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Decisions Series # 4
Non-conservative Decisions

Hang-glider

by Dennis Pollock

The general tone of the Bible encourages us toward a conservative approach in living and decision making. Certainly the virtue of self-control speaks of this. Self-control, or temperance, is listed right up there with love, joy, and peace as fruits that should appear in our lives as we abide in Jesus Christ. If our walk with Jesus is healthy and our trust in Him is strong, we will live lives of self-control, which will normally lend toward prudent, careful, non-reckless choices.

But a conservative lifestyle is not the whole story. Serving God and walking with Jesus is more than merely living by certain guidelines. It involves a living relationship with the living God, and a willingness to obey the voice of His Spirit whenever He speaks and whatever He instructs. And we find that those who live close to the heart of God are sometimes asked to do things that don't seem particularly safe. In fact you don't have to read long in the Bible before you meet some heroes of the faith who did some most un-conservative things. In this short teaching we will consider the other side of the coin – those times when God requires His children to engage in actions that seem anything but conservative.

The Apostle Paul

When Jesus appeared to Ananias, he instructed him to go and pray for Paul. Jesus told him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts 9:15,16). From the very outset of Paul's apostolic ministry it is announced that his life will involve much suffering and pain. And this prophecy surely came to pass. Later Paul writes to the Corinthian believers and describes his life thus: "in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.. in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…"

The decision to follow Jesus Christ does not seem to have been a conservative one. Had Paul wanted a safe, secure life without much suffering, he had chosen the wrong profession. Was the decision to become a follower of Jesus a prudent one? Of course it truly was; no decision was ever more prudent, but in the context of personal comfort and safety in this life it could be considered a distinctly "non-conservative" decision. Living the life Paul lived was definitely not for the faint in heart.

What we must see is that although living and choosing conservatively are recommended as general principles, they can always be overridden by the express command of God. There is more to life than safety and security. If all Christ's servants weighed their choices by the odds of safety and security, the church would have made little progress, and would still be a tiny little group to this day. If Savonarola and John Knox and Luther and Wesley and Whitefield, and Bunyan had chosen to preach the gospel only when and where it was safe and prudent to do so, we would still be in the dark ages. Jesus declares, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it," (Matthew 16:25) a most un-conservative thing to say.

Keep in mind that we are not talking about day to day decisions, such as living within our means, driving carefully, eating healthy, exercising, working hard, paying our bills on time, and so forth. These types of conservative choices should be a part of every Christian's life. We are talking about decisions related to the gospel of Jesus Christ which may sometimes lead us into dangerous or fearful situations. In various cultures and times, simply to profess Jesus Christ has been a very dangerous thing to do. It has cost some their families and friends, and some even their lives.

The First Patriarch

Making radical, seemingly risky decisions to obey God runs all through the Scriptures. When God called Abraham to enter into a covenant relationship with Him and become a channel of His blessings to the whole earth, God told him, "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). All that was comfortable and familiar was taken away from him, and Abraham learned what it was to live by faith in God. Had Abraham been the nervous, overly cautious type, totally preoccupied with his own safety and security, he would never have been chosen as the father of the nation of Israel.

When David heard Goliath's proud challenge to the armies of Israel, he was instantly ready to fight the giant. The Bible does not say that he heard a word from the Lord here. He didn't see the heavens parting and thousands of angels around the throne of God, and hear a majestic voice declaring, "Go and fight this giant, and you will surely prevail." This was simply a case of a man of faith who walked into a crisis and strongly sensed what needed to be done. From everyone else's perspective his decision to fight Goliath was insane. From David's (and from God's) it was imminently reasonable. Everyone else saw the contest as a terrible mismatch. In fact it was – Goliath never had a chance against the young man who had such intimate knowledge of the Almighty. From the minute David marched out toward the proud giant with his scrawny little slingshot, Goliath was a dead man.

One of the greatest compliments that can be paid to a man is to call him a hero. This label is not applied to men for putting in their eight hours at work each day, or giving a few dollars to charity, or washing their car on a Saturday afternoon. We reserve the term hero for those who risk their lives for a noble cause. When a fireman enter a burning building near collapse in order to save a baby in an upstairs bedroom, or when a man jumps into a raging river in order to save a drowning child, or when a mother goes after an alligator that has her small child in his jaws – we call such people heroes, and rightly so. They have risked their lives for the sake of someone else. Sometimes there are situations which require decisive, immediate action not because you have prayed for months and received clear guidance and multiple confirmations of the direction to go, but simply because the need is such that you must ignore personal concerns and immediately throw yourself into a dangerous situation. In such cases courage trumps conservatism; bravery overrides caution.

