When I encourage you to take risks, let me qualify. It is probably a fine topic, but I am not talking about risk taking for self improvement or personal gain, more money… I am speaking of risking for God, stretching your faith, risk for the sake of greater things when the outcome is uncertain: you may feel like a fool, you may fail, you make yourself vulnerable, you risk present comfort, a place of safety, uncertain of how it will all end. You give up one life for the sake of the promise of something greater.
When I was growing up in Sumas, this church, people would ask me on occasion what are going to do when you grow up. My first answer that I recall was “a singer.” // I tell my story of taking a risk, not because it is so extraordinary, but because I believe it is rather ordinary… Once in a while somebody would ask, “are you going to be a pastor like your Dad.” My answer: “No.” The question was an undercurrent for years. But you know who never asked me that question? My parents. They were wise.
In later high school I went on a hike with my brother to the Nooksack Cirque. And Jim asked me about becoming a pastor. Not a normal topic, but apparently he saw something. The question was an undercurrent. I did not know what to do. Jim advised me at the time (one of the few times I thought he made some sense!) go ahead and do whatever I want in college, and then go to graduate school. So I did. I met Sally my third year of college. The question of studying to become a pastor was an undercurrent. After we were married, in our first apartment on 11th Ave. in the U. District of Seattle, as we were both about to finish a degree neither of us really wanted anymore, what about me studying to be a pastor. Only then did “we” say yes. We talked about what it might mean, less money, less choice of where to live. Life is linear, we can only make the best decisions and then live with the consequences for good or bad, so we made the calculated decision go forward and pursue the pastoral ministry.
Queen Esther risked her life. I’ve never done that for God. I’ve been in a few scrapes where I could have lost my life, but those are accidents, not life choices, life direction, standing up for Christ at the risk of great personal loss.
Queen Esther approached the king uninvited. An earlier time the former Queen Vashti risked her life by not coming to the king when summoned (Esther 1:10-12). Vashti was banished. Esther’s risk is great. In Esther 4, Mordecai, Esther’s Uncle, sends word to Esther encouraging her to take the risk in order to ask for freedom for the Jewish people in exile in Persia. The risk is worth the greater good, and Esther responds in a defining moment of her faith, “I will go to the king even if it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish (See Esther 4:12-16).
For three days Esther fasts to prepare for her encounter. On the third day she goes to the king. The third day… there is a principle in this time frame that I believe is still valid, when you are in turmoil with a decision, when you are anxious, wait three days before making a harsh decision. Somehow, three days is a transformative time, and the Lord will give you peace, and the Lord will give you insight, and the Lord will transform your heart. When Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, by faith Abraham was willing, and three days later a substitute was provided (Genesis 22:4). How many days was Jonah in the belly of the great fish? (Jonah 1:17). Hosea 6:2 is an awesome verse.
Jesus Christ died on a Friday and he rose from the dead on the third day. I talk to more people who are in a panic over a crisis, and in one form or another my advice: wait for three days. The Lord will bring peace when you are facing a risk. On the third day Esther approached the King. Esther 5:2: “When he saw Queen Esther…he was pleased…and held out the golden scepter.” Esther took a risk and she found favor.
Do you know they have actually found a stone relief carving from the time in which a Persian King is seated with a scepter in his right hand and behind him is standing a soldier with an axe. Life or death. The scepter or the ax. Esther risked her life on the whim of the king. The golden scepter, her life was spared. Queen Esther was granted a hearing from the king. And Esther touched the tip of the golden scepter.
Read again the delayed request in which Esther invites Xerxes the King and Haman to a banquet. I admire Esther for confronting her enemy. Perhaps we can see in the scepter a shadow of the cross of Christ, surely Jesus is far superior to the wishy washy Persian King, yet for those who are uncertain of their own sins and transgressions, to be shown the cross is the love, acceptance and forgiveness that comes from Christ. Some of you still need to take that risk of going to Christ and allowing him to change your life. When Esther risked going before the king, she did not know the outcome. And her life was never the same. She gained stature, she gained a hearing. She gained respect. She truly became a Queen. To risk going to Jesus, oh, you’ll have to give up a former life, but the promise of a new life in Christ will shatter everything you have to give up.
Esther was never the same. She gave up her former hidden life and comes clean before the king of her greatest desire to save her people. She gave up an anonymous life. She gave up relative safety of the court. Taking risks means giving something else up. I like the saying of George Herbert:, “You must lose a fly to catch a trout.” Following Christ, taking on new opportunities, living for Christ, risking what other people would say, what you give up is nothing but a fly, compared to the trout of a new life.
If you never risk, never take that chance, you may gain more in the short term, but in the long term you don’t grow in your faith. Leo Buscaglia: The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” May you be a person that has a kingdom dream and risks going for it: maybe its as simple as becoming a Sunday School teacher and gathering the children to go with it. Maybe it’s setting something right in your life that you know is wrong. Maybe it’s to dig in your heals and quit feeling sorry for yourself regardless of your less than perfect life situation and become a person of excellence committed fully to Christ and overcoming your perceived disadvantages. A risk taker finds satisfaction…“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” (Andre Gide).
Risk taking is not easy because it means you might fail (in the eyes of this world)… We worry so much about what other people think. I’ve learned that few people really think about us all that much. As a pastor, in the past 15 years, I’ve learned that with few exceptions only pastors really care how big the congregation is on Sunday morning. The average person doesn’t care, they only care about worshiping, fellowshipping, being obedient. We worry about failure, but if you are faithful before the Lord, the worst that can happen is that it is earthly failure, so the new small group doesn’t take off, so you are the only one that showed up, it’s a risk. If Esther would have died, we may not even know her name, but she would only have been a failure by the world’s standards. Many do die, literally, and figuratively. But to risk is an integral part of our faith, and faith is never a failure.
When you risk, when you attempt something new, you may not know everything you are getting yourself into, you may not anticipate every contingency, but risk anyway. Be as prepared as you can then let God make up the difference. It’s not hard to imagine that’s what Queen Esther did – she was going places she’d never been, she had to trust in wisdom from God. I like this advice: “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic” (Author Unknown). Did you know that you can talk to some people about Christ in ways that as a pastor they won’t let me in? They expect the “professional” to be nice. But there are people who may need to hear your voice, to see your faith at work. Risk is not only what you give up, but where you are going. “Dare to be naïve” said another person. So you don’t know everything coming down the pike. You don’t know how it is all going to work out. Make the best plans you can, but then expect God to supply that which is lacking. Risk taking for God means going beyond that which you can do in your own strength.
(Haman’s role is fascinating in all this. His ups and downs. That will have to be an unpreached sermon about arrogance, pride, and folly. In his pride he is thrilled to be the guest of honor at a banquet with the King and Queen, but then once glance at Mordecai and his entire day is ruined. He sulks. And he whines. And we won’t go there in detail.)
May we be a church of risk takers for God. Bathed in prayer, listening for God’s guidance, doing that which is right. Risking. For the young people that went on the mission trip, I hope the Lord gnaws at your heart for years if he wants one, two or more of you to return to the foreign mission field for a time or a lifetime. The new school year is coming soon to our community which is a time of renewal for our church. What is eating at your heart? To change your relationships? What is the Lord calling you to do? It’s a risk. One person took her stand as a woman of faith, and a nation was saved. Take your stand, and make a difference, in the dreams the Lord places on your heart. Fear is not a good enough reason to say no. Esther was used to save a nation. You may be used by the Lord to save one person, to make a difference to a few, to be an inspiration to your family or church family. Behold men and woman of faith. They make progress only when they stick their neck out.