Some folks habitually “play it safe.” They won’t board an airplane. They won’t go overseas. They won’t step too far out of their comfort zone. In their minds, life is too precious to jeopardize it in such frivolous ways.
Jesus told a story in Luke 19.11-27 which included a man who played it safe. It’s the story of the ten minas (one mina was about three-months’ wages) which a nobleman distributed evenly among ten servants, telling them to “Engage in business until I return.” When he returned, the nobleman found several servants who had multiplied his money. But one fearful servant returned the single mina he’d been given, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man.”
The nobleman-now-king took the mina away from him and gave it to another servant who had most-successfully multiplied his money. Everyone was dumbfounded that he would take away what little the one servant had and give it to the one who had the most, but he answered, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
The fearful servant tried to play it safe, but too late he discovered he had done exactly the opposite. The king told him he should have at least put the money in the bank so it would have earned a little interest! Do SOMETHING, even if it’s small.
Fear freezes. We must not let fear control us to the point that we fail to DO SOMETHING. Everyone knows there is something wrong with the lady shut up in her house, refusing to come out because of her phobias. But many live that way, holding to their daily routines, their safe routes, their points of protection, their comfortable zones, and woe to the one who would nudge them off course!
Whole churches play it safe for years. Comfortable pew warmers smile, sit, chat, and go home. Did the preacher say something about helping the poor? Can we just write a check for that? Did someone encourage us to teach the gospel to our neighbor? Well, we have such a good relationship with the neighbor, it would be a shame to ruin it with talk about religion. The whole world around us is dissolving into an ethical and moral nightmare; are we content to watch it crash and burn and not speak the words of life necessary to fight against evil? We’ll complain amongst ourselves at the deterioration of society; then we’ll go home and allow Netflix to entertain us with the same filth we protest against.
Men play it safe by not addressing sin in their own lives, by not confessing sin to other faithful men who can support, pray, and help. We don’t address sin in our families for fear of straining relationships…yet the relationship is really strained because of the sin! We play it safe when we don’t stretch ourselves to grow in the talents and abilities God has given us to use for His glory.
We need to stop playing it safe. When the King returns, will He find us working to increase what He entrusted to us, or will He find us sitting on our couches, eating ice cream, and immersing ourselves in the world’s entertainment? I hate to admit I do way too much of what’s in that last sentence.
Jesus didn’t die so we could watch Netflix. Jesus didn’t die so we could play. Jesus didn’t die so we could increase our wealth. He died so we could have life and that we, in turn, could become life givers and producers in His kingdom!
Jesus didn’t play it safe…and He doesn’t want us to, either.
I was impressed last night, again, by the great faith of the Centurion in Luke 7 who clearly saw himself as unworthy in the light of the great authority of Jesus. It’s interesting to me that the word for “authority” in Luke 7.8 (exousia) is exactly the same word most often translated “power” (ex., Lk. 4.6), identifying Jesus’ ability to accomplish whatever He desires.
I tried to think about what that would look like today. If I had access to our President, a man of great authority/power, and could say, through a couple of advocates close to him, “Mr. President, I know you have the power to erase this parking ticket, would you please do so?” what an incredible power I would have at my fingertips. Imagine I was on death row and made the same appeal knowing he had the power to give me life by pardoning me; what an incredible gratefulness and, maybe even, allegiance I would feel if I could acquire such mercy and grace. And what if I had access, not through some advocate, but by simply picking up the prison telephone?
Then it struck me: I have direct access to an even greater power in Jesus Christ. He provides the power for me to live FREE, unchained from the grips of sin, addiction, sorrow, and the like. Why don’t I access that power when it is as easy as simply asking, without the intermediary? What would I be willing to ask Him to do? So it isn’t really surprising to read that Jesus was able to say about the Centurion, “I have not found such great faith in Israel.” Can he find that kind of great faith in me? I’m working toward that goal.
Herod, the Bible says, “sought to see” Jesus (Luke 9.9), but it seems he didn’t seek very hard, for in the immediately-following verses a huge crowd went out into a desolate place outside Bethsaida to find Jesus. Surely Herod could have gone out, too, had he really wanted.
But the 5000 enjoyed the words and the powerful healing Jesus brought; all day they listened until the day began to wane. The disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd into the surrounding villages so they could get something to eat, but Jesus surprised them with a challenge: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9.14)!
