Some people are natural-born risk takers. They’re the ones who eagerly cast caution to the wind and pursue dreams, hopes, even crazy notions. For them, life isn’t fun unless you’re living on the edge.
I’m not one of them. My preference is to stick with the tried and familiar, at least until everyone else has demonstrated the coast is clear and it’s safe to proceed. But I do have great respect, even admiration, for those who aren’t averse to venturing out into the unknown. At least what’s unknown to them.
There are pros and cons for both approaches to life, I suppose. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” the adage goes. But its counterpart is if you insist on staying safe, you might eventually be sorry you didn’t try venturing outside your comfort zone.
Even as a card-carrying member of the safe-not-sorry crowd, I’ve discovered this to be true. Back in the mid-1980s, I was happily tapping away on my electric typewriter when a trusted friend who was an Apple computer dealer called one day. “Do you have a computer?” he asked, suggesting I needed one for my writing and editing. I responded simply, “No.” What I was thinking was, “Why would I want a computer? My typewriter works perfectly fine.”
But he insisted and about a week later a Macintosh 512k computer arrived at my office. Initially I was hesitant, as if it were going to bite me or something. But I plugged it in, followed the instructions, and started it up to give it a try. As the French say, “Voila!” Within minutes I discovered I had entered uncharted territory and, wonder of wonders, it was greater than I could have imagined. A couple of days later, my old electric typewriter and I parted company, never to be reunited.
This seems ridiculous today. Who can do without a computer if you’re in the business world? And that first computer I used qualifies as a low-tech dinosaur today. But at the time it seemed a huge step of faith for me.
Technology is an easy example of leaving one’s comfort zone, as when I also discovered the new world of digital photography. Never again would I lack a good answer when someone asked, “Did you get any good pictures?” I can think of a different example, however, of when I relinquished safe-not-sorry for an adventure beyond country and culture.
In 1999, I was working with CBMC International and my boss said he wanted me to take a trip to Brazil to see how I might help the ministry there. Again, not an opportunity I was inclined to leap at. I had traveled to other countries – in Europe, Mexico, Venezuela, even Canada. But I’d never gone where I didn’t have someone I knew to serve as my guide. I couldn’t speak Portuguese, and the plane flight itself would be about 10 hours!
My boss insisted, however. So I obtained the necessary visa, scheduled my flight and arranged to meet with some people there who were strangers. As it turned out, my time in Brazil was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. Over the days I spent in Sao Paulo, Vitoria and Curitiba I met many delightful people, some of whom I stay in contact with to this day. And when I left, I felt God had used me in a special way. I even made a second trip there a couple years later.
These and other experiences hardly turned me into an impulsive, spontaneous risk-taker. Slow, steady and cautious remain my bywords when considering anything outside my comfort zone. But I’ve discovered that in many ways, life begins outside our comfort zone.
That was definitely the case for Abram, who was enjoying a cushy existence in Haran. God must have thought that he, then 75 years old, and his wife, Sarai, were getting too comfortable. Unexpectedly, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you'” (Genesis 12:1). The text doesn’t say this, but I imagine Abram responded with – or at least thought – the equivalent of, “Say what? Seriously?”
But God promised him, even though he and Sarai had no children at that point, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). History has shown that promise was fulfilled and continues to this day.
Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) did set off and began an adventurous trek to Canaan, by way of Egypt and a couple of cities named Sodom and Gomorrah. They had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob (later renamed Israel), and through his sons – Abraham’s great-grandsons – the nation of Israel was born. The fact that there is an Israel today, re-established in 1948, is no accident.
This doesn’t mean that as followers of Jesus Christ we’re commanded to always be reckless risk-takers. But when God is leading, and impresses us through His Spirit that it’s time to move, we dare not answer, “No way, Yahweh!” Over and over in the Scriptures, God’s people are commanded, “Be strong and courageous.” Generally this means, “C’mon, it’s time to leave your comfort zone. I have something special in mind, something you wouldn’t even believe if I told you. I’ve got your back!”