The strength to risk losing life in this world is faith in the promise that he who loses his life in this world will save it for the age to come. This is very different from heroism and self-reliance. When we risk losing face or money or life because we believe God will always help us and use our loss, in the end, to make us more glad in his glory, then it’s not we who get the praise because of our courage; it’s God who gets the praise because of his care. In this way risk reflects God’s value, not our [valour]. (DWYL, p 90)
Some people thrive on risk – skydivers and mountaineers come to mind. But most of us seek to avoid risk and go to great lengths to insure against it. I’m wondering if our aversion to risk sometimes translates into a desire to be safe in our Christian lives: to be secure in God’s arms, protected and loved, and to enjoy all the benefits of that. Sitting in prayer group several years ago, I listened as the mums around me asked for safety and protection for our children in half a dozen different ways – the kind of prayers I’ve uttered myself, many times. (My children are now independent drivers, so it’s a familiar kind of prayer!) Suddenly I was aware that I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. But what could be so disturbing about asking God for something so reasonable and natural?
The world seems to have changed a lot in recent years. The focus of media reporting is doom and gloom: disasters, wars, terrorism, global warming, and the world’s current economic meltdown, to name a few. As a result, it seems that we see the world increasingly as dangerous and unstable, and we crave peace and protection, especially for our children. It’s good and right for Christian parents to be concerned for the safety and welfare of their children, for our young ones are dependent and vulnerable, and God requires that we care for them. But what do we really want for them, as we pray for protection?
In the prayer group situation, I think I began to wonder if our clear thinking about what we want our kids to be protected from was matched by a reciprocal clarity about what we want them to be protected for. Success, comfort, and a happy and prosperous life perhaps? Do we spend as much time in prayer for their salvation, their growth in godliness and their part in following Jesus and sharing the good news with the lost? Can we honestly say that we would rejoice if our child came home in their final school year and announced that they had decided to become a missionary in Russia, Colombia or Afghanistan? What would we advise them to do?
Mothers, godmothers, grandmothers and aunts all have the power to influence the choices children make and the direction they take in life; whether you are aware of it or not, your priorities will be communicated to the children you know and love. At a Bible study recently, a very honest, young mum shared how God had helped her to see how much she was emphasising school work and extra-curricular activities with her sons, rather than reading the Bible and praying with them. She saw how her own inner priorities were affecting the way she parented and immediately repented; now she is seeking to care for her children in a way which reflects her changed priorities.
So what are the concerns which shape our own prayers and priorities? In Suffering and the Sovereignty of God John Piper observes that today’s Christians have much to learn from accounts of the persecution of the early church, which eventually led to the spread of the gospel to the nations. He continues:
… comfort and ease and affluence and prosperity and safety and freedom often cause a tremendous inertia in the church. The very things that we think would produce personnel and energy and creative investment of time and money for the missionary cause instead produce the exact opposite: weakness, apathy, lethargy, self-centeredness, and preoccupation with security … Persecution can have harmful effects on the church, but prosperity seems even more devastating to the mission God calls us to. My point here is not that we should seek persecution … The point is that we should be very wary of prosperity and excessive ease and comfort and affluence. (p 102)