Tag Archives: comfort zone

Risky Business

Risky Business

Sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25.14-30

How much of a risk are you willing to take on behalf of your faith? Have you ever considered that it’s necessary to take risks? Surely God doesn’t expect us to take risks! Or does he?

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I wonder, what’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? I could throw in a few example to make you think, ooh yes that’s a risky thing to have done; you might say I took a real risk when I did that; or maybe you don’t take risks because you always weigh up the chances of failure and success and stick with the greater odds of success.

After all taking risks is a risky business – it can involve an exposure to danger, the possibility of something unpleasant or unwelcome happening; the probability of financial loss or the chance of incurring unfortunate consequences by engaging in that particular action. The fact is behaviour psychologists have proved that as human beings we are generally adverse to anything that involves a risk – people will prefer not to take a risk even at the cost of letting valuable opportunities pass by.

In today’s gospel we have the example of three slaves or servants and their attitudes to risk. The first two felt able to take a risk, but then it wasn’t their money they were taking a risk with but the third one started to analyse what the risks were and decided to do nothing, not even the soft option of putting it into no-risk low interest bank account. He calculated the possibility, the probability and chance and decided they were too great for him, and it seemed he made the wrong choice.

Our lives are full of opportunities to take risks, especially where our faith is concerned. I cannot speak for all of you whether you have taken risks on your journeys of faith. Maybe you’re like I was just beginning to dare to put your foot through the door because you want to find out what it is that’s calling you to be here. Or maybe you’ve accepted the invitation and want to know what God might be asking you to do next.

For me one of the risks was stepping into the unknown, with no church background or experience, a painful sense of not wanting to step into an arena in which I could be scrutinised and found to be wanting and yet a deep desire to put myself forward despite all of this. You may have heard me say before, but it was reading John Ortberg’s book, ‘If You Want To Walk On Water You Have To Get Out Of The Boat’, which was the catalyst that made me take a risk to get where I am today; and I would suggest that every Christian’s life is marked by windows of opportunity that demand a radical step of faith in order to follow Christ and fulfil his agenda for their lives.

What makes that step radical is that it always involves significant risk.  We know there are times where God will offer an opportunity and it may be in our relationships; in our career; in regard to our finances, when he says, ‘In order to obey me, in order to follow me, in order to do exactly what I want you to do, this is what you need to do in this situation’. And everything within us is fearful, ‘Really God, you want me to do that?’

The reason it’s radical is because you say to yourself, ‘If this doesn’t work out, this relationship could fall apart.  If I do that, I could be changing my family dynamics, it may ruin my career possibilities in the future, or what if I can’t pay my bills?’ When we are facing a challenge and the possibility of failing, our mind rationalises our fears by coming up with hundreds of logical reasons not to do it. But, where there is no risk, there is no faith. Just like the third servant had no faith in the master.

Without faith there is no power and where there is no faith, there is no joy, no reward, no pleasing of God.  In fact, where there is no faith, what you do get is hollow religious activity, moralistic rules, and dead orthodoxy.  We all know of churches where despite the God talk and the many programmes and course that are run, over time it becomes religious activity and the focus is on, ‘Do this but don’t do that’ Lots of rules and the wrong sort of power. Where though is the presence of God?

We know that when we have great faith we are able to do great things. We only have to think about all the people throughout the history of the bible such Moses, Esther, David, Peter or Paul, God brought windows of opportunity and each one of them took a radical step of faith.  And that radical step of faith meant that if God didn’t show up then Peter was going to fall through the waves or Paul, when he returned after persecuting the Church, was going to die.

Every person’s life that is greatly used by God, that experiences God in powerful ways, takes great risks. When we have great faith we are able to do great things. We can think great thoughts; we can pray great prayers and dream great dreams. We’re not just talking about calculated risks, because let’s face it we all like opportunities that come with the word ‘guarantee’ attached to them. That way we feel safe and satisfied with our decisions. I can think back to the time when I told people I was going to go skydiving and people were worried about the risks, but it was a calculated risk, the equipment was checked, the experts had done it thousands of times before, the step I took to allow myself the liberating and exciting feeling of flying into the vast chasm of the sky had been carefully weighed.

Sky Diving View

Not a bad view from up here!

However, one thing that risk takers have in common is fear; fear of what might happen.  Those emotions that you feel and think, risk takers all have as well, they fear what might happen.  I can tell you, at least my own personal experience, the greatest steps of faith I’ve ever taken I was scared to death, and it’s okay to be afraid.  It’s not okay to allow your fear to paralyze you from taking the step of faith. But you have to have faith to step out in spite of your fear.

