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Risk Takers and Conservatives

Mountain climber

by Dennis Pollock

In the world of politics most men and women in public office can be divided into two categories: liberal or conservative. There is another division that reaches far beyond politics, and even nation, race, or culture. Throughout the earth most individuals seem to fall pretty neatly into two groups when it comes to the willingness to take risks: the risk-takers and the conservatives.

There is a tendency for each side to look down upon the other. The risk-takers look at the cautious types as wimpy, nervous people who hold the adventurous folks back if they have any say in the matter. The conservatives see the risk-takers as foolhardy, reckless individuals who lack common sense. As we study this phenomenon we will see that both personality types are created by God and both can be extremely useful. On the other hand, if pushed to extremes, too much of either can be disastrous.

Risk-takers

Let's consider the risk-takers first. In the secular world risk-takers tend to make up the majority of entrepreneurs, particularly the more successful ones. And in the church, risk-takers tend to make up the majority of the leaders of the larger ministries and various Christian organizations. It is simply a matter of fact that you cannot build a major organization without taking steps that have the potential to fail. If the slow, cautious, unimaginative approach led to immediate fantastic growth and success, whether in the church or in the business world, everybody would be jumping in.

In the Scriptures, David is a classic example of a risk-taker / leader. We first learn of this trait as he is talking with King Saul, trying to convince him to allow him to fight the giant Goliath. Saul tries to dissuade David, reminding him of his youth and inexperience. David tells Saul, "Your servant used to keep his father's sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them" (1 Samuel 17:34-36).

What an amazing testimony! I don't know about you, but if I was guarding a flock of, say 185 sheep, and one was dragged off by a lion, I would take out my list, cross off the 185, and write 184. Why risk your life for a single sheep? Who would do this? The answer is David. This is what he does; this is the kind of man he was, even from his youth. David was a man of both immense courage and great faith – important qualities for this future king of Israel. Courage is essentially the willingness to take risks, the willingness to lay your life on the line, or your money or your reputation for the sake of a worthwhile cause.

We see this exemplified in David's life when he was running from Saul who was desperately trying to find him and kill him. Once he and his men were hiding in a cave when Saul and his army came upon the place. Not knowing that David was in the cave Saul went in to relieve himself. In the darkness of the cave David sneaked up to Saul as he was tending to his business and cut off a small piece of his robe. After Saul walked out David was quickly on his heels. Calling out to the king from behind David showed him the piece of robe, reminded him that he could have killed him, and assured him he had no evil intentions against him.

What a gutsy thing to do! In what would appear to many to be an utterly reckless act, David threw himself on the mercy of God, and presented himself to the man who was seeking for him all over Israel to kill him. God was faithful and Saul had a temporary change of heart, but David had no way of knowing the outcome. 99.9 percent of other men would never had done as David did. David seemed to have an extra portion of the risk-taking element given him from birth. He had not asked for it or taken some assertiveness course to try and develop it. It was as natural for David to do these things as it is for other people to have blond hair, or be tall, or have wide feet. David seemed to thrive in the midst of pressure and this served him well. Indeed had he not been such a risk-taker he could never had made it through those early years. In the hands of God this trait made him the great king that he became.

The Water-Walker

One of the great risk-takers of the New Testament was the apostle Peter. It was Peter that asked Jesus to bid him to come to Him on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. And while his faith failed him, still he was able to do something none of the other disciples did. When Peter and John ran to the tomb of Jesus, having heard it was empty, John outran Peter and arrived first. Being more cautious by nature John remained outside by the doorway, peering in and pondering the situation. But not Peter. Once the slower Peter arrived he immediately dashed into the tomb and checked it out up close. And on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, and onlookers were accusing them of being drunk, it was Peter that took the initiative to get up and proclaim the risen Christ.

Many of the great leaders in church history were risk-takers. George Whitefield and John Wesley preached fearlessly throughout England despite tremendous opposition in their early days. At times men showed up at their outdoor preaching meetings with their pockets filled with rocks, prepared to stone them, only to be overcome by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Most threw down their rocks and listened intently, many gave their lives to Christ, and a few went on to become preachers themselves. But not all were persuaded, and more than once these brave evangelists barely escaped with their lives from the angry crowds. Had they been the cautious, nervous types, weighing all risks carefully and determining only to minister when conditions were favorable and dangers were slight, they would never have shaken all of England as they did.

