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Play it Safe!
It's not as Unscriptural as You Think!


Fallen on stairs

by Dennis Pollock

When you read the Scriptures, you discover that God has made some amazing promises to His children related to His ability and willingness to protect and defend them. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love these verses. Life on this earth is a dangerous business, and it is marvelous to discover that, when we put our faith in Jesus and become children of the Heavenly Father, these protection promises are given as one of God’s many fringe benefits (in addition to forgiveness of sins, eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and much more).

I heard of an American ship commander who, during World War II, typically assembled his crew together in order to recite Psalm 91, which is the ultimate protection Psalm. In this wonderful Psalm we read one protection promise after another, including:

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.

And those are just a few of the amazing protection benefits given to those who dwell in “the secret place of the Most High.” Today we recognize that this secret place is not so much a place as it is a Person – the Lord Jesus Christ! And yet with all these promises, no one can deny that Christians do experience tragedies, get sick, suffer loss, and often carry scars from some of life’s not-so-pleasant surprises which blindsided them just when life seemed to be humming along on automatic pilot. The cause for all these things is far too large for me to address in this short devotional, but I want to look at one aspect of this dilemma – the idea of taking big risks based on God’s promises to protect.

“Rules Do Not Apply…”

Sometimes we assume that we who have become children of God are no longer subject to the basic rules of life, and are somehow exempt from negative consequences regardless of how much risk we create through our foolishness. I once ministered in a church in Canada that was comprised of individuals who were of Indian and Pakistani background. After one of the services some of the Pakistani men were talking with me and encouraging me to go to Pakistan to minister. I told them that, given the current situation in that nation, I felt it was probably too dangerous for an American to go there. A couple of these men laughed at that idea and told me that God would surely protect me. I didn’t push the matter, but they did not at all change my mind. I would go anywhere on this earth if I received a clear-enough word from God, but minus that there are a number of places in this world I avoid.

My wife is Nigerian and we have ministered together in that country several times, but we always go to the south and the east parts – never the north, where the high concentration of Muslims make it dangerous for even local Christians to live and work, let alone a white American like me who would automatically become a prime target for Muslims looking to defend the honor of Allah. Again, if God spoke to me in a very clear, unmistakable fashion, I would surely go there. But I am not about to go there otherwise.

Does the Bible ever suggest that the people of God should avoid dangerous situations, or does it tell us to go anywhere, do anything regardless of the danger involved, and simply trust God? Some might be surprised to find that there are several passages of Scripture which clearly indicate that we are not to put our lives in danger unnecessarily. Some of the most powerful of these verses relate to the life of our Lord Jesus Himself. In the gospel of John we read:

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him (John 7:1)

Jesus Avoiding Danger

If this referred to any ordinary person, past or present, we would hardly think a thing about it. Nearly all of us prefer to avoid places, people, and situations in which our lives will be in serious jeopardy. If someone invited me on a cruise ship to Antarctica and then pointed out that the chances of me coming back alive were about fifty percent, I would politely decline. But in this verse, we are talking about Jesus – the Son of God, the One who upholds all things through His power, the Co-Creator of everything that has ever been made, the one who walks on water and raises dead people, and heals lepers, and feeds thousands with a few scraps of bread and fish. It is this Jesus, the Man of miracles and power who avoids a certain area of Israel because there are some dangerous men there who would love nothing better than to snuff out His life.

Making this matter more mysterious, Jesus has been saying almost from the beginning of His ministry that He would die as a ransom for all mankind. But here He purposely avoids a dangerous situation and area, apparently concerned that He could be killed before His time and in a manner not according to the perfect plan of God. Jesus refused to engage in risky behavior (going where His life had been threatened) and chose rather to stay where it was safe.

How can this be? Why not just strike all His enemies dead with a single word, and then go wherever He pleases? It would seem that when Jesus laid aside His divinity and became a man, He agreed to “play by the rules” that govern life on earth. Although as much God as though He were not man, He became as much man as though He were not God. Thus He sweated, He became tired after long walks, He needed rest, He had to eat food, He required money to keep His ministry going… and He avoided danger, just the way all the rest of us must do. Just as most of us would never think of jumping rope in the middle of a busy freeway, Jesus, as our great High Priest and Heavenly example, refused to put His life at risk unnecessarily. When it was His time to go to the cross, that was a different story and He “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” and face His crucifixion, but until that time He played things rather conservatively.

