The following is a modified transcript of the audio teaching by Dr. Ken Boa from the leadership series on the subject of courage and risk taking.
Today we’re going to be looking at the important leadership principle of courage and risk taking and God’s perspective on what it means to be a man who takes risk, who lives with courage in this world, a world of ambiguity and uncertainty.
We’re called to live our lives in a way that manifests real courage. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” That means at the point of highest reality a chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky. The fact is courage is a powerful quality that animates all the other virtues in your life because to have the courage of your convictions and to follow through requires then a measure of risk in this world, particularly if your convictions are based upon revelation. Particularly also if they’re based upon a transcendent reference because then it’s going to invite us to pursue and treasure the invisible and the not yet more than the visible and the now. That is a tremendous risk for man to take because to obey God means that we treasure the unseen. The things that are seen are temporary. The things that are unseen will endure forever.
I want us to turn first to a central passage in scripture for courage and risk taking. In Joshua 1, God encourages Joshua before the conquest of the Promised Land and He repeatedly gives him this word of comfort and encouragement to be strong and courageous. This has to do with the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua.
Joshua 1: 5-9, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
I want you to notice some things that God gives him here on this verge. They’re on the verge of conquering fortified cities and armies. These are people who were not really well equipped. They were a people who were nomadic shepherds and for them to go against this kind of opposition would require and enormous amount of courage. There are 3 things God gave him in this text.
The first thing God said, He reminded Joshua of His faithfulness to keep all His promises. God reminds Joshua how He had been faithful in keeping covenant and in keeping His promises with His people from the very beginning. God’s saying; I’ve pledged to give this land to my people and I’m going to fulfill that pledge. Yet your success will not rest indeed on a military strategy or even on a well-trained army but your success will rest on the faithfulness of My promises. That’s the main idea.
The second thing that God does is He commands Joshua to meditate on His word. You cannot really take risks of obedience if your mind is not being renewed in this world. If you are not embracing an eternal perspective in this temporal world your mind will be conformed to the world system and you will not be able to go against the current culture. To obey God means that you go against the current of the culture. It is often counter cultural, counter intuitive, for us to follow these things that He commands us to do for our good. Unless we are renewing our minds with this transcendent biblical perspective, you’re not going to do it and you’ll buckle under the pressure and give way to the ambient call of the world. You will not be a different man. You will be a man who is conformed not transformed. Conformed not to Christ but to the image of this passing world and that will not really give you the kind of courage, the greatness, the dignity, to which you’ve been called. You’re called to more than what this world invites you to pursue. He says; I want you to be a man of wisdom and encouragement and that you gain your insight and wisdom and stability and shalom from the word.
Besides the fact that God keeps His promises and is faithful and beside the fact that He has given us this word, this treasury so that you can begin and continue to renew your mind, He promises to be personally present with Joshua. In that promise He says; I, Myself, will go with you. I’m not just going to send you out there but I will be with you in the midst. You read this book and you discover the reality and He guides him along the way.
My point is that we have the same 3 sources of courage in our lives today. God’s made some clear indications of His fidelity to His people. He has given you a history in your life as well when you review what He has done. God really is faithful to keep His promises when we look back. Secondly, God has invited us to also be men of the word so we have an eternal perspective in this temporal world. Thirdly He invites us to realize that He’s with us. He’s always present with us. We do not go it alone. Those sources of encouragement are summarized again in Joshua 1: 9 “ Have I not commanded you? “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
I want us to turn to a passage that embeds this idea of courage in the character of God and it is Hebrews 6: 13-20. There is, as you know in this world no such thing as a sure thing. In this world nothing appears to be certain. We cannot really control the outcome of a single day. When we think we are in control we have only bought an illusion. We’re never in control. We may think we are but we’re really not. What will happen this day you really can’t control the entire out comes. Even if all your meetings make, the details and all kinds of things that transpire will be different from anything you could’ve planned. It’s just that way. We can’t control as much as we’d like to suppose.
