Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Taking risks for God

Developer ordered to fix serious defects in a 16-storey apartment tower in AuburnIn March 2021 a developer was given an order to fix serious defects in a 16-storey apartment tower in Auburn in New South Wales. The defects included waterproofing, fixing of wall tiles to bathroom and ensuite walls, and falls to bathroom and ensuite floors. Following the structural flaws in Sydney’s Opal and Mascot towers, there has been increased attention on weeding out shoddy work. The risk assessment done by the builder was something like this. I can make more money by not doing everything properly. What could go wrong that could harm my profit? I could get caught by the NSW Building Commissioner. What would be the consequence of this happening? Is it minor, or moderate or major? Besides the extra cost it would be bad publicity and so the impact would be “major”. What is the likelihood of this happening? Is it unlikely (rare), or possible, or likely (common)? Because he thought he could get away with it, he thought it was “unlikely” (rare). What is the risk level? The risk matrix (table), says that a “unlikely” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “medium” risk ranking, which is tolerable. That’s why he went ahead with the shoddy work. But he erred – the likelihood was actually “possible”, which gives a high risk. And he suffered the consequences.

Risk assessment of getting caught for shoddy building work

Risk is any action that exposes us to the possibility of danger, harm or loss. Sometimes it is necessary to take a risk in order to gain something that is even more important than what we stand to lose. Risk is an essential part of Christian living where God calls us to step outside our comfort zone. This post reminds us of the importance of taking risks for God.

Risk tolerance

Risk appetite (or tolerance) is the level of risk that we are willing to accept before any action is required to reduce the risk level. Risks are accepted subject to a good understanding of the potential benefits (or rewards) and adverse impacts before proceeding.

For example, when we invest money (like in superannuation), generally the higher the expected return (or profit), the higher the investment risk. The graph has a positive slope. Growth assets (like shares) have higher risk and higher returns in the long term. While defensive assets (like bonds or cash) have less risk and lower returns in the long term.
The higher the investment risk, the higher the expected return (or profit)

Your appetite for risk may be
– cautious (with 100% defensive assets), or
– defensive (with 25% growth assets ), or
– moderate (with 45% growth assets), or
– assertive (with 70% growth assets), or
– aggressive (with over 80% growth assets)

Tyson Fury took a big risk fighting Deontay WilderIn another example, Tyson Fury took a big risk fighting Deontay Wilder recently, but received a big reward when he became the heavyweight boxing champion.

In the parable of the three servants who were given money to use, two earnt more money (they took an investment risk and were rewarded), and one buried it in the ground (he was fearful and didn’t take this risk and was judged; nothing ventured, nothing gained) (Mt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-27).

Each day we are building our Christian lives. As builders need to follow their plans, we need to follow the examples of people taking risks for God in the Bible. We live (and build) in an increasingly anti-Christian culture. Daniel served God in a hostile culture where he was a government leader under at least three kings.

Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the BabyloniansDaniel as a youth

In 605BC the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem and took captives back to Babylon (Appendix A). They chose the finest young men to improve their nation. These Jewish captives were now living in a foreign pagan culture where people worshipped idols. King Nebuchadnezzar put Daniel and three other Jewish men who were handsome and intelligent into training to work for him. They were to spend three years learning the language and literature of the Babylonians (Dan. 1:4-5). And they were given new names and given food and wine from the king’s table. So they were being forced to give up their Jewish culture and faith and to live like the Babylonians by changing their way of thinking, eating and worshiping. They were being reprogrammed like the re-education of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang in China to change how they act and speak.

What could go wrong? While they were separate from other Israelites, they could forget and give up following God. What would be the consequence of this happening? They would no longer have any impact for God. As God works though people, the consequence isn’t minor. Let’s say it is “moderate”. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because of the drastic change in their circumstances and the ungodly influences around them, the likelihood of this happening is probably “likely”. What is the risk level? The risk matrix, says that a “likely” likelihood and a “moderate” consequence give a “high” risk level. So there was a great risk of them giving up on God.

Risk assessment of Daniel giving up on God in BabylonBut food that had been offered to idols was unclean for Jews and eating certain animals was prohibited. The Bible says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (Dan. 1:8NIV). This was a brave step.

