taken the gospel to the ends of the earth, often in settings brimming with trouble and treachery.
These heroes of our faith set the pattern. The course is laid out, and today’s exciting journey is waiting to begin: if you want more adventure in your spiritual life, then you’ll need to start taking some spiritual risks.
Adapted from The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People about Jesus, by Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009) all rights reserved. Used with permission from Mark Mittelberg.