Paul Tourney used an analogy about the idea of life as sometimes like a trapeze act where you can swing on the bar. You can exercise and build muscle all you want but if you want to excel, what do you have to do? You have to let go of the bar. You can keep working out on the bar but you’re not going to excel by staying on the bar. That would be a boring act to just watch the guy and he doesn’t go from one bar to the other. The point is you have to let go with nothing beneath you and reach out for the next trapeze bar. I think that’s a very good way of understanding there’s a point at which we let go. The fact is that a turtle never moves forward until he sticks his neck out. You have to move forward and you have to take some risks.
This passage in Hebrew 6 tells us about two reasons why God’s promises are certain. The first reason why His promises are certain is the unchanging character of His purpose. In verse 16 He talks about His promises to Abraham and He swore since there was nothing greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself. It’s an interesting idea. He can’t say I swear to God. The fact is He doesn’t have a higher thing to swear by than Himself. There is no higher authority. So He basically swears by Himself. Hebrews 6: 16-20, “For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
There’s a fundamental security in these two things. First of all, God does not break His promises. Secondly, God Himself doesn’t change His character. His character is immutable which means it will not change. He will not be in a good mood or a bad mood in the sense of vacillating. His character and integrity will not change. His immutable character and promises flow out of His unchanging character and become the two things then that this text invites us to see that gives us real stability. We find our feet are not on shifting sand but on the rock of God’s promises.
Now as inhabitants of this world it takes still real courage to risk everything on the promises of God. At least if you hope in the promises of this world you have something tangible and visible that gives you the illusion of bolstering confidence. When you hope in God’s promises you’re really staking your life on something that you haven’t seen and what is not yet. So it says in Romans 8: 24-25, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
That’s the reality then that faith and hope go together. Hebrews 11: 1, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain or what we do not see.” The reality is we have a certain fixed hope. Frankly it doesn’t take any faith to believe that 100 people of 100 people will die. There’s no faith involved in that. One hundred out of 100 people will die on this planet. There’s no ambiguity about that. You understand that. We realize not only the brevity of this earthly sojourn but we also recognize there are powerful evidences that would cause us to see that embracing Christ is not a leap in the dark but a step in the light.
Some of you know I wrote a book called “Twenty Compelling Evidences That God Exists”. That book deals with the reality that there is very good evidence for us to believe. The book starts with a skeptical stance and assumes that a person is not even sure you can know anything. It’s written specifically to a skeptic or a seeker with that in mind before it even talks about the bible. It talks about the whole issue of reality and what the natural world teaches. It builds a case for the resurrection of Christ at the end and argues that embracing Christ is not a leap in the dark it’s a step into the light. A step it still is and there’s a choice to be made.
I’m going to suggest though that there’s a risk involved in obeying God but that risk is always worth what happens there as a consequence. Frankly when it comes to taking risks most of us are curiously irrational. I just think about the fact that millions of people buy lottery tickets even though we are 3 times more likely to be struck by lightening but we continue to do that. Remember the movie Bruce Almighty? He doesn’t know what to do with these millions of prayer requests he’s hearing. It turns out it was only a small part of Buffalo but he thinks it’s the whole world. He gets millions of prayer request and doesn’t know what to do. He finally turns them into e-mail requests and hits select all and says yes! Imagine if all your prayer requests were answered the way you want them. You’d be a ruined man! In any case when he says yes to all these people, 400,000 win the lottery and they all complain because they only get $17.00 each. They are all outraged. There are many unintended consequences. The fact is we do all kinds of things, spend money on extreme and improbable odds and blithely ignore the relatively shorter odds that concern our health and well being whether it has to do with various habits like smoking and drinking or whatever. We distress ourselves worrying about all kinds of things that really can’t change the thing itself. When it comes to risk we are often idiots.
