How to Embrace Risk When You’re Scared
Recently, my seven-year-old daughter learned to ride her bike without training wheels, but it was not without great travail. On more than one occasion she has sat on the curb, covered in tears, sobbing that it is too scary.
On such occasions we coaxed her out with some bribery and affirmation. With every new attempt, no matter how small, we cheered and affirmed. We supported her all along the way in order to grow her risk tolerance. We wanted her to keep going and find that she could do this, and eventually love going on bike rides.
We are not all that different than a seven-year-old learning to ride a bike. We are not prone to enjoying risk, to opening ourselves up for potential loss or injury. And yet, the life of a Jesus-follower, by its’ nature is one of living with a firm belief in the unseen, walking by faith. To follow Jesus is to risk all on Him — this is both comforting and scary.
We want to walk with Jesus in risk, but also find in our hearts hesitation and risk aversion. How does God encourage us to keep going and grow our risk tolerance? What can we put before our hearts and minds that will help us, daily, to push all our chips in with Jesus and obey Him? There are likely more, but here are three to consider:
Trust God’s Character
The first way to grow in our risk tolerance is to trust God’s character. In order to be able to trust Him, we must truly know Him. It will not be enough to know Jesus in abstractions or theological thoughts — when it comes to risking the things that are dear, we must know Jesus deeply and intimately. To risk much on Christ means we trust Him entirely with our lives, and we can only trust Him as much as we know Him.
One of the great risk-takers of the New Testament was the Apostle Paul. Imprisoned, beat, scourged, and even shipwrecked, nothing could stop this man from risking to preach the gospel. In his last letter before his death, Paul gives this insight “But I am not ashamed; for I know in whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
Paul risked much because he trusted much. Paul banked his life so much on Jesus, that everything else paled in comparison: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be a loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). Because Paul valued Jesus so highly, he was willing to risk — in fact, to Paul it didn’t seem like risk at all.
If we want to risk, we must grow in trust. If we want to grow in trust, we must grow in knowing Christ more personally. For this, there are no greater resources at our disposal than the Bible, prayer, and solitude. Each of these things, when engaged regularly, will faithfully shepherd us into knowing Christ deeper.
Keep Eternity In View
The second way to grow our risk tolerance is to keep a long-term view. Most financial investment risk requires you have a long-term view. If you want a two-week turnaround on an apartment building venture; you’re in the wrong business. But if you risk, and have the stomach to wait it out for years, the return eventually makes the risk worth it.
To risk with Christ, we must have the longest view in mind — eternity must be our truest return and the place where we judge whether or not a risk is “worth it”. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “For this momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Eternity with Christ makes any risk or even loss “worth it” so much so that Paul even says that the weight of glory in heaven doesn’t even compare to the affliction of his temporary life. Everything in this life is temporary and fleeting, we should take risks where it matters — in things that have to do with eternity. Having eternity in view will help us sort what things are worth great risk and what is not.
Remember Jesus Is Merciful In Our Failure
There is only one human who has perfectly risked in the name of God, and it is not any one of us. What should we do then, knowing we have already failed to risk much for the gospel, and that we will continue at times to shrink back and settle for our comfort in this life? We look to Jesus, merciful to the fearful and cowardly, and we watch how Jesus treated His friend, Peter.
Peter, hours after pledging his undying loyalty to Jesus at the last supper, hid outside a gate and watched at a distance as Jesus was tried. Three times Peter was identified as Jesus’ follower, and three times, each more vehement than the last, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Then the rooster crowed and Peter left weeping. Jesus was crucified and Peter was left knowing the last thing he ever did for Jesus was deny Him. What an overwhelming sense of failure. What guilt of betrayal. What shame at his cowardice.
But Jesus was raised, Peter saw the empty tomb, he even saw the risen Christ. Peter’s friend, John, includes the personal way Jesus restored Peter’s failure to risk.
In John 21, Jesus comes to his disciples who have returned to their old trade — fishing. Jesus invites Peter to breakfast. There, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks this same question, matching the number of Peter’s shameful betrayal. And three times Jesus graces Peter with the stewardship of caring for Jesus’ flock. Jesus extends an astonishing amount of grace to Peter in his failure. Jesus says to those who have failed to risk, “I forgive you, get up, risk again.”
My daughter did fall in riding her bike. It was a very long process but now she is riding with confidence and even rode up her first hill. It took her many small risks, with the encouragement and affirmation of her parents for her to grow her risk tolerance.
Walking with Christ in risk is a process of growth — we can grow in risk by knowing Christ deeper, by keeping eternity in view, and by treasuring His mercy in our failure.