Another Biblical example of conviction over conservatism is when John the Baptist lashed out against Herod's immoral relationship with his brother's wife. John was incensed to hear of such flagrant flaunting of God's holy laws, and declared to Herod: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife!" In those days publicly censuring a king was a grand way to lose your life. This made no difference to the man Jesus called the greatest of all the prophets. He could no more hold back the righteous indignation that filled his spirit than he could stop breathing. If John's goal in life was to live to a ripe old age, have a wife and enjoy his children and grandchildren, he was going about it all wrong. And sure enough it did indeed cost him his life. But then, if John had been the cautious, nervous, "try to get along with everyone and offend no one" type, he would not be a prophet. The goal of his short life was to obey God and announce Christ, not win awards for being Mr. Congeniality.

Growth

One of the reasons that God will at times call us to do things that have the appearance of risk is that He is all about our growth. Paul writes: "but, speaking the truth in love, (we) may grow up in all things into Him who is the head --- Christ…" (Ephesians 4:15) One of our God's major components in His growth formula for us is to place us in new and sometimes scary situations that will force us to depend upon Him as never before. When we have lived in the same familiar comfortable surroundings and situations for many years, we will eventually reach an end of what we can learn from them, and how much we can grow in them. Like a fish that has outgrown its aquarium we develop a need for larger and different quarters. God sometimes will change our circumstances without so much as an "If you please," but at other times He will call us to take steps of faith and leave the familiar to go toward the unfamiliar. To obey His voice at such a time may feel extremely risky and even reckless, but in truth it is not. In such cases, the truly conservative choice, the truly safe and prudent choice is to obey God and leave our familiar surroundings, trusting Jesus as our faithful Shepherd.

A Scary but smart Decision

Dennis and Ben wedding

A life of faith will always involve steps of faith, and these will at times appear risky and decidedly non-conservative. When Jesus called His disciples, His word to them was, "Follow Me." He still calls His people thus today. From time to time this will mean doing some things and making some decisions that others will label as crazy. While I was praying for a wife I met a lovely Nigerian lady named Benedicta on one of my missions. I got her phone number and we struck up a phone friendship. Soon I was calling her every day. By necessity our courtship was not typical, with us being an ocean apart. Although I did get back for one trip to have some more time with her, there was no way I could afford any more than that. The phone calls were going to have to substitute for dates. Love blossomed and we started talking about marriage.

I prayed a lot during this time, knowing that what I was doing was pretty radical. A white American minister marrying a considerably younger Nigerian that he knew mostly by phone calls was not your typical love story. And I was challenged by some who couldn't picture this at all. As I prayed and thought about it I was torn. My love for this lady was strong, and it clearly seemed God had brought us together. She was a committed Christian and an evangelist who had had some powerful experiences with the Lord. Yet fear sometimes gripped me as I thought about the radical step I was taking, and how my own ministry could be easily destroyed if she was not what she seemed.

Finally I could take it no longer. My fears were too strong, the gamble was too huge, and though I still loved her dearly I woke up in the early morning and decided to contact her that day and tell her I could not marry her. I went back to sleep and when I woke up a second time it was with the memory of a vivid dream that was to me a word from the Lord. In essence He told me that my reasons for breaking our wedding plans were not from Him. Suddenly I felt peace. All thoughts of cancelling our wedding were dissolved, and within a few months we were married.

Today, as I think about what a tremendous blessing Benedicta is to me personally and to my ministry, I realize what an enormous loss I would have suffered had I given in to my fears. My decision to marry her turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I ever made. But of course it really wasn't my decision, was it? How many blessings we miss when we allow fear and timidity to keep us from crossing our personal Jordans and entering our promised lands! Jesus is our good and great Shepherd who alone can make the rivers part and lead the way into the land of milk and honey for us. Let us determine to follow Him where He leads and obey His gentle voice as He directs the course of our lives. He who died that we might be forgiven now lives to lead His people in paths of righteousness and victory.

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