When is a risk not a risk?

In these times of uncertainty, there is a lot of talk about keeping safe.  The current lockdown is designed to keep people safe.  We exhort each other to stay safe.  And I see people wearing facemasks who a month ago would have laughed at east Asian tourists for doing so.  The risk level has changed, and so has our response to managing it.

It’s natural to want to stay safe, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community from harm.  Safe is the sensible choice.  But safe can also be the selfish choice.  Safe can mean we’re not there for others.  Safe can mean we contribute to food (and toilet roll!) shortages by hoarding enough for ourselves.  Safe can mean we board up the doors and windows to keep danger out, but in doing so we cut ourselves off from neighbours.  In the parable of the talents, a slave was punished for playing it safe because “I was afraid” (Matthew 25:14ff).

There are times when we are called to nail our colours to the mast and step out in faith.  That doesn’t mean we are blithely nonchalant about risk.  It means we evaluate risk, take steps to mitigate it, but then step out in faith to do what we are called to do.  Whether it was Hudson Taylor or Søren Kierkegaard who first observed “Without risk there is no need for faith”, it is undeniably true.  While we play it safe, our faith withers on the vine.

Over 25 years ago, when I first felt the call to the mission field and planned to go to live in post-civil-war Mozambique, a friend asked me what I thought the risks were.  It took me a while to answer as I reflected on it.  I thought about my financial well-being if I couldn’t get a job when I returned.  I thought about my health, living far from a hospital in a country plagued with tropical diseases.  I thought about my prospects of finding a wife and bringing up children in that environment.  I thought about my mortality, going to a country littered with landmines and where guerillas still roamed the countryside.

I realized that all the things I stood to lose were not particularly important to me.  What was more important to me was, as St Paul wrote:

that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, …that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

(Philippians 3:8-11)

My answer was “There is no risk.  A risk only exists when what you stand to lose is of value to you.”

That’s not a licence to be irresponsible when the lives of others may depend on you.  But let us be people who in this current environment are not known for our fear but for our faith.

Jehovah Jireh

“God will provide.”

Those were my words as I explained to the two rather doubtful young men I prayed with each week that one of the Syzygy cars had died, and we needed a replacement within two weeks or we’d let some mission workers down.  “God will provide.”

I tried to sound more confident than I was as I asked them to pray.  I was aware this was an opportunity to teach them the value of faith, but I wasn’t sure I had enough.  But God, indeed, is faithful, and before the two weeks were up, somebody had donated a car to us and the mission workers were thrilled with it.  And God has continued to provide for the Syzygy car ministry, to such an extent that we now have three really good cars and our service has become so popular it is often booked up two years ahead!

And now we are looking to God to provide again.  We need another car to meet the growing need of large families, and we have plans to raise £10,000 to be able to buy a 7 seater like our Toyota Previa.

So just as I asked those two young men to join with me in faith for God to provide, I’m now asking you to join us.  Will you pray with us for the money for the new car?  Will you ask God if your donation might be part of the finances we need?  As we have remarked before, God is generous, but he keeps his money in other people’s pockets.  So to get this money raised, those people need to be listening to God, and willing to join in his generosity.

We are confident we can raise this money in time to be able to bless another family coming back to the UK this summer.  Please help us make their Home Assignment easier by helping us get another car!  You can find instructions on how to give at our Get Giving! page, or email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

What God can do in 10 years

Source: www.freeimages. com

Source: www.freeimages. com

I recently came across the above title as a headline in a well-known Christian magazine.  I prepared to be impressed.  I thought that if God can speak the entire cosmos into being in just six days, give the Deity a decade and something pretty spectacular should result.

Sadly, I was underwhelmed.  A church had grown, bought and renovated a building, and started meeting there instead of in a school.  Just an average decade for many churches.  Which set me thinking, why does God do things so slowly?  The answer is that God works with the celestial equivalent of one hand tied behind his back: he partners with humans.

