Warning. Danger. Hazards ahead. God at work. Live at your own risk.

Risk.

The only way we can know God.

You see it from one end of the Bible to the other.

Look at the names in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Fame.

  • Abraham took the risk of leaving the greatest city of his time to go to an unknow country.
  • Sarah took the risk of having Isaac at the age of 90.
  • Abraham again took the risk of offering up Isaac before he knew a ram was caught in the thicket.
  • Joshua took the risk of facing Jericho with no way to overcome it.
  • Rahab took the risk of siding with Israel when no one else among her people would.
  • And others like Jeremiah, who endured the risk of being rejected and persecuted or Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego who took the risk of walking into fire or Daniel, who took the risk of sleeping with lions.

With God risk really means risk, and it can cost us all we have. But when we take risks with God, we gain all He has. We can never know God in His power and love without taking risk with Him.

Risk demands trust. In fact, risk is another word for trust, a trust that calls for us to give up our control and security to rest in His control and security—before we fully know what that means. It would not be trust if we knew what risk means for us. That's the key to knowing God: we have to trust Him before we know what trusting God means. And it can mean anything from the greatest joy imaginable to the deepest struggle possible. Probably both.

That's what it meant for Israel: putting everything on the chance God would come through. For the wilderness generation, that's exactly what it was, a chance they weren't willing to take. They refused to trust God and it cost them everything. Amazing, isn't it? We refuse to take risk with God because we're afraid it will cost us everything and that refusal ends up costing us everything.

The risk God called Israel to take when they entered the Promised Land was great. And that's all the land was—a promise, not a certainty or a reality, only a promise. Words. Nothing more. That's always what risk with God is, a promise, words we have to trust, nothing more.

This is especially true when we start out as leaders and don't have any experience with God's faithfulness. But even then we have the history of God's trustworthiness in His word.  Israel also had fulfilled promises, actions God had taken to prove Himself in their eyes. He had delivered them from Egypt to demonstrate His power and His faithfulness and He did that with the aim of getting Israel to trust Him in the greater risks that lay ahead of them. The deliverance from Egypt was beginner's risk, passive risk, no real risk for them at all. All they had to do was obey His directions. That's what He does with beginners. He takes them through experiences to show them what He will do so He can bring them into new opportunities to trust Him, make them part of His triumph, and give them a sense of value and healthy self-confidence that grows into increasing rest in Him.

We have to realize that it is risky to turn down God's risk. He became angry with the generation that hardened its heart by refusing to trust Him and never gave them rest from their wanderings. With God it's risk or nothing. There's no in-between.

So the next generation of Israel faced the risk their fathers rejected. God called them to do the supernatural: cross a rushing river at flood stage, confront the walled up city of Jericho, go against giants, and defeat entrenched foes who were more powerful than they. What God called them to do was to take the risk of entering into His rest that the generation before them rejected.

God knows we cannot face His risks by ourselves. But He also knows we can never become His leaders without learning to trust Him to do things that are beyond us. That's what Jesus did with His disciples when He led them into storms and called on them to feed the 5,000. He knew His men could never do what He wanted them to do without learning how to take risk with Him. And remember this: we never take risk for God without taking risk with God and through God.  God doesn't put us out there by ourselves, even when it feels that way. He's always with us and always working through us when we act for Him. To get us to take risk God demonstrates His faithfulness by giving and keeping His word before He ever requires us to chance it with Him. That's what He did with Israel when He delivered them from Egypt. And that's what he did in my life when I was pastoring South Hills Community Church in San Jose, California.