“We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they answered, not for a moment considering a boy’s lunch (John 6.9) ample provision for such a great multitude. I would have been right with those disciples, I’m afraid. (I sometimes stare into my fridge thinking, “There’s nothing to eat,” when really there is plenty…)
Listen, Jesus was not obligated to feed this multitude. It wasn’t His job, and no one expected Him to provide a meal. He must have had a purpose to this miracle, don’t you think?
So why did He do it? Let me suggest two reasons.
1. To increase the faith of the disciples.
After His disciples basically said they couldn’t feed the multitude, Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, fine, if you won’t do it I’ll do it Myself.” No, He performed the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, and He “gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9.16). In other words, the disciples ended up giving the crowd something to eat, just as Jesus had instructed! Jesus does not command anything for which He doesn’t also equip. Remember that.
Jesus had told these disciples He would make them fishers of men (Luke 5.9-10). These twelve (Luke 6.13) would be the seeds which started a world-wide planting operation. How in the world would they accomplish such a monumental–dare we say, impossible–task? By faith these men would come to understand all they had to do was obey–God handles the multiplication!
God can take an oil jug with just a bit of left-over oil in the bottom and make it outlast a famine (1 Kings 17.8-16). God can feed and water a couple million people in the desert for forty years. Man’s road blocks and impossibilities are nothing to God.
2. To identify Himself.
Continuing the previous thought, Jesus identified Himself with Moses in the wilderness. John accounts the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, and do you remember what conversation the event precipitated? The next day, the Jews tried to provoke Jesus into feeding them again: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6.31). They did well to connect Jesus’ power with the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus continued the thought, identifying Himself as the true bread from heaven.
Not only did He identify Himself as the bread of life, but this even also identified Him strongly with Moses–Moses being a type of Christ. How could Jesus do such awesome things unless He was truly sent by God? And if He was truly sent by God, His words rang with prophetic power. Moses had prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.15, “YAHWEH your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…”
The feeding of the 5000 proved that God had raised up The Prophet, and He was standing before His brethren!
Life’s difficulties often lead to spiritual doubt. Like Hamlet, some endure the temptation to simply “not be” and to shuffle “off this mortal coil.” Why not just end this pain-filled, unfair life? Here was Hamlet’s struggle:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
He wonders whether it wouldn’t be better “to die: to sleep…and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache…” Is it nobler to endure the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” when one has the option of terminating his life now (“When he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?” – a naked blade)?
No doubt, doubt causes us to question everything about ourselves, God, and this life.
How can we battle doubt and disbelief?
We should hold some core beliefs based on God’s word, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and guide us. This flighty, subjective, anchorless world constantly tells us there is no such spiritual anchor, no absolute spiritual truth. But does that not fill a person with doubts and leave her directionless? Steadfast faith in God is based first of all upon a knowledge that God IS and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11.6). We must believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son (1 Jn. 5.5), and that His word is inspired, final, and infallible. In no other way can one be saved except through Jesus Christ (Acts 4.12; Jn. 14.6), by God’s grace, and through faith (Eph. 2.8-9). Hang on to the fact that God has promised eternal life to His faithful ones (1 Jn. 2.25), and you have already passed from death into life (1 Jn. 3.13; Jn. 5.24). These core beliefs provide anchors for the soul.
Where do all these core beliefs derive? From Scripture! I firmly believe the least confident Christians are the least studied. Wasting our days, we often fail to spend sufficient time in God’s word, and we end up weak, wandering, and wondering how we have such little faith. Luke wrote his gospel and the book of Acts in order to inspire faith in the reader (Lk. 1.1-4). John recorded those great works and teachings of Jesus “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believeing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20.31). Paul wrote in Rom. 10.17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The spiritual formula goes as follows:
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1.13-14)
Did you follow the stages in that verse? It all begins with HEARING the gospel, which leads to TRUST and BELIEF in God, which is connected with the SEALING of the Holy Spirit, and it all ends up in DOXOLOGY, praising God, giving Him glory!
So if you want to battle doubt and disbelief in your life, pick up that Bible of yours and get in it, devour it, let it speak into your life and build your faith. That’s the purpose of God’s word. Saturate yourself in God’s promises and purposes, and you will find the direction you desire.