Risks are a part of life though and there’s a reality to this. This reminds me of the parachute packers during WWII. They had to repack parachutes once a month to make sure they would work. They would have to sign a card and put it in the parachute pocket that they had packed. They would be required to randomly pick three of their chutes and use them themselves during the month. I promise you if you know you are going to be baling out on your own packs every month then you’re going to pack them very well. That’s the point you don’t want to take the risk of being careless. There are some risks that are going to be calculated and some are foolish.
I want us to turn to Numbers14, which is one of the saddest parts in the scriptures because it causes us to realize that we can make some very bad decisions. The fact is we can stake everything on the wrong card in the end and it would be a tragic thing for you to put everything and stake it on something that’s going to be deadly in the end. I want us to think about the context of Numbers 14. This is the transitional point in the career of Israel, the conquest of the land. Remember the generation of the exodus was supposed to become the generation of the conquest. They were being led out by Moses, being prepared in the wilderness and they were going to go in and conquer the land. They were murmuring, griping and complaining quite a bit during those first two years in the wilderness. They whined about the water, the quail, and the manna and so forth although God continued to sustain them, for example their clothes didn’t wear out. But there was one point where they sent out spies to check out the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, at Lebo-hamath and when they came back 10 out of the 12 spies said they couldn’t conquer the land. These people had fortified cities, they’re giants and we are like grasshoppers in comparison to them. We can’t conquer the land and if we try our children will perish. It was one thing for them to murmur, gripe and complain but it was another thing entirely to disbelieve God. They drew back in disbelief and said we can’t do it; we’re not going to follow God any more. When they chose to do that in Numbers 13 and 14 this is the pivotal point in the book because that generation of the exodus lost their opportunity to be the generation of the conquest. That was a sad thing.
In fact what was going to take place as a result of their disbelief was that they would be consigned literally to kill time for 38 more years. They were ready to go into the land, right on the edge and then He said you’re heading back into the wilderness and you’re not going to conquer the land. It was a great tragic moment.
You recall when Joshua and Caleb, the 2 spies who believed God, warned the people not to rebel against God. Numbers 14: 9, “ Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” The whole assembly talked about stoning them because they were terrified by what they saw. They failed to believe God despite the fact that God was miraculously leading them in the wilderness. They had the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night that He had miraculously promised them. This is the generation that saw the parting of the water.
Again in that movie, Bruce Almighty, he parts his soup. What I liked about that movie for all its flaws, it does tell us a couple things. The bottom line message of the movie is, I’m God and you’re not. You don’t want to be Me; you couldn’t be like Me and besides you’ll use that power stupidly and selfishly which is exactly what happens.
Don’t rebel. They rebel. The tragedy and irony is that they said our children will perish and who conquered the land? It was their children. They literally spent 38 years killing time. What happens when you kill time? You kill life. They perished one after another until everybody 20 years old and upward perished in the wilderness except for 3 people; Moses, Joshua and Caleb. It would be the Isralites’ children who would be the generation of the conquest.
It’s a tragic thing when we chose to say God, I don’t believe, when He invites us, nudges us, prompts us to move in a direction that’s going to require some risk. It’s the sin of unused potential. I don’t think I can trust You for that. There will finally come a point if you’re not careful where He’ll say, okay have it your way. Then you’ll look back and now you’ve reached a point of no return and the sin of unused potential will be there. The reality is then that by pursuing a pain avoidance strategy, playing our cards close to our chest because we’re afraid to trust God, the irony here is that you actually inflict greater pain upon yourself when you try to avoid the so called pain of obedience. In seeking to avoid what appears to be pain associated with obedience to God you will bring greater pain upon yourself.
As a result of their lack of courage they missed out and as a result of our lack of fortitude and courage we too can miss out on opportunities He calls us to. I do believe obeying God and obeying principles of scripture will require significant risk because to trust God is to pursue the invisible over the visible. It is my belief that ultimately God will honor that and cause us to be a people that combine these things together.
We also have had the gospel preached to us. Hebrews 4: 2, “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” There comes a point where you have to know the truth but you also have to live it and obey it.
