Friday, January 18, 2013
Learning the Art of Self-Challenge
Through taking healthy risks that make you a better person or the world a better place, you begin to develop a deeper appetite for good. At first it might not be very tasty. Taking even a small risk can be more difficult than it sounds. And that is why we have to practice. We have to develop the skill of challenging ourselves.
We want the act of making healthy choices to become a natural and authentic part of who we are. But before something can become a habit, it often is a hassle. Put another way: if we want new habits to become instinctual, then they must first be intentional. And in order for that to happen, we have to practice the sacred art of self-challenge.
I don’t want to freak you out, but what we’re really talking about is obedience. Obedience to God is the path that leads to Life. It’s the path that transforms you into the person you long to be.
And obedience always requires risk.
What’s amazing is that much of our obedience is instinctual. In at least some areas of life, we naturally make healthy choices. We naturally smile at a stranger, or perhaps we have a great work ethic or are naturally curious or easygoing.
Yet we can’t define obedience solely in terms of what comes naturally. Often our greatest moments of obedience come when it is least natural. Perhaps our natural tendency in certain situations is unhealthy or hurtful. Or perhaps what we naturally want to do is nothing, to avoid taking action when action is called for. In these moments we have to choose something else, something we don’t want to do, something that, most likely, will move us into the space of the unknown.
I want to be a person who is able to act—who is able to obey—even when it’s unnatural.
Intentionality and risk are the ways we develop a greater capacity to obey. When we say, “I’m going to do this thing that I wouldn’t normally do,” we are developing the capacity to grow into the people we were meant to be.
When Jesus invited people to follow Him, He was inviting them to obey Him. There are parts of you that already reflect God’s character, parts of your uniqueness that are expressions of something God wanted to say when He created you. Those are already consistent with following Jesus.
Maybe it’s your smile.
Maybe it’s your way with people.
Maybe it’s your work ethic.
Maybe it’s your sense of right and wrong.
Maybe it’s your intelligence or your curiosity for life.
Maybe it’s your sense of responsibility or your flare for fun.
These things are good just the way they are. It’s easy to obey when God calls us to things we naturally love. When God calls us to the stuff we already like (which happens a lot more than we realize), it’s one of the great pleasures of life.
Risk is the central narrative of the scriptures. When I do Spark Group trainings with faith communities, I always have participants do this exercise:
1. Pick any person in the scriptures that comes to mind.
2. Identify the risk God called that person to take.
This is surprisingly easy. And once people get going, it’s hard to get them to stop. Abraham: stopped living with his parents at age seventy and moved into no man’s land to start his own nation. Moses: even with a speech impediment, he stood up to the most powerful man in the world to liberate an enslaved people. Mary: endured the shame of people assuming she had been unfaithful to her fiancé. Joseph: remained committed to a teenage girl, his fiancée, who in the eyes of their neighbors and extended family was almost certainly an adulteress.
The apostle Paul.
The twelve fellas who quit their jobs to follow Jesus, most of whom were later killed for doing so.
The people whose stories are recorded in the history of the scriptures all took risks—often huge risks—to be a part of what God was doing in the world. It seems like a prerequisite for being mentioned in the narrative of the movement of God is the willingness and courage to risk.
Like God’s people throughout history, we can jump into life in ways that only we can so that God can move in ways we cannot. Call it faith if you want, but in terms of everyday life, it’s risk. And it’s through risk that God can change our lives.
Faith. Love. Hope.
Risk. Compassion. Optimism.
When we begin to live out these values, we create a context that is thick with potential. When we have the courage to take risks of compassion that produce optimism in others, we create space for God to move and work. We begin to form our souls into the kind of textured lives that gives God traction to guide us into the future He dreamed we could participate in. And we become fully alive.
This is what Jesus did two thousand years ago. He assembled a team and spent three years with them, throwing them into the deep end of serving humanity. Coaching them. Teaching them. And then He kept saying weird things, such as “Have faith in me and you will do greater things than what I have done.”
And then, before He turned His followers and friends loose to serve humanity on God’s behalf, He said: “Go, create cultures of servant leadership, of risk, compassion, and optimism out of every society.”
He looked into the eyes of folks like you and me and said, “Go.” Risk. Care. Create.
Just like the people you’ve read about in this book, you have ideas that need to be set free. God has placed potential inside you, potential for creative joy and love, strength and peace. And all of that needs to be unleashed.
So risk. Choose something. Do something. Partner together with God and others to pull off something beautiful that serves humanity. It will be hard. You will experience failure. But I promise, you will never regret it.
As Steven Ma put it: “It’s definitely a challenge. It’s definitely a risk. But most important: it’s fun.”
This is the way the world heals. It is the way God has chosen to move through the contours of history. He has chosen our hearts, our feet, our fingertips. Some people will hear God’s voice only if it sounds like ours, inviting them into the adventure of hope that we have been invited into.
This is how we spark our world. When we begin to realize that learning is a verb and that life is the best intentionally leaning into our relationships, our careers, our faith. When we step outside of our comfort zones and experience a life that can exist only if God is with us.
Our world will begin to change.
One small risk at a time.
When we begin taking risks of compassion in the context of community.
How will you start?
Adapted from Spark by Jason Jaggard with permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.