For months the news has been filled with stories of young military men and women heading off to the Persian Gulf. While spouses and children sadly look on, soldiers with grave expressions board boats or planes headed for danger. Why? Why are they willing to endure hardship, be separated from their families for long periods of time and even risk their lives? Some may say that they are just doing their job. But surely there are safer jobs to be found that pay as much or more than the U.S. military.
No doubt people’s motivations vary, but at some level each man and woman who serves must believe that risking life and limb to defend one’s country is a good and noble pursuit. This is not a political article or a comment about war in the Middle East, but reflecting on these risks should help us examine a difficult area of our own lives. What about taking risks to serve the Lord God, Creator of all, King of the universe? He certainly does not need us to defend Him from terrorists, but He has asked us to be part of His rescue mission for countless people He loves—people who are headed for destruction.
Think about some of the admonition of Scripture regarding Christian discipleship:
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier…Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:3, 4, 10
The Scriptures tell us we are in a battle, and who ever heard of a risk-free, conflict-free battle? Yet how many of God’s people have been lulled into a spiritual stupor, seeking convenience and comfort over Christian commitment? We have become risk-averse—seeking the path of least resistance and avoiding conflict whenever possible. As a result, we often forget we are in a war. But the war exists, whether or not we see ourselves as part of it. If we fail to realize this, we will be defeated by our own comfort and complacency.
We are soldiers who must put on our spiritual armor each and every day, prepared to engage in conflict. Living out our Christian convictions means being willing to take risks for God.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the risks he faced: “…in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26). Perils, perils, perils; and he was just warming up! The conflict rages most fiercely in the battle for the souls of men, women and children. Satan knows that his days are numbered. He hopes to drag as many people as possible into the fires of hell. Any efforts centered on “rescuing the perishing” will be met with his fiercest attack. Throughout the ages God’s servants have recognized this reality and many have taken enormous risks for the sake of winning others to Christ.
Mission history provides countless examples of those who have followed in the Apostle’s footsteps. People like Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot and Graham Staines risked it all, suffered much for the cause of Christ. In every generation there have been those who could say as Paul did, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
God wants His children in each generation to “be Jesus” to others, exemplifying Christ-like character by the risks we are willing to take and the suffering we are willing to endure to see others saved. Back during Operation Desert Storm I was Minister-at-Large for Jews for Jesus. I had a trip planned to Israel when the conflict broke out. I remember talking things over with our founder Moishe Rosen, who was executive director then. I asked if I should postpone the trip in light of the Scud missiles being shot into Israel on a nearly daily basis. He said to me, “David, soldiers are daily risking their lives for a battle that has only temporal consequences. Are you not willing to risk yours for an eternal one? Besides, what is the worst thing that could happen? If you die in the effort you will be home with Jesus and that would be the best thing of all.”
That made sense to me. But when I arrived in Israel I discovered the body of Christ in an uproar. Missionaries had been ordered home by their various boards to protect them from the war that was raging. Many seemed relieved to go. Many lost their story among the people they were trying to reach because they were unwilling to endure the risk.
Most of us are not challenged to risk our physical safety for the sake of the gospel, much less on a daily basis. Yet we are daily tempted to avoid far lesser risks.> In my experience, it is most tempting to avoid the risk of other people’s displeasure. We don’t want to offend, we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable to the scorn or contempt of those we want to reach. So all too often we remain silent, refusing to share the gospel with those who desperately need it, unless they first ask to hear it.
People often approach me after I speak in their church to tell me about their Jewish friends, neighbors or colleagues. I always ask, “Have you taken the opportunity to tell them about Jesus?” Most have not. Many will ask me to pray for a friend’s salvation, yet they will not risk their friendship by bringing up matters of eternal importance. They are aware of their friend’s need—but do not see it as urgent enough to risk disapproval.
Crisis pregnancy centers provide free ultrasounds for women contemplating abortion. Statistics show that those who view ultrasounds of their unborn children are far less likely to have abortions. For many, something as simple as an ultrasound changes their abstract concept of a fetus into the reality of a genuine person whose life is in their hands.
My dear brothers and sisters, if we could but imagine our friends facing the horrible realities of a Christ-less eternity, perhaps we would be more willing to face our fears and risk our reputations for them and for their salvation.
What about the people in your life who need Christ? What are you willing to risk so that they might hear the good news of His saving grace? Won’t you ask God to help you reach them? Perhaps your risk is to initiate a conversation about spiritual matters, or perhaps it is to invite a friend to hear a gospel presentation at church. May God grant all of us the courage to be bold and take risks for God, so that we may have a part in the fight for eternal lives.