A guest post by Heather H.
I love having grown up in a Psalm-singing denomination where my head and my heart were filled from my youth with the often-comforting Word of God. One of my favorite Psalms has always been Psalm 91 which reassures the one who is found in God that she/he will be kept safe in the Most High’s care.
But look a little closer. The Psalmist isn’t safe. There are snares and pestilence, terrors and arrows, destruction and death all around him.
Isn’t this a common story we read throughout the Old Testament? Think of the Israelites walking through the Red Sea or into the Promise Land. And then there’s Gideon’s army or Daniel or Esther… So many stories of God’s people who were safe in God as they walked straight into some of the most dangerous of circumstances one could imagine.
And then there’s the New Testament. Jesus’ example led the apostles (and many others) to be imprisoned, flogged, and even killed. Yet, they were safe—sometimes they were miraculously delivered from their earthly oppressors, other times they were delivered into the arms of their Heavenly Father.
Having served overseas both short and long term, I’ve often been challenged about the issue of safety. “You know it’s not safe to go to Northern Ireland,” a member of my home church said when I was in my early 20s. He meant well, but it really struck me as an odd thing to say. In my head I thought, “Well, if it isn’t safe to go to Northern Ireland, where is it safe to go?!”
[Spoiler alert: I went to Northern Ireland anyway.]
But each time someone says, “It isn’t safe,” or, “Aren’t you afraid because of how dangerous it is?” or some other thing along those lines whenever I have traveled overseas for kingdom work I want to bop them in the nose…oops, this is Gentle Reformation. Let me rephrase that. I want to kindly take them aside and start drilling them about their theology. When have we ever been told as followers of Christ to pursue safety? Sure, we can (and should) pray for safety.
And, of course, we rightly thank God when he provides us with safety.
But…trying to mitigate our circumstances so that we will be more safe instead of seeking kingdom pursuits is not something we are called to as believers.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we all run head first into every unsafe situation we can find. That’s just folly. But we do “seek first the kingdom of God.” And what does that require of us? Well, if we look at the kingdom parables, EVERYTHING—possessions, family, our own lives. Seeking first the kingdom of God isn’t “safe” by earthly measures, but it is the safest thing we can do by heavenly ones.
Think of it this way, we are commanded by Jesus to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the Harvest to thrust forth laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38, emphasis mine). If it was a safe and easy task, I don’t think there would be (A) a lack of harvesters and (B) a need to thrust the harvesters forth. Please, please pray for harvesters to be thrust out into the fields! But, as you pray, think about what you are praying. You are praying for people to risk their lives and the lives of their families. You are praying for people to be sent into the midst of snares and pestilence, destruction and death. If you are praying this for other people, do you think you should live your life at home trying to make your world and your family’s world as safe and comfortable as possible? Should we not be exposing ourselves and our families to the kingdom battles being fought right at home? Should we not be teaching our children that the darkest places are the ones most in need of the light we have to share?
I realize I’m not normal. Some of my fondest memories are from teaching English through Bible lessons to a room full of Muslim rebel soldiers sitting with AK-47s in their laps and closing our time in prayer (at the request of one of the soldiers) in the name of Jesus; or riding on a Metro train in Berlin with Saddam Hussain’s nephew and his friends after spending the day with them and some others celebrating our friendship and sharing the stories of Jesus; or giving piggy-back rides to lice-infected children in a Mexican barrio and eating the questionable shrimp mole served to us by their mothers; or flying to Africa during the Ebola crisis to encourage kingdom workers (p.s. we were nowhere near the Ebola crisis, but we were told by some that it wasn’t safe to go); or facilitating a Christ-centered training to former thugs and illegal brewers in the slums of Nairobi. The list goes on. But, I would not want to sacrifice any of that for a safe life behind the proverbial picket fence.
When I lived in Sudan and my Muslim Zaghawa friend came with his new wife to visit me, he looked around and realized for the first time that I lived alone in my hut. “Aren’t you afraid to live here alone?” he asked. “No,” I replied sincerely, “I’m not alone. God is with me.” He sat back deep into his chair and with a voice that dripped of respect as deep as his sitting position he said, “Aaaahhhh. You are the most spiritual person here.” He saw my faith. He saw Christ in me. If I had sought safety, he wouldn’t have never had the chance to see Jesus through me.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” – Romans 10:14-15
And from where does this good news come? From the battle fields! And what do those beautiful feet look like? They are bloodied and dirty.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.” – Psalm 23
Heather H. is a member of the Los Angeles Reformed Presbyterian Church and serves as Executive Director of RP Global Missions.