What could go wrong? Captives who were defiant, disobedient or insubordinate could be killed. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because they would die. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because the Babylonians were cruel to their enemies it was “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So Daniel was taking a big risk.

Risk assessment of Daniel disobeying the king of BabylonDaniel convinced the chief official to trial them on vegetables and water instead. At the end of the trial, “they [the four men] looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (Dan. 1:15). So they were allowed to avoid the king’s food and wine and they were employed as special advisors to the king of Babylon. This was a small concession, but it was important because it showed that they wouldn’t integrate totally into that pagan society. It was a commitment to obey God, despite the circumstances. And Daniel took this step as a teenager at an age of about 17 years.

Next king Nebuchadnezzar was kept sleepless by dreams. So he asked his advisers to tell him what the dream was and what it meant, or they would be killed. After they said that it was an impossible task, an order was made to execute all that kings advisors, including Daniel and his friends.

What could go wrong? They could be killed. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because they would die. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because of the power of a Babylonian king it was “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So Daniel was facing a big risk once again.

But Daniel and his friends prayed to God. It was a high-pressure situation. When God revealed the dream to Daniel, he praised God (Dan. 2:19-23). When Daniel told the king the dream and its meaning, he acknowledged that God had revealed it to him. Daniel was about 18 years of age. It was all about God and not about Daniel. Then the king worshipped God and gave Daniel a high position in the kingdom.

Esther queen of the Persian empire, by Edwin Long, 1878Esther, a young woman

We now flash forward for about 120 years. Esther was a Jewess who lived in the Persian Empire a long way from Jerusalem. She also took a big risk for God. In 479BC Esther was chosen by the king to be queen of the Empire. But she didn’t reveal her nationality as advised by her cousin Mordecai (Est. 2:20). Haman got upset when Mordecai wouldn’t honor him. So he convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the death of all the Jews in the empire. Then Mortdecai sent a message to Esther to beg for mercy from the king on behalf of the Jews.

What could go wrong? She could be killed. Anyone who approached the king without being summoned would be killed unless the king spared their lives. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because she would die. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because of the power of a Persian king it was “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So Esther was facing a big risk.

Mordecai said that Esther’s life was in danger as well and told her maybe “you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Est. 4:14). She asked the Jews to pray for her and bravely decided, “I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Est. 4:16). Fortunately the king received her request. She disclosed her Jewish nationality and asked the king to spare her people. So the king issued another decree that counteracted the one that ordered the death of all the Jews in the empire. And there was great celebration amongst the Jews. So God gave Esther victory in a risky situation.

Back to Daniel, now in middle age.

Daniel in middle age

We now go back about 95 years. King Nebuchadnezzar had another dream that Daniel interpreted (Dan. 4). Daniel is now in his mid-forties. He had served the king for over 25 years. He had modelled a relationship with God over all this time. At this time the king was “at home, in my palace, contented and prosperous” (Dan. 4:4). He was enjoying his success. But God was about to interrupt him. This dream was a warning of judgment against the king’s pride. The Bible says that Daniel “was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him” (Dan. 4:19). He wished that the dream applied to the king’s enemies and not to the king. Would he tell the meaning to the king?

What could go wrong? Daniel could tell the king about God’s judgment and the king could become angry and have him killed. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because he would die. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because of the power of a Babylonian king it was “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So Daniel was facing a big risk once again.

Then Daniel urged him to confess his sins and repent, but this was refused. The king continued to defy God. When he continued to boast a year later, the king was struck with a mental illness for a considerable period of time. This was humiliating for a king. In his suffering he finally had a clear view of God. When he recovered, he converted to follow and praise the God of the Hebrews.

Daniel in old age – Part 1

The next we read about Daniel is at least 25 years later when Belshazzar was king of the Babylonians (Dan. 5). While the city was under siege by the Medes and Persians, the king had a drunken banquet.

What could go wrong? The Babylonians could carry on with the banquet and stop defending the city and they would be defeated by their enemy. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because there would be bloodshed and they would cease to be a nation. What was the likelihood of this happening? Because the party had already begun, it was “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So king Belshazzar was taking a big risk.

