In Children of Dune by Frank Herbert, a character merely known as The Preachers asks this question of the multitudes looking for some form of religious satisfaction: “Is your religion real when it costs you nothing and carries no risk?” In this question, he challenges his listeners to examine what they are investing in their religion versus what they expect to get out of it.
We live in a world where ideas of service, self-sacrifice, and personal risk are avoided. It is easier to sit passively in a “moving” worship experience safe and secure than to puts one’s self at risk in God’s service. Whether we are talking about missionary work in an unfamiliar country or taking the risk of inviting a neighbor to services, we suffer from serious risk aversion. Unless we are certain the path is absolutely safe, we refuse to take it, therefore making our faith superficial and unreal.
In this lesson, we’re going to look at three examples of people whose faith cost them. They gave up security, safety, wealth, and influence to follow God and do His will. In doing so, though, they demonstrated real faith and had a positive impact on others around them. These individuals experienced true risk in their service to God.
Three Spiritual Risk Takers
Much can be said about Daniel and his companions in the early chapters of his book, but let’s focus of the most famous event in Daniel’s life: that of the lion’s den. By Daniel 6, the namesake figure has already served Babylon for many years, has survived two kings, and is now in service of Darius the Mede. Daniel oversees a third of the king’s regional governors, and chapter 6:3 describes him a distinguished above all his political peers due to his excellent spirit. This leads, predictably, to some political contrivances to bring Daniel down.
Daniel 6:6 records the other officials coming to King Darius, persuading him to sign an edict prohibiting any form of petition (including prayer) directed toward anyone but the king himself for thirty days. Daniel knows of this edict, and his initial reaction, in verse 10, is to pray to God. He did this, knowing it could cost him his career. It could cost him his possessions. It could cost him his income. It could cost him his life. Still, Daniel prays to God, resulting in his attempted execution in the lion’s den. Daniel risks all for God, and God delivers Him, resulting even King Darius being awed by God’s power. Daniel’s faith could have cost him everything, but he held fast.
Jeremiah suffers much in his service to God. He dedicates his life to the mission of reforming God’s people as the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of Babylon looms ever closer. Other prophets, such as Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, oppose Jeremiah’s message, luring the people away with more attractive prophecies. We see Jeremiah’s life threatened for the first time in chapter 11:18-23 and again in chapter 18:18. King Jehoiakim seeks Jeremiah’s death in 26:21, and he is imprisoned for treason in 37:11 because of the content of his message. After this, Jeremiah is thrown into a dank dungeon in chapter 38:6, but he is saved only to witness the destruction of the city he worked so hard to save.
Wouldn’t it have just been easier for Jeremiah to write Jerusalem off and just go with popular opinion? Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to settle down with a wife and family and try to eek out a measure of happiness in the time he had left? Instead, he dedicates all to God, and few listen. A few are moved by his words, and those words still exist, showing God’s path to ultimate salvation and a new covenant with all nations. Jeremiah’s costly message speaks of eternal rewards.
Finally, we have Paul. Philippians 3:3-6 recounts a brief overview of Paul’s history before his conversion. He is a respected Pharisee. He is of the faithful tribe of Benjamin. Paul claims to have been blameless in the ways of the Levitical Law, and he pours his heart into defending his true faith from the heretic Christians. Philippians 4:8, though says he counts those past accomplishments as worthless when compared to his service for Christ.
Paul gives up a life of esteem and honor to be beaten, stoned, imprisoned, harassed, shipwrecked, plotted against, imprisoned again, and – quite possibly – eventually executed. In the midst of all these tribulations, however, Paul writes that he knows his Savior and trusts Him to keep His promises in II Timothy 1:12. Through this confidence, Paul sets up numerous congregation, turns countless souls to Christ, shares the gospel with government officials, and leaves us a legacy upon which we build much of our faith.
Willing to Face the Cost
In Luke 14:28-33, Jesus gives two examples of the need to count the cost of something. He cites building a tower and going into battle, how a failure to account for the cost of such projects will adversely affect the one undertaking said project. We can relate to this pretty easily. How many of us have made big purchases or started home projects that ended up overwhelming us monetarily or size-wise? Sacrifices are needed to see such projects to completion, but, in the end, we hope the sacrifices are worth it.
Jesus precedes these illustrations with the admonishment that those who are unwilling to take up their crosses cannot follow Him in verse 27. Too often, we speak of a “cross to bear” as some kind of inconvenience or physical malady, but, in the context of Jesus’ audience, a cross means death. Jesus is calling us to sacrifice self – self-interests, self-service, self-satisfaction, perhaps even self-preservation – in service to Him.
What am I willing to give up for Christ? What risks am I willing to take? Have I counted the cost in perspective of a priceless heavenly reward? Daniel, Jeremiah, and Paul serve as only three examples of faithful men who were willing to risk all and face terrible costs for the cause of Christ. Can we do any different in our service?