Later in John we find a similar statement:

Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.  Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples. (John 11:53, 54).

This is a very similar passage to the earlier one, although the situation is getting closer to the time of Jesus’ death on the cross. But in this case the hateful, murderous rage of the Jewish leaders has become so intense that it is no longer safe for Jesus to mingle with His own people, the Jews. He goes out into a wilderness area for a season and “hides out.” Jesus is taking extreme precautions to make sure that He is not killed one day before the Father has ordained or in any other manner than that which was prophesied in Scripture. Although He is the Son of God, although He is incarnate deity, although He holds authority over men and demons, although He abides in the shadow of His eternal Heavenly Father, still He must play by the rules which govern men while on this earth – He must walk wisely and take measures for His own safety. And by doing this He establishes a precedent which no wise man can ignore. None of us is so spiritual or such a favorite of the Almighty that we can justify living foolishly and taking risks with our lives or our bodies.

Keith Green

Few evangelicals who lived and kept up with what was going on in the church in the 1970’s and 80’s would be unfamiliar with the name of Keith Green. Keith was an immensely talented Christian contemporary singer, and a deeply spiritual young man. He was a great writer, a deep thinker, and had a beautiful voice. One day, at the height of his amazing ministry, he went up in a small, private plane with a couple of friends and their children, and several of his own children to look over the ministry property. The plane was overloaded beyond its weight limit, the center of gravity for passengers was off, the number of available seats for the passengers was inadequate, and the pilot was not licensed to fly that category of plane. Upon takeoff, the airplane struggled, shuddered, and crashed just a couple of miles away. Everyone on the plane was killed.

News of Keith’s death shocked the Christian world. How could God allow such a gifted, spiritual young man, who was making such a wonderful impact upon the world, to die at such an early age? Think of how many people he could have touched had he lived another forty years! I certainly cannot all the questions that might be asked, but reason suggests that had they adhered to safety standards for that particular airplane, Keith Green might be with us today.

Putting God to the Test

The quintessential example of this principle is found in the temptation Jesus experienced when Satan took Him to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Standing there overlooking busy Jerusalem, the devil urged Him: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

I believe the King James version got Jesus’ reply wrong, translating it: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Most of the other versions read this way: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” or “You shall not test the Lord your God.” When I was young I used to think Jesus was saying to the devil, “Now devil, you know that you shouldn’t be tempting me – I am God.” But nearly everybody today recognizes that Jesus was saying that for Him to take such a foolish action – to jump off the top of the temple while quoting a couple of God’s “protection verses” — would be putting God to the test, something which is clearly prohibited. To deliberately put yourself in a dangerous position, while claiming God’s promises is just stupid, and it is testing God in a very foolish fashion! This, Jesus was not about to do.

But we do things like this all the time. We claim God’s promises, pray for “travel mercies,” then drive fifteen miles over the speed limit, running through yellow lights which turn red before we clear the intersection. We pray for health and praise God for being our Healer, while we continually munch on junk food, overeat, and overload our bodies with sugar all day long. We confess God’s word for a great marriage while we drive our spouses crazy with nagging, complaining, and criticism. No worries – God will take care of us! Then we are perplexed when huge problems appear, and God doesn’t seem to stop them.

Play it Safe (most of the time)

God has established rules and principles which He calls us to follow, and while we are not justified through the keeping of them, we will most certainly pay a price for breaking them. Because we have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ and have become the children of God, our Heavenly Father is eager to preserve us and keep us as we make our way through this world of danger and risk. But He expects us to live wisely and circumspectly, and to act conservatively and with caution in most circumstances. As those who are the apple of God’s eye, we are too valuable to risk our lives, our bodies, our health, our marriages, our children, or our careers, on things where the risk level is simply too high. If Jesus Christ Himself took precautions for His own safety, who in the world are we that we think ourselves too spiritual to do the same?

Let us determine to follow Jesus wisely, and not recklessly and foolishly. If we are going into risky situations, let us make sure the voice we have heard is truly His. And even then, let us proceed as cautiously as possible. The life, the family, the marriage, the ministry we save may be our own.

 

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