Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2016.

“Please pray for my safety.”

It’s a common prayer request in my circles. If I’m honest, it’s a common prayer request of mine. Last summer one of my kids traveled overseas, so I asked my friends to pray for her safety. When my youngest daughter moved to an urban campus that regularly sends text alerts of nearby robberies, assaults, and carjackings, I asked my small group to pray for her safety.

When I ask for safety, am I not trusting God? Or am I just a fearful person who needs to grow more brave and bold? Some people lean toward safety and self-protection while others are by nature thrill-seekers, adventurers. Do people more naturally drawn to thrills find it easier to choose a courageous path for the kingdom of God? What about those who shrink from danger or fear it? Are they crippled spiritually if they tend to minimize risk in their lives?

The Risk-Averse / Thrill-Seeker Continuum

Giving some thought to where we fall on the safety-risk continuum is a good starting place. It helps us better understand how God made us and recognize tendencies we’ve developed in response to life’s ups and downs. It also helps us assess and adjust our initial reaction to God’s call to action.

On one side, we have the safety-driven, risk-averse people who aim for safe investments, move to safe neighborhoods, buy the car with the highest safety standards, and purchase the service-protection plan for every new appliance. These people prefer to lead quiet lives of behind-the-scenes service; they grow gardens and balance spreadsheets.

Then there are thrill-seekers who crave the adrenaline rush of skydiving, speedboats, and high-performance cars. These people may dig into day trading, rappel down sheer cliffs, train for intense careers in the military, volunteer for missions trips to closed countries, and serve on medical teams in war zones.

“The Science of the Thrill,” an article in The Atlantic, explains, “Every person’s brain assesses unknown situations differently: Those with thinner sections of gray matter, for example, tend to perceive less of a threat and therefore seek greater thrills.” These people find it easier to step — even leap — into situations that others might avoid. For them, risk is not something to avoid — it’s something to embrace. It’s what makes us alive! The article describes how the exhilarating feeling of mood-boosting chemicals that follows a thrilling event often lasts less than 60 seconds. “High-sensation seekers spend their lives pursuing this fleeting feeling.”

Contrast this with low-sensation seekers, who “actively avoid thrills and new experiences.” The article concludes that most people fall somewhere in the middle of this scale, but I think we can find hints of our bent in the extremes.

In her book “Writing to Change the World,” author Mary Pipher offers two labels that simplify the distinction: “There are the Type T, thrill-seeking humans, and the Type D, down-filled-seeking ones.” Pipher pegs her daughter as Type T, given her time visiting dangerous refugee camps, swimming with great white sharks, and sleeping in huts infested with snakes. Pipher self-identifies as a Type D. “My idea of adventure,” she says, “is a PBS history show.”
Do you lean toward one side or another? Type T or Type D?

Once you have an idea of where you fall on that continuum, consider this: What is courage — spiritual courage — for the high-sensation and the low-sensation person, the Type T and Type D humans? What does God call us to — all of us, regardless of our natural tendency?

Go Into the World

Gary Haugen, author of “Just Courage” and president/CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), reminds us that if Jesus is going out into the world of human need and suffering — and He is — then we as His followers need to be ready to go with Him. “[T]he deepest desire of our heart is actually found in following Him out into the world and into the world of human need. These are risky things, but I hope people can come to understand they are so well loved by God that they can take huge risks with Him — huge risks — which means they can do significant things and they will be well cared for all the way to the end.”

Go, Haugen says. We must go, following Jesus into the world. Go, regardless of personality and risk preference. The Type T believer may jump up to volunteer first, while the Type D believer may need to pray and process because the opportunity seems like a bigger sacrifice. In either case, obedience compels us to go.

God told Joshua to go into the land He was giving His people, and be very strong and courageous (Joshua 1). Jesus commanded His followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). All these years later, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we, too, are told to go. We may go across the apartment hallway to pray with a neighbor, to the office to speak boldly against unethical actions, or across the world to distribute supplies in refugee camps. Whether near or far, we go where God sends us.

Following Jesus can be dangerous, yes. But we are told in 1 Corinthians, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (16:13).

Supernatural Provision

Speaker and writer Kim Hyland, summarizing the overall message of Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love,” says we don’t see God working in miraculous ways because we insulate our lives. We don’t take risks. She says, “It’s when we risk not in careless ways but in obedience that we trust Him to provide and see that kind of supernatural provision.”

Haugen has seen that supernatural provision in the work of IJM, which requires volunteers and staff to be desperately dependent upon Jesus as they go into areas of the world “where we don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and we know it won’t turn out well if God doesn’t show up.” They get to see God work in ways they never would have if they’d stayed nestled under their down-filled comforters.

Author and pastor John Piper says courage is needed when we risk confronting someone or addressing a controversy. The huge risks Haugen talks about of course take courage, but even a shy person reaching out to a grumpy neighbor may require courage as he overcomes psychological or emotional fears — in that moment, the shy believer may sense God supernaturally emboldening him to accomplish the task.

“Christian courage,” Piper says, “is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the earthly cost, because God promises to help you and save you on account of Christ.”

We are to go, following Jesus into the world to do significant things, wherever that takes us, whatever the task, regardless of risk. And we’ll see Him at work in us, around us, and through us.

Strength for Type D Believers

Hold on now. That’s what the risk-averse person is thinking. You mean I’m to go into the world with its steady stream of headlines about the latest bombings, terrorist attacks, fires, floods, and hurricanes? Can’t we hunker down under our down-filled comforters?

