By Meg Foster
The word safety invokes a comfort to most. The definition itself suggests such. But to others like me, the wild ones, the word safety has never been a comfort. To us it has been a word that gets in our way, that thwarts our plans, that threatens our need to take risks.
What a pleasant surprise it has been for me in my discovery of the nature of God to know that he too has a wild side. He too does not err on the side of safety. The more I read his Word, seek his Spirit, and follow him, the more I find that he offers in lieu of safety a Spirit-filled life of abundance and evidence of his glory.
Safety Pales in Comparison to an Abundant Life
To me, when one desires safety, it is a quality of life issue—a person wants a life free from harm with some degree of comfort and security. This is not one of God’s many promises. But when we consider even a few of his actual promises, it seems that desiring safety is asking too little of Almighty God.
Christ said that he came so that we, his sheep, “may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). We are again compared to sheep when David called the Lord his shepherd and said “I lack nothing” in Psalm 23. The two verses are what most of us think of when we hear the phrase “abundant life” in Christ. While neither mention safety, they do offer certain aspects of the quality of life we can expect in God—one that is full and lacking nothing. This is not indicative of our material possessions or success but rather a life that is full of God’s presence and purpose.
Now let’s compare these views. Does the idea of a safe life not pale in comparison to an abundant life? Christ does not promise a safe life, but isn’t what he promises so much more? Why would we only want a safe life when we can have an abundant life where Christ abides with us? I’m reminded of James 4:2: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” We are fond of asking God for safety, but in light of a life filled with him, it’s hard not to think of the request as an insult.
Safety Quenches the Spirit
A few years ago Aaron Wymer delivered a masterful sermon at Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, Tennessee) that affirmed my deeply held belief that God is not a God of safety. He was preaching about the call that we feel in our lives given to us by the Holy Spirit. One example he gave was of a family feeling called to foreign missions but also contemplating rejecting such a call because they had children and either didn’t want to put them in harm’s way or they didn’t want to interrupt their children’s educational environment. He quickly admonished this, stating that God does not promise comfort or safety and that the needs of the Spirit came foremost.
While these statements were not speaking to some inner turmoil of mine (I did not have children at that time nor had I felt a call to foreign missions), his words were ones I desperately wanted to hear. I am sure that was a difficult sermon to preach and some people may have been uncomfortable with the idea. But I was reassured that despite our cultural need to provide the most ideal circumstances for ourselves and our family, if the Spirit leads, we must follow.
When we choose safety over the Spirit, we are denying his power. We are choosing human conventions over divine ambitions. We are telling “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27) that our limited knowledge is the better choice. “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)—what a fascinating imperative! I love the use of quench in a negative connotation. This verse compares the Holy Spirit to a fire that must not be tamed or kept at bay. The thought of a fire that must not be quenched sounds unsafe. Yet that is how God desires his Holy Spirit to live inside us. It is difficult to imagine an unquenched fire living inside someone who craves safety.
Safety Doesn’t Leave Room for God’s Glory
God’s ultimate goal is his glory. To the believer this is known, but to the unbeliever this may seem selfish or prideful. What the believer knows is that God seeks his own glory so that he can draw as many as he can to himself.
Often the way God shows his glory is to do something which offers no other explanation but him. He usually provides a solution that defies human logic. Consider Exodus 14: The Israelites were at an impasse with the Egyptians quickly approaching and the Red Sea on the other side. They asked Moses if he had brought them to this place to die. There was no safe solution until God commanded Moses, “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:16). This was clearly not a human plan. No one would ever think, in the midst of being chased by an enemy, to head toward the sea in hopes that it may open up for them to cross and swallow up the enemy.
Furthermore, at the beginning of the chapter the Lord told Moses to camp close to the sea. This gave the Israelites no tactical advantage; in fact, in verse 3 the Lord said, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’” Again, nothing was safe about this, but the result was an undeniable display of God’s glory. The Lord even said, “But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (v. 4). I’m sure there were military strategists who could have planned a route that was safe for the Israelites, but the end result would have been safe passage only. God’s plan not only offered protection but also complete assurance of his presence and a chance for others (the Egyptians) to know him through this act of glory.
What Does an Unsafe Life Look Like?
We may be convinced that we want to trust in God and abandon the conventions of safety, but what does such a life look like? A common thought is one of adventure, travel, and danger, but this is not necessarily the case. For me it was getting a college degree that most would deem useless—only to be used. Later it was keeping my plans to spend the summer of 2005 in Thailand, six months after the infamous tsunami, because I knew that was where God wanted me. Years later it was making the decision to have children even though I felt ill-equipped to do so. For others the unsafe life can be becoming foster parents who bring calm to someone else’s chaos. It can take the form of being bold in the office by putting an end to idle talk or building relationships that lead to sharing the gospel.
This is the God we serve. His disregard for safety is surpassed by his intense creativity in showing his glory. He desires for us to be part of his wild side by kindling his Spirit and rejoicing in his gift of abundant life. What more could we possibly ask for?
Meg Foster is a high school theatre and French teacher and adjunct instructor at Milligan College.