Conservatives

At this point it may sound like the risk-takers must surely be God's favorites and the more conservative types of little use. Nothing could be further from the truth. Keep in mind that although risk takers make up the majority of big time entrepreneurs, they also make up the majority of failed business owners. There is a very fine line between a successful entrepreneur and a reckless, impulsive type whose life is filled with one poor decision after another, one failed attempt at some impractical, nonsensical dream after another. Conservatives balance out the risk-takers. They remind them that past successes don't always guarantee future ones, and that with all their great visionary plans, they had better be careful to dot all their i's and cross all their t's.

Being reasonably careful is not a sin; in fact it is commanded in the Scriptures. Peter writes, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). – In other words, "Be careful! Don't be stupid!"

In most ordinary matters of life it is smart to be on the conservative side: to pay your taxes on time, to live within your means, to be moderate in your diet, to keep your lawn nice and your checkbook balanced. My Dad was such a man. No once could ever have accused him of being even the slightest bit outlandish. He never stood out in a crowd, rarely raised his voice, stayed at the same job for decades, and hated to be in debt. His steadiness was always a strength to me, even while I was going through all kinds of traumas and taking risks I had no business taking.

Administrators

People with the gift of administration are almost always conservative. Their attention to detail and love for organization spring from this nature. Such people are hard-wired to be alert to risks and dangers, and to take necessary steps to minimize risks and maximize the chances for success. No church or business should be without some of these folks keeping watch over things and making sure all runs smoothly. One of the biggest mistakes any risk-taker / leader can make is to pack his board with men who are all risk-takers like him. Without some conservatives to slow them down when they start to get off track they are inviting disaster, and they can be sure disaster will gladly accept their invitation. In Ephesians we are commanded, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise" (Ephesians 5:15). This is the theme of the conservative; this instinct toward caution fuels their inner passion to keep their lives and areas of responsibility on point and humming along without a hitch.

There are dangers and problems associated with pushing either side to extremes. The conservative can become paralyzed with his love for the status quo, and hold back God's purposes and plans out of anxiety. The risk-taker's biggest problem often lies in the area of haste. The Bible has very little good to say about haste. Proverbs declares, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5). A modern term synonymous with haste is the word impulsive. To be impulsive is to allow a very brief lag time between when an idea for a new direction hits your brain and when you are ready to carry it out. The idea comes today – by tomorrow you are off and running. God may occasionally require this of us, but in most cases He expects us to allow His direction to be confirmed over time. Many risk-takers have foolishly placed their lives, families, and finances on the line because of a sudden impulse, and reaped devastating results for their impulsiveness. Stepping out of your boat or your comfort zone is fine when the Master has called you to come, but give God time to confirm His word to you.

Perfect Match

God will match your personality with His calling on your life. He is unlikely to give a man or a woman a cautious temperament and then require them to spend much of their life taking frequent leaps of faith. If your calling is going to involve living on the edge of danger He will give you a temperament that is relatively comfortable in that zone. Martin Luther is a perfect example of this. After posting his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, his life was in constant danger. In his early years Luther was sure he would be killed at any moment. And yet amazingly, rather than blunt his voice, he seemed all the more eager to blast the church of his day with all the force and sarcasm his brilliant and creative mind could manufacture. In response to the direst threats, Luther declared, "For me the die is cast. I despise alike Roman fury and Roman favor."

Of course the idea of risk is a bit of an illusion, as far as following Christ is concerned. It is never risky to obey the voice of the Spirit of Christ. Indeed the real risk always lies in disobedience. Once we have been assured that the voice we are hearing is truly the voice of our Savior, we can move forward with confidence.

And as for security and safety, Jesus has come to this earth to provide us with the ultimate security. He tells us that if we will trust in Him we shall be given eternal life, and no one will be able to snatch us from His mighty hand. The safest place in the world to be is in the center of God's will for our lives, abiding in Jesus and trusting Him as our Savior and Good Shepherd. It is never a gamble to entrust your soul into the mighty hands of Jesus. As Jude so beautifully put it, "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."

 

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