To see God’s kingdom come requires us to go into the world — this world of disturbing, sometimes terrifying, headlines. And this is why we live in this fallen world — to be part of God’s plan to advance the kingdom.
To go is to say “yes” to God. It may take more for the risk-averse, “down-filled-seeking,” low-sensation person to say “yes” to the Lord, but when they go, they recognize the humbling, awesome realization that God is giving them what they need in every moment.

Hyland assures us the courage we need to do what God calls us to do doesn’t have to come from within. “In the face of real threats, we are called to be strong and courageous. But courage isn’t the absence of fear. Whatever happens, God is with me — that’s where the courage comes from. He is with me, and that’s enough.”

We are to be courageous when God commands something, trusting in God’s presence and power — not leaning on our own thrill-seeking, risk-embracing bent nor overcoming our risk-averse, down-filled-seeking tendencies. It all comes from God — the call to be courageous and the courage itself. He doesn’t require us to be naturally courageous people; rather, He promises to be with us and to supply our needs no matter how bold and brave or cautious and concerned we are.

This means that those who lean toward safety and self-protection — who dream of the 23rd Psalm’s green pastures and still waters — can find their strength in God’s presence and power. Later in the psalm, David writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” He fears no evil not because he’s so confident in himself to navigate that valley of the shadow of death. He fears no evil because “you are with me.” God’s presence gives him courage.

God’s presence can give us courage to go someplace we’d rather not go, to do something we’d rather not do. That psalm assumes the shadow of death is part of the call of God and the life of a believer — it reminds us of the truth of God’s presence through it all.

The world is not a safe place; we will struggle, even possibly suffer, even if we don’t take on a special task of rescuing girls from sex slavery or serving on a medical team for Doctors Without Borders. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But He goes on to assure us He made a way for us to be safe in the deepest, truest, most eternal sense: “But take heart,” He said (the New American Standard translates it “but take courage”), “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

He promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He said go, and I will go with you because I will be with you. Always.

Real Danger

Though God goes with us, His presence giving us courage and comfort, following Jesus into the world can indeed be dangerous. Sometimes it ends well from an earthly perspective. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Many of the Apostles were believed to have died as martyrs.

Early Christians were persecuted for their faith.

Examples throughout history remind us of the cost of courage when following Jesus.

The ten Boom family in Holland, for example, lived quiet lives as watchmakers. When Hitler began taking Jewish people, the family joined the Dutch underground resistance movement, resolved to protect as many Jewish people as they could — risking their own lives to do so. After an informant revealed their rescue efforts, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were sent to concentration camps, where the two women continued to live courageously for Christ, sharing the Gospel among prisoners. Corrie lived to see freedom after great suffering, but Betsie died in the camp. Corrie continued in courage, going into the world to tell their story and point people to Jesus.

Today, a friend of mine serves full-time as a missionary in an undisclosed location. She decided to go into the world, to follow Jesus into a dangerous place to share the Good News.

Following Jesus can be dangerous, yes. But we are told in 1 Corinthians, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (16:13).

Queen Esther’s position in the kingdom gave her leverage to save God’s people. She had to go to the king and make the request that would change the plot set in motion by Haman to kill the Jewish people. She needed courage; she began with fasting and presumably prayer — asking the Jewish people and her attendants to join her in that act of humbling herself before God. “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She easily could have perished, but she was spared, and God’s people were saved because she stood firm and strong in a hostile world.

It’s time for every believer to stand firm, to be strong.

The Right Man on Our Side

Not until heaven will we be in a place of complete safety, free from harm. Until then, we live in a world of intimidating headlines and ongoing uncertainty. Hyland explains, “I appreciate the hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress’ because it acknowledges the power of our enemy, that in our own strength, we would lose. Talk about the boogeyman gets bigger and bigger, and we’re afraid to go to a public place wondering where the next mass shooting is going to be. It’s easy to be full of anxiety, “were the right man not on our side.”

Hyland speaks to all down-filled-seeking Christians when she points out that “to the world, when you’re trusting God, you look like a fool. Trust can seem so naive; worry seems so responsible. Our life goal is not about the preservation of our lives, which is kind of a foolish goal anyway because we all have to give it up sometime. As for me, I’ll reject safety and embrace the battle.”

Eric Metaxas, in his book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, summed up a theme he saw in Bonhoeffer’s words and actions with these words: “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”

Christians courageously and actively doing God’s will regardless of the cost — that’s discipleship in action. As 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” With the spirit of power, we can be confident we have all we need as we go into the world, knowing He has empowered us and He is with us, even to the end of the age. We aren’t banking on our own abilities. We aren’t trusting in our own skills, or confidence, or experience, or creativity, or courage. We’re trusting God to give us everything we need in any moment.

Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon based on Psalm 31:24, which says, “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” Spurgeon said: “Christ ought not to be served by feather-bed soldiers. He deserves that we trust Him, and bring ourselves into His service with a courage that cannot be daunted. Though it be upon the pikes of his adversaries, let us find paradise there, for we shall find it if we follow Christ faithfully to the death. God grant us, then, to be of good courage!”

I think he’s talking to me and to every other down-filled-seeking man and woman who claims to follow Christ. Obedience can be scary, but it is why we’re on this earth — to trust Christ and go where He sends us.

“Who’s going to ask God to make them braver rather than make them safer?” asks Gary Haugen.

That’ll be me; I hope it’ll be all of us. Instead of asking my small group to pray for my safety, I think I’ll shift my request to Spurgeon’s cry: God grant us, then, to be of good courage!