The Risks of Playing it Safe

The Risks of Playing it Safe

This sermon on Matthew 25:24-30 explores the risks of playing it safe in life. See how faith moves us to take risks that lead to abundant living.

Drawn In

We continue with our sermon series, Drawn In: Living the Creative Life with God, where we look at God’s creative process to inspire us to lead more creative and faithful lives. We’ve seen how the creative process begins in a dream or an impulse to express oneself. Next, there is hovering, a time of consideration of what to include and what to leave out. We’ve seen how we can align our dreams with God’s dreams. And we can hover or pause long enough to ask the big questions in life of who I am and where am I headed?

Risky Business

Today we explore the third wave of the creative process–risk. Every artist risks. They imagine something that has never been before, then go for it with no guarantees that it will turn out the way you hope. Also, sharing your creation with someone else is risky because you expose something of your deepest self in your creative process. What if they reject it?

In the same way, God’s creative process involves considerable risk. To create human beings with free will might seem downright reckless because we have the power to choose to reject our creator. And scripture tells us that God’s heart breaks. The divine is deeply wounded by our turning away. Furthermore, God’s risk is massive because we can choose and seem bent on doing so right now to ruin God’s beautiful creation. We’ve been given the power to wipe it out with the push of a button. We can also destroy it with the pollution that stems from a failure to see ourselves as stewards of what we’ve been given—risky business. Yet, God made the risk because the rewards are out of this world. As Ireneaus said, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.”

Make Use of Your Talents

Jesus told a parable about risk. A wealthy man entrusts his servants with all he has and departs on a long journey. When he returns, he discovers that two servants invested and doubled their money, but the third was so afraid of loss, of disappointing the owner that he dug a hole and hid the money, keeping it safe.

The wealthy man commends the high-yielding investors but casts off the guy who hid the dough in a hole. The parable’s measure of money is a “talent,” which was a considerable sum, think millions in today’s dollars. It seems to make the point that God has entrusted each of us with enormous talent, abilities, and capabilities. We have the power to affect our environments, to change things. God has given us life and time and people and this world. And the parable seems to suggest that God is interested in how we use what he entrusted to us.

Do we use it for selfish gains, or do we use it to make life better for others, too?

Imagine conversing with God about your use of talents

I used to imagine a conversation with God at the end of life. God asks, “Dave, I entrusted you with a lot. I surrounded you with a lot of good stuff. Did you enjoy your life? What did you do with it? Tell me about the positive difference you made.” The problem was, thinking that way always left me feeling guilty. So, I shifted it and imagined God saying to me at the beginning of the day, “Dave, I am giving you this day. Enjoy it. Remember others. Set yourself to making a positive impact.”

Set your intention to use your talents, your skills, your connections with others, your positive energy, your creativity because otherwise, it’s easy to bury it.

There is no point in playing it small. 

You have more to offer than you may think. One of my motivators is the quote from Marianne Williamson that Nelson Mandela put in his inaugural address:

Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The hidden risk of playing it safe (burying your talent)

As we said, it is risky to put yourself out there, to offer an encouraging word, to be a person of faith where others might ridicule you. It’s scary to be vulnerable, authentic, genuine with others. But we never achieve anything, make anything, enjoy anything in this world without taking some risk.

I read some articles from the business world and psychologists about the hidden dangers of playing it safe. We frequently read about someone who flames out because of a big gamble they took.

We don’t see news headlines that say, “Low-risk approach forces local business to file for bankruptcy,” or, “Stunningly conservative move pushes global pharmaceutical company to the brink of failure,” or “Man retires after a mediocre career and feels painful remorse for never having laid anything on the line.”

We have a natural inclination to play it safe, to be risk-averse. Most people would rather keep their $100 that is solid risk it in hopes of getting $150. But playing it too safe has adverse effects, too. No risk, no reward. We can get stale, lose our potential, lead dull dough-in-the-hole lives.

I think of the anonymous poem about the too cautious man.

There was a very cautious man

who never laughed or played;

He never risked, he never tried,

He never sang or prayed.

And when one day he passed away

His insurance was denied

For since he never really lived,

they claimed he never died.

Playing it too safe is living by fear rather than faith

I like the way Tom Bilyeu talks about this in a motivational video. He says that pulling back, staying hidden, afraid to take a chance for your dreams keeps you captive to your fears. It magnifies the fear and makes you shrink back even more. Eventually, it controls you. At some point, you have to strike, act bold and take action even if you are terrified. I’m not saying being bold doesn’t come with a price or that you won’t fail sometimes, but the price will be less than if you let the fear feed on itself. Just as allowing your fears reinforce cocooning, so too is being bold. One bold move stacks on the next.

Do you want to adapt to fear? Or do you want growth–to change in ways that help you align yourself with the kind of life God wants you to have?

Hall of Faith Heros

In scripture, the book of Hebrews has this great Hall of Fame of biblical characters who acted by faith. By faith, Abraham acted, by faith, Moses, by faith David… and so on. Everyone one of them took risks on behalf of a higher purpose.

God calls you to use what is in you to make a difference. Try agreeing with God that you have been entrusted with gifts. Even if it is just a desire to learn, that is a step in the right direction to boldness. Instead of putting your energy into worry about what might go wrong, put your energies into the things you can do.

If you can live with the outcome, go for it!

Someone once told me, articulate your fears aloud–even the worst-case scenario, and if you can live with the outcome, go for it!

I remember how we decided to leave what was comfortable, safe in Iowa to move to California. We’d have to leave family, friends. Dayna had a church lined up, but would there be a place for me to use my gifts? Could we make new friends, adapt? The safe thing would be to stay put. The risky thing was to follow the call and trust that God would be with us and help us through no matter what. I’m so glad we did. But at the time, it was scary. I wonder how God is challenging you to take a step in faith right now? Go for it!

I’m so happy that this is a bold church. We invested in the youth center so that we can find creative ways to minister to our community. We put up displays and prayer stations for people who pass by the church to encourage them. We invested in the technology to provide online worship for years to come to reach people we otherwise could not. We invested in families, helping people who are food insecure through COA. We aren’t playing it safe. We keep developing, trying new things. Even through COVID we’ve been able to keep our staff fully employed and help them through. It’s because of your investing in something beyond yourself that we’ve been able to do all this.

Be bold.

As the scripture reminds us to be bold, may you have the boldness to risk. It doesn’t have to be a move or a significant change.

  • Take the risk in a relationship to go deeper, be vulnerable, and let your authentic self show.
  • Take the chance to do something for someone who can’t pay you back.
  • Take the risk to go against the grain and stand up for people suffering injustice and intolerance.
  • Take the risk to meet someone new, to learn what you want to know.
  • Take the risk to invest your time, your talent, your treasure on things that matter.

And remember the world is not served by playing it small or safe. You are a child of God, gifted beyond measure. Beloved.


Sermon preached by Pastor Dave Clark at Bay Shore Church on April 25, 2021