God tells us time and time again, ‘Do not fear, do not be afraid, I am with you’, and he equips us as we heard today; ‘put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us’.

The other day I came back from our study group quite buzzing. There had been a sense of excitement, a desire to engage with new ideas, of wanting to do something. We’ve been studying John Pritchard’s book, ‘Ten Reasons why Christianity makes Sense’ and we’ve talked about reasons why we should believe in God, the problems people have with faith, how to enliven our faith and the values we need for the church of today and tomorrow.  Above all the need to be communities where a holy fire and passion burns fiercely at its centre because this is what attracts people. We have to take risks, but as we’ve said risk looks very different in different people’s lives.  Often when we think of risk or faith, we always think it’s stepping out. Yes, sometimes we need to leave things behind and sometimes we need to remain and get stuck in to confront and change things, it’s still stepping out – of the security of our comfort zones.

Change is always a risk –  the risk of alienating people, driving them away, the risk of failure, not being able to deliver on the vision.  But not doing anything is like planting that talent into the ground. As Pritchard says, ‘Change is the way of institutions […], and we have to know when to let time-expired practices go. .. the human institutional life of this community has to be kept under constant review if it’s to be a travelling company of spiritual seekers rather than a secret society of defensive administrators.’

The good thing is sometimes even if you take a risk and fail, you end up winning anyway, because you learn valuable lessons in the process and stretch your abilities. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you dared and went for your dream against all odds, whether you succeeded or not. Regret of never trying is usually much harder to live with than failure.

Paul reminds us that we belong to the day – to things of light – We shouldn’t be afraid of sharing our faith, of talking about Jesus. After all ‘he was a man who inspired countless millions to change their lives and the lives of nations. His values were flawless; authority secure yet humble; judgement spot on. His teaching radical and enthralling; decisive, amusing, demanding and encouraging, filled with humanity yet left people aware they had spent time with God. Why wouldn’t we want to point people to this astonishing figure?’

And we need to continue to make links between Sunday and Monday. I could honestly say that 99.9% of the people who are part of this church, regularly make that link. But we’re going to need a robust, whole-life discipleship if we are to stand up to the secularizing pressures of the day. A Christian living his or her faith in an informed, open, clear-eyed way with wisdom and integrity is a hugely attractive witness to the King …  So let’s all take those risks and ‘encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing’


Peter takes a Risk

If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat – Peter takes a risk

How Far Can We Trust God?

Trust blog

How far can we trust God?

Our readings for Evensong on the second Sunday in Advent bring us the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and his encounter with Gabriel in the Temple sanctuary. It gives us Luke’s introduction of how God’s divine plan is about to unfold…

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11Luke 1:1-25

May I speak and may you hear in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This evening our gospel reading leads us further into our Advent preparations and on this second Sunday of Advent we are reminded of the work of the prophets, and in particular we remember John the Baptist who stands as a link between the Old and New Testament. However, this evening it is not directly about John, but his parents, especially his father’s pre-conceptual reaction to the news of his divinely ordained fatherhood.

It is with this story that Luke begins his gospel and being the historian he is he is at pains to include in his dedication the care he is taking to make sure that we have an orderly and accurate account. He doesn’t set out Jesus’ ancestral claims like Matthew does; or the symbolic prose of John, or even start with John, the adult baptiser, appearing in the wilderness to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy as in Mark’s gospel. No, Luke wants to start with a story of how people reacted to God’s preparations for the gift of his Son to the world. So, what does it tell us and how might we learn about our reactions from it?

We are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, chosen by God to play an important role in Jesus’ story. I think we can safely say that neither of them were lukewarm nominal believers. Their credentials meant that they were righteous in the sight of God. Zechariah serving as a priest in the order of Abijah, which can be translated as ‘my Father is Yahweh’, and Elizabeth claiming descendancy from Aaron, God’s original high priest at the time of the Exodus. They walked blamelessly and observed all the commandments. In other words, they were obedient servants of God. Yet, for Zechariah there was an area in his life that resulted in some trust issues.

We can imagine that for a long time they had tried hard to conceive a child and had prayed to God about it, but no doubt as they grew older they had given up hope that it was likely to happen. So it is fairly reasonable that when Zechariah, alone in the sanctuary and terrified at the sudden appearance of an angel, is told that not only is he going to be a father, but that his child will play a pivotal role in proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah, that his first response is, ‘Are you sure? What proof can you offer for this?’

‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’
Luke 1:18

He was confronted with a situation that required faith and trust. The faith bit he had in abundance but the trust was not so easy. Very often we too can face a lack of trust where God is concerned. It seems that we are happy to accept that love underpins our motivation to seek God and to follow his example but trust is harder to pin down. Often this difficulty has to do with our past experiences and our present situations. As humans our fall-back position is to initiate our self-reliance mode. It’s a primitive response to protect ourselves from perceived harm, thinking that we only have ourselves to rely on to get out of trouble

It can also be difficult to imagine stepping out of our comfort zones, but we have to remember that nothing is impossible with God, not even in areas where we have experienced nothing but failure, disappointments and frustration. We have to trust he is there to catch us when we fall and to uphold us as we move forward. It may be that we are holding back that trust because we are happy and comfortable to stay exactly where we are; but this can lead to stagnation; our faith never gets an opportunity to mature, or for our relationship with God to grow stronger as we grow closer to him.

God knows all things; he knows our hearts, our desire to be committed to him and sometimes our desire to be rebellious. But we have to be prepared to take the first necessary step to trust him in each area of our life. Take that step, then another and then the next one. This is the way to grow our faith in God, one step at a time… and how much easier is it as well to take those steps in the company of others, to be encouraged and to encourage each other. Because the more we hand over our lives to God and trust in him the more we can be freer to become the people that God is calling us to be.

With regard to Zechariah’s enforced silence following his lack of trust, I would not see this as a punishment for a lack of faith rather an opportunity for Zechariah to have space for reflection. If we fast forward to his son’s birth, we know that he had become reconciled to leaving things in God’s hands, for his first actions on having his speech restored to him was to speak in praise of God and to leave people amazed at just what his son was to become

We know he was to be ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ but we also know that we too can be responsible to make this happen in our own lives. From Proverbs 3 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.’

So, this Advent let us all be prepared to step away from self-reliance and instead step forward in faith and trust.


zechariah window

Zechariah and Gabriel at the incense altar in the Temple

Getting Out of the Boat

The Sea

The Sea in Aran Island Sound

Sea Sunday is always an opportunity to remember those, who for one reason or another, decide that life on the ocean wave is not as jolly as the military marching bands would have us believe. For many it is a dangerous necessity to put food on the table whilst enduring months and years of hardship and separation from families and loved ones

Many of these merchant seamen would indeed love to get out of the boat, if not permanently at least whenever they call into port. However, with the mechanisation of the docks and the swift turnabout demanded to meet maximum profit margins, this is all too often not possible – despite the best efforts of organisations such as the Mission to Seafarers

Despite the working conditions there is very little alternative employment – getting permanently out of the boat is therefore rarely an option for thousands of seafarers. Indeed for anybody contemplating life-changing decisions they often, quite rightly, fear what will happen if they choose to do so – the justifiable financial and emotional implications often outweigh any perceived benefits

This got me thinking about the moments when you suddenly realise and have the courage to do something which could potentially change your life.

All of us have a comfort zone in which we very happily operate. It’s that place where things are familiar, where we don’t have to do too much thinking, where you know exactly what is likely to happen day to day. However, occasionally there are points on our life maps when we have to make a decision – are we going to stay in the boat or do we attempt a bit of water walking

The fact is, as John Ortberg so cleverly points out in his book of the same title, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat” For each of us there are moments like these. What makes them significant is the effect they have on our lives if we have faith that God is working in us, nudging us, supporting us

For me there were several times spread over many years when I cautiously dangled my legs over the side of the boat as if to test the water. Then there were the scary moments when I took a few hesitant steps onto the deeps – the moment when I decided to pop into my local church on my own one Sunday morning, aged 35 with no previous church experience; the moment I dared to speak openly about my faith in front of work colleagues; the moment I tentatively wondered out loud to my parish priest that I thought I might be being called to some form of church ministry…

He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’     Matthew 14:29-31

Like Peter, my initial timid attempts did not automatically result in remaining on top of the waves. It took a lot of sinking and bobbing until I understood that it was having faith to attempt the act itself that would keep me upright on the water, not doubting my ability to actually do it.

So, if you find yourself looking out of the boat on which you are travelling through life, wondering if you are being called to join Jesus on the water, but unsure if you have the courage to step over the side – take a deep breath, look straight ahead and put your faith that God will be there in the rescue boat

Sea Sunday was celebrated on Sunday 13th July 2013. If you want to find out more about the work of Mission to Seafarers visit their website http://www.missiontoseafarers.org/