Just Start! Why the 'Green Light' For Risk-Taking Never Comes
Anyone who’s ever started a new endeavour has had to face the hard reality that there’s a chance your project won’t succeed. In fact, it might actually fail spectacularly. We’ve all had to face it. It’s the anxious, stomach churning feeling knowing that you’re about to start building something that could be a massive disappointment. If it’s a business idea there’s probably a level of financial risk involved. If it’s a justice campaign, then there is the risk of all the time and energy expended as well as all the wasted social exposure.
But here’s the thing; everyone fails at some point.
The best insight regarding failure is that the best way to be successful is to fail quickly, with as little cost as possible, and in a way that maximises your learning. This is a process that’s been popularised as ‘failing forward’. Measured risk-taking is essential to living a life that impacts the world, so, the logic goes, we’d best embrace it and make it an effective learning experience.
Yet, even though the experience of coming to terms with the risk of a fresh endeavour is a universal experience, there are elements that make this process an inherently ‘Kingdom’ experience.
If you’re journeying through life in relationship with Jesus then you should probably know His plan is to reveal the true nature of the Father to you. Consequently, knowing God’s true nature will change the way we build our lives. Nowhere is this more pertinent than in how we approach building something that has the potential to fail.
We’ve likely all read the parable of the Talents before and probably have a fair understanding that the moral of the story is that reward follows clever investment. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth heading over to Mathew 25:14-30. But there might be more to the parable than we first realise.
Jesus gave about 80 parables and around half of those were set in a business context. As a carpenter, he very likely knew exactly what it meant to take a risk and contemplate the possibility of failure. Like us, Jesus had to grow. Think about that. He didn’t start life with the ability to work wood and build chairs. He wasn’t born with a chisel in his hand. Jesus grew in wisdom and skilfulness in His craft as a carpenter. Scripture makes the point that Jesus was “alike us in every way but without sin”. This means that every skill Jesus exhibited wasn’t divinely inherent but was the fruit of committing to a learning curve.
So when it comes to Jesus’ parable about risk taking, He isn’t teaching from a distant, exertion-free perspective but from a learnt experience of growing, contemplating failure and experiencing breakthrough when the design worked.
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What we often miss about the Talents parable that it’s actually a parable of two different attitudes to risk. But even deeper than the attitude to risk, it’s a parable about how our relationship with God shapes our perception of risk. Who God is to us and what we believe Him to be like has a direct bearing on our capacity for risk-taking.
We know that the “five talent guy” and the “two talent guy” both invested their money and doubled their holdings. The term investment sounds more secure than it likely were. In our modern context when we talk about investment it’s usually couched in certain, fixed-rate-of-return terms. But in the ancient Israeli context of the parable, there was no certainty an investment would produce a mathematically secure rate of return. When these two guys invested their talents what it meant is that they took calculated business risks to double their earnings. This is well over the interest made from banked money, which is made clear later in the passage.
The point the parable is making, somewhat obviously, is that if you take these kinds of risks you’re positioning yourself for promotion. Both the “five talent guy” and the “two talent guy” go on to govern cities.
Yet when we shift focus to the “one talent guy” the purpose of the parable refocuses to explore the kinds of attitudes that might stop us from stepping into a risk/increase approach to growth.
The parable is pretty scathing of the “one talent guy” who won’t risk his talent, the master doesn’t simply chide him but plays the “wicked” card on him. The point isn’t that the steward is wicked in a ‘sinful’ sense but rather the term wicked is used in its Old Testament sense meaning, ‘not to follow the path of the Lord’. In the Old Covenant, other nations were wicked not because they sinned (although they did) but because they didn’t know the ways of YHWH.
Furthermore in the parable, the “one talent guys’” inability to take measured risks isn’t typified as safe conservatism but outright passivity and he’s berated for being lazy.
This gives us a powerful insight on risk’s role in the Kingdom: It is the very nature of the Kingdom to make measured but unguaranteed endeavours to produce an increased harvest. To be righteous (that is, to emulate the culture of the Kingdom) is to live a life that makes measured risks in order to achieve increase. If we fail to do that, we don’t just miss the opportunity for growth we place ourselves outside the culture of the Kingdom and lose its benefits. Likewise, ‘playing it safe’ doesn’t score us any points as from heaven’s perspective such an approach is exposed quite simply as laziness.
The consequence is that the “one talent guy” is thrown into “outer darkness”. The language is admittedly a bit extreme but keep in mind that it’s a parable not a business manual. The point isn’t that a conservative steward should be punished but rather that in failing to grow, the steward loses his ability to remain in “the light”. The “light” in this parable is symbolic for the level of revelation that we are walking in. If we fail to recognise the nature of God by walking in an increasing level of faith, then we are curtailing our ability to walk in the level of revelation that the Father wants to entrust to us.
The parable gives us insight into the two key attitudes of the “one talent guy”.
Firstly, the “one talent guy” reveals that his understanding of the nature of God is limited to the view that God is trying to use him or is awaiting an opportunity to punish him. Sadly, that’s a prevalent view in the western church where God has frequently been perceived as a hard-lined judge who is looking for an opportunity to condemn us. If we fail to see the nature of God as a loving Father who delights in blessing and increasing his servants, then opportunities for growth will be perceived as potential hazards to be avoided rather than pathways to promotion.
Secondly, the “one talent guy” has a huge fear of failure. His understanding of the nature of God, rather than empowering him, has crippled him to fear losing what he already has. At the core of all fear of failure is a misapprehension of the nature of God. Our perspective on risk must to be shaped by our confidence in the nature of God; otherwise it will be shaped by our internal fears.
For both the “five talent guy” and the “two talent guy” it wasn’t their actual success that qualifies them for promotion but it was their attitude to risk. God is less concerned that the fruit of our risk than our willingness to take it. If we’re faithful to make measured risks, the Father not only empowers us to succeed but also rewards transitions us to a greater sphere of Influence.
So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. – Matthew 25:28-29
There’s a spiritual principle at work here. God’s Kingdom is dynamic and ever increasing. It is the Kingdom that is always growing and always taking new ground. If we pursue breakthrough we’ll be positioned for greater influence, if we remain static then what we do have will be taken from us and we’ll find ourselves moving backwards.
When it comes to our heart, God is a loving Father. When it comes to Kingdom expansion, God is an investment banker who will put grace, anointing and promotion on those whom He’s likely to get a good rate of return.
A lot of people wait for a green light or a prophetic sign before they embark on a risky endeavour. Business ideas stall waiting on confirmation. Potential social justice organisations remain mere uplifting conversation topics. Our dreams remain slogans and we never risk growing into the influence to impact the world.
The parable of the Talents inverts the traditional expectation; if you truly know the nature of the Father then the mere fact you’ve got a talent in your hand is the sign that need to get out there and start building. There is a legacy and radical Kingdom promotion awaiting you, so there has never been a better time to start building.
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