There's a little word, which I find unnerving, that shows up regularly in the Bible. It's the word "perhaps" and its presence, if we ponder if for a moment or two, offers a critique of some values we hold dear in our western culture. The word shows up when Caleb seeks to conquer the hill country of the promised land as an old man. He asks Joshua for permission to enter Bible, noting that "perhaps" God will grant him victory. Jonathan, the son of Saul, took on twenty of the enemy because he sensed God was in it, and that "perhaps" the Lord would work victory of them.
In both cases, these men had a clear sense from God regarding both the next step they were take and the desired outcome. What they didn't know, however, was whether they would succeed. In both cases, failure would have meant death. In both cases success would have been a clear testimony of the power of God because strength would be manifest in the midst of situations where weakness was so clearly evident. But weakness means we're outnumbered. Weakness means we might fail. Weakness means that, unless God comes through, we're stuffed.
We don't like being in that kind of space. We don't like the word "perhaps". We don't like risks nearly as much as we like safety and control. Maybe that's OK, the preference for safety and control over risk. What's not OK is to choose safety as the predominant paradigm for our decision making, because the reality is that God is always pushing us out of our safety zone, into a zone of dependency. He's pushing us out of our safety zone financially, as he challenges us to live generously and trust him with our provision. He's pushing us out relationally, whether that means calling us to reach out to strangers, break down social barriers, or risk entering an unfamiliar culture where we're vulnerable and not in control. Like a mother eagle, he's pushing us out of our nests so that we'll learn the ways of faith. Soon we come to understand that the ways of faith can't be learned without the word "perhaps".
In a world where much in which we've trusted is presently collapsing (things like banks, the auto industry, the global economy, vocational assurance) it's tempting for us to make safety and assurance an even larger value than before, pushing faith and risk to the periphery. Such a posture reveals that we've misunderstood our real source of security all along, for the global economy, banks, vocations, and home equity were never our real sources of security. We might have thought they were. They weren't. God is the only rock, Jehovah Jirah is the only provider. He'll either sustain us, or He won't. But the prerogative, protection, and provision, come from Him. And if that's true, we've little to fear, even if the mirages collapse. This, of course, is easier to say than to actually live.
I hope to live 2009 on the basis of obedience to God's vision and calling, rather than on the assumption that God wants me to be safe. A little poem that helps me remember this comes from a WWII soldier named Studdard Kennedy, who fought often on the front lines. Writing home to his 10 year old son he said:
"The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, "God, keep my Daddy safe", but "God, make Daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them". Son, life and death don't matter, but right and wrong do. Daddy dead is Daddy still. But Daddy dishonored before God is something to awful for words. I suppose you'd like to put in something about safety too and Mother would like it too. Well, put it in afterwards, always afterwards. For it really doesn't matter as much as doing what is right."