“Stay safe” is a cute little phrase that’s been going around lately. Variations of this phrase are “be safe” and “stay home, stay healthy”. This and other similar expressions are spreading infectiously because of the Covid-19 pandemic that has shaken the whole world in recent months. While I’m not against common sense, PPE and quarantines, I am quite nauseated by these expressions. I’ve developed my own form of phrase “don’t stay too safe”. Some people laugh at it, some people love it, others give me a blank expression as they try to conceive what I’m driving at.
Of course, I understand the good intentions of someone who says “stay safe” to me, but I can’t help wondering why they’re being such a sheep. Think about it. Since when has playing it safe ever been heralded as a noble ideal. I’m sometimes tempted to reply, “Oh, I won’t” and then leave them standing there in utter dismay.
I’ve recently picked up the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, probably my favorite book being besides the Bible. In the story, the main character, Frodo, is faced with a dilemma. He must take a dangerous journey or doom the whole of Middle Earth. What makes this story or any story worth reading is the fact that they don’t stay safe. No, they risk peril.
Peril is what makes a story compelling. You’re wondering, “what will happen?”, “will they make it out alive?” That’s what makes the story. If everyone stayed perfectly safe and nothing bad happened, it would be the ultimate put downer.
As I’m writing the story of my life I find myself often wanting to play it safe. There is a misplaced sense of safety as I think “well, if I just don’t rock the boat, people will like me and life will be easier.” This is exactly the opposite of a life of discipleship.
My wife Ruth and I run an inner-city ministry in Buffalo, NY called Steps Ministries. A few weeks back there were some protests and riots in Buffalo about racial inequality and police brutality. The protests were getting violent and, as I live about three miles from the downtown area, some people tried to persuade us to flee. “Stay out of the city for a few days” they said. Now, as a dad and husband, the physical safety of my family is very important to me. I wouldn’t foolishly put them in a situation where they would likely come to harm.
Having said this, Ruth and I decided not to take their advice. For this season of our lives God has placed us here and the safest place for us to be is in the center of His will. We stayed, we prayed and we listened to our neighbor’s concerns. We were fine and there was no property damage. In fact, there was no property damaged in the whole Seneca-Babcock area. We used wisdom, yet we didn’t pick the “safe” way. God protected us.
As a minister, I’ve been in some not so safe places. I’ve been into drug houses, I’ve tried to mediate in some domestic violence situations, I’ve walked up to crowds of young people late at night, I’ve broken up a few fights. I’m not saying I’m Bill Wilson or David Wilkerson but the point I’m trying to make is safety isn’t always godly.
David Wilkerson was one of my greatest role models. He walked into gang territory in New York City and started an outreach to gang members. He wasn’t playing it safe.
Jim Eliot, Nate Saint and others spent months air dropping gifts and messages to an unreached jungle tribe. Why? Were they trying to take the easy road paved with as much safety as possible? No! They were dedicated to bringing the gospel message to this tribe. Neither were their wives playing it safe when they continued to make contact with the people who murdered their husbands.
I could go on, but do you see the pattern here? “Don’t be too safe” is what I say. God’s way isn’t always the safest road. In fact He will sometimes lead you to paths unknown or never trodden. Embrace it. When I ask someone to volunteer with our programs, I’m not putting them in grave danger. Yet they may feel the tug of safety and convenience pulling them in the other direction.
I recently started doing some prison ministry. I’m very new to it and fellow ministers reassure me that there’s no chance of me coming to harm. Yet I feel a great uneasiness about it. Someone asked me “are you scared?” and I said “no” putting on a brave face, but really I should have said “yes, but I’m going anyway!”
If you want to “be safe”, I mean, if that’s your goal in life, then don’t expect to make waves. C.S. Lewis described himself as “the most reluctant convert Christianity has ever seen” but at least he surrendered. Part of the reason why Christianity has become so castrated and often dull is because it’s become too safe.
Christianity is supposed to be an adventure, not just a creed or routine. There’s a lost world going to hell while we cushion ourselves from danger or inconvenience.
I’ll leave you with the words of C.T. Studd, “Some live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”