Flash forward to now:
What about you? What could go wrong? You could carry on as though God doesn’t exist, but then face Him in the future and His judgment. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because this is the worst fate possible. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because there is strong evidence for the existence of God, and God’s judgment is mentioned in the Bible, it is “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So, like king Belshazzar unbelievers (living as though God doesn’t exist) are taking a big risk, which should be intolerable, but many tolerate it.

Conversion can change the big risk of unbelief to the little risk of belief

In contrast, a Christian is not taking a big risk. What could go wrong? You could live as though God exists, but then find out in future that He doesn’t exist. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “minor” because everyone would share the same fate and there would be no heaven or hell. What is the likelihood of this happening? This depends on your viewpoint. A believer would say it is “unlikely”, whereas an unbeliever would say it is “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” or “unlikely” likelihood and a “minor” consequence give a “low” risk level, which is tolerable. So, in contrast to unbelievers, Christians are not taking a big risk.

So, trust in Jesus to be reconciled with God and change the big risk of unbelief to the little risk of belief. Such a conversion reduces one’s risk level.

Flash back to 539 BC:
Like unbelievers, the Babylonians were taking a big risk at the banquet by toasting to their idols with vessels taken from the Jewish temple. Then a hand appeared and wrote on the wall. Belshazzar became frightened and promised a reward to whoever could read the writing. But the king’s wise men couldn’t read it. This sounds familiar. But the queen mother remembered that Daniel had interpreted dreams for king Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is now an old man in his early eighties. He explained that Nebuchadnezzar eventually repented of his pride and changed to worship the true God. Daniel’s desire to please God gave him courage to confront the king when he interpreted the writing on the wall (Appendix B). But because of Belshazzar’s pride and idolatry his reign was about to end. That night he was killed when the Medes and Persians captured the city of Babylon. Belshazzar took a big risk, a fatal risk. In this life and in the next. Don’t be like him!

Pfizer (Comirnaty) COVID-19 vaccineWith the benefit of hindsight, it was a false economy for the Australian government to initially order only 10 million Pfizer vaccination doses against COVID-19, rather than the 50 million required to cover our population. They saved about $600 million by doing this, but Sydney’s recent lockdown cost about $1 billion a week in lost activity when construction was operating, and $2 billion a week when it wasn’t. The best economic strategy would have been to get people vaccinated as soon as possible. They hadn’t considered the possibility of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 (Delta). That’s why it’s important to prepare for different risk scenarios.

Daniel in old age – Part 2

Daniel was a senior administrator in the new Persian kingdom (Dan. 6). He did such a good job that king Darius planned to make him the Prime Minister. The other officials became jealous and tried to get Daniel into trouble. The only way they could attack him was to attack his relationship with God. They planned to deceive the king and feed his pride. So they drafted a decree that required everyone to worship only the king. If anyone prayed to anyone else, they would be executed. And they convinced the king to sign the decree. What would Daniel do? It would be risky to disobey the king.

What could go wrong? Daniel could continue praying to God and then be arrested and executed. What would be the consequence of this happening? It would be “major” because he would die. What is the likelihood of this happening? Because of the power of a Persian king it was “possible”. What is the risk level? A “possible” likelihood and a “major” consequence give a “high” risk level. So Daniel was facing a big risk once again.

But Daniel disobeyed the unjust law by continuing to pray three times a day. He chose to obey God instead. When the other officials saw this, they informed the king. The king was upset but agreed to throw him into the lion’s den. He hoped that Daniel’s God would protect him. And that’s what happened. Daniel was alive next morning. Daniel praised God and the king commanded all in his kingdom to fear and reverence the God of Daniel. Daniel was protected because he trusted in God (Dan. 6:23; Heb. 11:33).

Cost, fear and control

There is a cost of taking risks for God. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24; Mk. 8:34). His disciples are to live Christ-centered lives with God in control and not themselves. They also need to know the cost of following Jesus like a builder determines the cost of a building (Lk. 14:25-33).