Alone, God can speak revival into being, self-reveal to millions, heal the sick and raise the dead.  But God doesn’t like doing things alone.  God prefers to be in partnership with family, working in community.  Which is why God is so keen that we humans get involved.  In working with God, we learn about God, get to know God, and start the long process of becoming like God.  It’s a bit like letting your kids help you with weeding the flowerbed.  You know some weeds are going to survive and some flowers are going to get pulled up, but doing stuff together builds family.

The problem, of course, is that humans work slowly, and often get in the way.  We don’t do what we’re told to, either because we’re not listening or we’re not willing.  We don’t go where we should or give what we ought.  We don’t step out in faith, speak out boldly, or believe God will do amazing things in us and through us.  So what looks like God’s inactivity is really our inactivity.

18 months ago we introduced you to the Syzygy theology of symbiosis (if you haven’t read this blog, click here!).  It stressed the fact that our partnership with God is so total and complete that it is like we are in a mutual relationship, modelled on the one Jesus had with the Father.

Do we have the courage even to aspire to this sort of relationship?  Do we look at the risks, the challenges, the ‘sacrifices’ involved, or do we embrace the huge privilege of being able to work alongside the Creator, allowing the ‘power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead’ (Ephesians 1:19) to work in and through us?

May God shrink our fears and enlarge our faith, and then maybe we really will see what God can do in 10 years!

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power towards us who believe.

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

Giving sacrificially to world mission

Some years ago, when I was accepted to be a member of a major UK sending agency, a number of people within that agency commented that I would have significant difficulty raising my support funding for homeside service in the middle of an economic crisis. Although their logic was impeccable, I thought it ironic that the successors of the great man of faith who had founded the mission should focus on the practical challenge rather than the greatness of the God for whom we work. Surely, I reasoned, if God wants me to serve him in this way, he will provide the funding. Surely a mere economic crisis is nothing to our God, or to those who serve him in faith.

Yet four years into the economic crisis, the evidence shows that the economic crisis is in fact hitting mission hard. Most mission agencies report reduced general giving, and reduced financial support for mission workers. Nearly all agencies have been forced to reconsider their priorities and reduce their spending commitments. Some have merged, and others have been teetering on the brink of financial collapse. Many potential mission workers are stranded at home, unable to raise the funding they so badly need before they are allowed to go.

So is this economic crisis really bigger than God? Although this situation can easily be understood in financial terms, why should a miracle-working God be limited by the laws of economics?   The problem is not that God’s funding is limited, it is all to do with where God keeps his money. Not in failing banks, or worthless government bonds, but in the pockets and wallets of his people.  he gives us the privilege of partnering with him in his mission, and provides us with the funds to complete the mission.  Yet faced with economic uncertainty, and for many of us redundancy, unemployment or reductions in state benefits, our natural response has been to curtail our giving in order to maintain our own standards of living, or at least to put some funding aside for the future. This might have a small financial benefit to us but has huge negative consequences on those whose ministry depends on our generosity.

How might we review our own economic situations in this light? First we need to remind ourselves that God is in control, and cares for us. God provides, even when we are unemployed. I spent five years living on sickness benefit, and never lacked anything I needed. Needed, not wanted.

And that brings me to my second point: we need to evaluate our own lifestyles and make a distinction between that which is a necessity, and that which isn’t. During the years of prosperity we came to accept certain things which might previously have been luxuries as essential to our standard of living. Perhaps some of those things need to be relegated again to being desirable but not absolutely necessary.

The resulting funds can be released for mission. I recently reviewed my own situation and realised that by doing without certain things that I enjoy, I was able to release several hundred pounds into mission. Yes, it was a sacrifice, but as Neal Pirolo writes in his book Serving as Senders:

Christians with a renewed lifestyle can free up thousands – even millions-

of creative dollars for cross-cultural ministry.

Living more with less is an exciting, viable option.

So, as a new-year resolution, would you join with me in reviewing how much money we really need, and release more to support those working in mission? When we consider how many millions of people have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ, surely it is a small sacrifice to help send more workers into the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).