Taking Risks in Following the Spirit

As Christ followers, we embrace the truth of having His very Spirit living in us. It is on one hand a complete mystery, yet on the other, something very real that we can experience in our day-to-day, work-a-day lives. In this sense, living by the Spirit is the ultimate paradox.

Hearing from – or following the direction of – the Spirit is an endeavor that we can grow in and get better at – but something we’ll never really “master” or become proficient in. There will always be an element of faith in responding to the unseen, whereby we’ll be challenged to take action without assurance of a particular result.

If you have regularly followed any of my other blog posts or speaking presentations, you will recall the subject of risk coming up frequently – and how taking risks is something I am passionate about, and how it expresses our submission to and commitment to what God is doing in our lives.

A risk is defined as an action that involves potential gain while at the same time involves potential loss. The potential gain or loss may be financial, emotional, physical, relational, psychological – or a blend of more than one sphere. Risks, of course, range from the very small to the very large – with corresponding sized consequences! As you’ve heard elsewhere – big risk, big (potential) reward – and its corollary, big risk, big (potential) loss.

In order to respond to the Spirit, in order to align our story with His story, I believe that we must invariably take risks. This usually means stepping outside of our comfort zones, outside of our normal routines, and taking an intentional step to do what we believe the Spirit is leading us to do. The risk may result in gain – and it may result in loss. But one thing is certain – it will cause us to have a new experience and it will offer us the opportunity to grow as a human being.

In fact, I believe that taking risks is one of the key mechanisms whereby we can each experience the rich, abundant life that Jesus intends for us to have.

John 10:10 says, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Now, a full life is not necessarily a problem-free life. Embracing Jesus doesn’t typically translate into friction-free existence. Quite the opposite in fact. The enemy will do everything he can to throw obstacles in our way. He knows that when we step out and take a risk in responding to the Spirit, there will most likely be an advancement of God’s kingdom. And whether there is actual gain or loss from our limited, human perspective, there is nearly always a “reward” of being more conformed to the image of Christ.

The avoidance of risk, on the other hand, will likely result in living a diminished, more narrow life – perhaps at the expense of fulfilling what Jesus has ultimately called you to do. The enemy’s plan is for you to believe the lie that staying in your comfort zone and not taking a particular risk is the better, safer choice. Furthermore, our human inclination is often to avoid change (i.e. risk) and stick with what we know.

Ultimately, we’ve got to trust the Spirit that he will “have our back” regardless of the specific outcome of the risk. That the loss we may experience can be “composted” into something useful, meaningful and even joyful. I know personally some of the most disappointing outcomes in my taking of risks eventually righted themselves into meaningful lessons and profound joy.

As a final note of encouragement, consider these powerful words from the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Colossians 3:23.

Whatever we do – whatever risks we embrace, whatever steps of faith we take – let us do it at the direction of the Spirit and for His glory. And let us do it with all of our heart, knowing that our steps of faith will be richly rewarded. 

Serra Trail copy.jpg

God Is Speaking: Confirming the Leading of the Spirit

In the most recent previous posts, I probed how we can be intentional in hearing the Spirit, how we can live our daily lives in the Chronos while awaiting the Spirit’s Kairos, and how we can step more intentionally into God’s purposes. In this blog post, I will explore some practical strategies for confirming the Spirit’s leading.

We are humans, comprising mind, body and spirit. The Spirit is divine and transcendent, living within us, but existing in a different dimension than the tangible and physical. So by definition, hearing the Spirit or sensing the Spirit’s leading is going to be a challenging exercise. How do we discern what is of the Spirit? What is just our own internal voice? What’s just noise?

For minor life decisions, where the risk is relatively small, we can follow what we believe to be the Spirit’s leading and if things don’t turn out, the consequences are generally minor. Perhaps some wasted time, a modest financial loss, or some hurt feelings. However, for decisions of more consequence – a marriage, a significant business partnership, a career choice, a relocation, having children – it would be prudent to seek the Spirit’s guidance – and to attempt to confirm the Spirit’s leading.

Confirmation generally involves time. God is seldom in a rush, contrary to our presumption that “if we don’t act fast, we could lose out”. Be prepared to receive confirmation of the Spirit’s leading over a period of time – it could be weeks, months or even years. Personally, I’m easily frustrated by this simple fact -- the Spirit’s time table is usually different, often meaning longer, than what I’d prefer.

Sometimes the voice of the Spirit can seem a little “out there” – perhaps suggesting something you hadn’t thought of, or something that seems contradictory to conventional wisdom. A quick story from my own life. In 1983, I was faced with the decision of choosing the city and firm where I’d begin my career. After an intensive and thoroughly enjoyable internship in Chicago, every fiber of my being wanted to accept the offer from that firm -- one of the world’s largest and most successful accounting firms. I wrestled for days with this decision. Ultimately, I opted to go with a smaller, Champaign (Illinois)-based firm because it was what I sensed the Spirit was telling me to do. Fast forward, and I now recognize it was one of the best and most life-shaping decisions I’ve made. After making this difficult choice, the Spirit confirmed my decision in several ways, not only with positive experiences, but with a general sense of peace and confidence.

Confirmation should usually involve reaching out to others and seeking their counsel. God designed his Body of Believers to complement one another, to work together toward common purposes, and to encourage one another in the pursuit of his larger purposes. This means that the Spirit’s direction for your life is invariably linked to what he’s doing in the lives of others. So, reach out to your spouse or significant other, reach out to your family, to your co-workers, to a mentor or coach. What do they have to say about the direction you’re sensing from the Spirit? Is there an emerging consensus?

Confirmation also generally involves variety. By that I mean that your sense of the Spirit’s leading should be affirmed in different ways. Perhaps a vivid dream. A passage of scripture that seems to speak to you in a certain way. A chapter from a book you recently read. A sermon or TED Talk that aligns with your thinking. As a rule of thumb, particularly for the major life decisions, I like to receive at least three or four diverse confirmations.

Assuming the elapse of time, reaching out to others for their counsel, and receiving some variety of “yes” answers to your sense of the Spirit’s leading, you ultimately need to take a risk – a step of faith – by making a decision to “just do it”. Your risk-taking should come with some measure of inner peace, though the process may not be entirely comfortable! You’ve ultimately got to trust the Spirit to walk with you on the journey – and if perchance you “missed it”, trust that the Spirit can help you navigate Plan B, C or D. He’s actually pretty good at that.

Confirming Spirit BLog.jpg