Our attitudes can affect our risk taking. Fear of failure can range from low to high. Little fear of failure results in reckless risks and high risk-tolerance. Christians are not to be reckless with their lives (that’s living with too little fear of failure). But big fear of failure results in being idle with a low risk tolerance and taking too few risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s paralyzing living with too much fear of failure.
Impact on risk taking of fear of failure and how much control we think we have in life

Another attitude is how much control we think we have in life. If you think we have no control you do nothing and just accept whatever happens. That’s fatalistic with a low risk tolerance and taking too few risks. But if you seek total control, you are deluded because God is in control. In this case you could be taking un-necessary risks. We need to be in the middle of the diagram (the green area), with a realistic fear of failure and humbly trust in God’s providence knowing that because He works through people, what we do matters.

Lessons for us

Daniel lived in difficult times. He lived all his life from a teenager onwards as a captive in a foreign land. He and Esther risked their lives to serve God. They took big risks for God. They were willing to go outside their comfort zone. Daniel was devoted to obeying and honoring God no matter what the situation, circumstances, trial or temptation. Are we prepared to take risks for God when he asks us to? What risk is God asking us to take now, so that His name may be glorified, and His Kingdom might be extended?

The Bible praises risk taking in evangelism, in serving other Christians and in helping people in need. The early Christians chose to obey God and accept the risks. They had courage and were not paralyzed by anxiety and fear of failure.

Paul was a great evangelist and teacher who went through trials, testings, troubles, difficulties, suffering and persecution (Appendix C). He took many risks in his ministry. As did the Old Testament prophets (Appendix D). The Bible is full of stories about people who took risks for God.

God is sovereign. He will protect us until our work for Him is done (2 Tim. 4:6-8). And death is gain for a Christian. Paul said, “living means living for Christ, and dying is even better” (Phil 1:21 NLT). Paul lived in fellowship with Jesus Christ. Jesus makes life worthwhile. And death is better because then he would be with Christ and like Him forever.

Fishbone fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia)Recently I received this comment on my photo blog. “Your fern image reminds me of Christians back lit to one degree or another by Christ, in contrast to the otherwise darker woods they live in. Makes me wonder just how much backlighting by Christ can the rest of the woods see in me? The good thing is, God has given me another day to allow Christ’s lighting to be seen in me. Thanks for the image, and thanks to God this morning for reminding me of what He’s called me to most fundamentally be in this world.”

We are living in a world that is more like Babylon than Jerusalem. Moral standards are questioned and discarded. Christian values are ridiculed. Life is full of choices and challenges. We have a choice to follow the culture or follow God. Belshazzar followed the culture. He took a big risk against God and suffered the consequences. This choice has eternal consequences. Daniel followed God despite his surroundings. In a dark world he reflected the light of our God. Daniel’s obedience, courage and devotion are a wonderful example to follow. How will you serve God in your generation?

Conclusions

Don’t take a big risk with God like king Belshazzar. Trust and follow Jesus instead.

Let’s be ready to take risks for God like Daniel and Esther and many others who served God in the Bible.

Appendix A: Deportation of Jews to Babylon

There were three major deportations of Jews to Babylon. The first was in 605 BC which included the prophet Daniel. The second one occurred in 597 BC and included the prophet Ezekiel. The third deportation occurred in 586 BC and included king Zedekiah, when the temple and the city of Jerusalem were ransacked and destroyed.

Appendix B: The writing on the wall

The saying “the writing on the wall” means that there is a warning or sign that something unpleasant or unfortunate is going to happen like a failure or a disaster. It’s a metaphor that comes from the biblical story of Belshazzar’s feast (Dan. 5:1-31). For example:
– He saw the writing on the wall and left the company for a new job before he and many others were laid off.
– He could see the writing on the wall months before the business failed.
– The writing’s on the wall. We’re going to lose the big account and there’s nothing we can do about it.
– The writing’s on the wall. I’m broke and I’ll have to move back in with my parents.

Appendix C: The sufferings that Paul risked

Paul suffered as he spread the good news about Jesus. He said, We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Cor. 4:8-12).

Paul described the hardships he faced as an apostle, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands” (2 Cor. 11:23-33).

Appendix D: The sufferings that the Old Testament prophets risked

The writer of Hebrews outlined the sufferings of those who served God in Old Testament times, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:32-38).

Written, October 2021

One response

  1. An interesting variation of Pascal’s Wager. Thanks for a thoughtful post

    Liked by 1 person

    October 28, 2021 at 12:10 pm

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