This book was not written for our information but our transformation. It was not written to inform us but to transform us. Therefore it is a formational tool so that your don’t just read it to learn truths, you do learn many propositional truths, but you read it so that you can be transformed and come to know God in a relational way and not just a propositional context. We apply it and embed it in our lives. I believe therefore that we are called to take steps in faith to trust in His presence.
In another text, Ezekiel 28, we see an interesting sort of risk prophets engaged in consistently. In this kind of risk they would go against the kings. They were powerful men often in the context of their success and the prophets would tell them they were doing something that was ultimately going to lead to their own destruction. Ezekiel 27 describes the glory that was Tyre. It was a powerful city that through it’s trade and through its’ shipping acquired an immense wealth, prestige and power in its time. But then this word of the LORD comes to the king of Tyre and challenges him. Ezekiel 28: 6-10, “Therefore thus says the Lord God, “ Because you have made your heart like the heart of God, therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most ruthless of the nations. And they will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They will bring you down to the pit and you will die the death of those who are slain in the heart of the seas. Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of your slayer, though you are a man and not God, in the hands of those who wound you? You will die the death of the uncircumcised by the hands of strangers, for I have spoken!” declares the Lord God.” The point here is that Ezekiel is doing something rather strong. It’s one thing to criticize someone when things are not going well or say correct things to make it better but this king is being extremely successful and he comes against him. He’s taking a huge risk and it requires tremendous conviction for you to go against what seems to be successful in this world.
I believe that great conviction requires great truth. When you combine real truth with conviction then you have the power of courage. In this text here’s a man who had courage because he was convinced of the promises of God and he knew he was a man who was called to communicate great truth. It’s a matter of challenging people in their own arenas and in their own lives to take the risks that are necessary, the risks of obedience and pursuit and to model that in our own lives.
It’s been said that failure’s the back door to success. I’d like to suggest that risk can also be a back door to success. Jesus took a huge risk in John 2: 12-22 when He cleared the temple. It describes how when it came time for the Passover He went up to Jerusalem. “He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.”
This was a huge risk taking adventure here for Him to take a bunch of ropes and turn them into a scourge and then to chase these people out of the temple. This was a profitable business and there were thousands of people who were buying and selling. He was taking the risk of rejection by the crowds. He risked them taking Him aside and killing Him. He risked misunderstanding and any number of things. But His zeal for His Father’s house was consuming Him. He ultimately chose to cleanse this, symbolic of the reality of Israel’s own religious externalism and folly.
Again as I see it here, I see a man who takes calculated risks and we are also called to take calculated risks. One businessman put it this way; having the faith to attempt something new or different even though it might be hard or lead to failure maintains that risk is not recklessness. Recklessness involves little or no forethought. In contrast those who take risks are aware that they face enormous obstacles to achievement yet the rewards seem well worth the effort. Reality is that there are going to be risks involved in any real venture and something that’s going to require some endeavor. Donald Rumsfield years ago said, “ Success tends to go not to the person who is error free because he also tends to be risk adverse rather it goes to the person who recognizes that life is pretty much a percentage basis. It isn’t making mistakes that is critical, it’s correcting them and getting on with the principle task.” Babe Ruth, the strike out king, was required to take risks to make mistakes in order to do as well as he did. The fact is that we make mistakes; that we take risks but they’re calculated risks. We make adjustments, we learn from our errors; we learn from our mistakes and we go on from there.
As we have all admitted in this room we typically learn a great deal more from our mistakes any way than we do from our successes. They teach us more about ourselves, more about reality in any case. That pain often does that. So as I evaluate these thoughts then as I cultivate your leadership skills, don’t be afraid to take those calculated risks and understand that actually if you commit your ways to God, your business, your endeavors, your family, wherever you are at the end of the day you’re going to at least be putting everything based upon the promises and commitments of God.
There’s no assurance that He’ll bale us out of the mistakes we’ve made in this life, there will be consequences to foolish mistakes but at least we have the assurance that He is with us and can even redeem the falling. He can take that and He can transform that and make it the substance of our own growth.