Dr. Steve Stephens
Dr. Steve Stephens - How to Build a Great Life
Weekly Lists
An excerpt from
Lists to Live By: The First Collection: For Everything that Really Matters

 

WHAT IS SUCCESS?
 
To laugh often and love much;
 
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
 
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
 
To appreciate beauty;
 
To find the best in others;
 
To give of one's self;
 
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
 
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
 
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived...
 
This it to have succeeded.
 
 
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
POET, ESSAVIST, AND PHILOSOPHER

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Dr. Steve Stephens
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Sample Chapters from Risking Faith

Risking Faith--Day 1: Beyond the Edge
When we’ve settled into prosperity and comfort for a little while we get complacent.
—Chip Ingram

Okay, let’s be honest.

I like adventures, but they’ve got to be “safe” adventures like Disneyland or Hawaii or Mexico. Real adventures into risky or unknown places make me nervous. I know it sounds shallow, but real adventures make me worry.

What will I eat?
Where will I sleep?
Will it be clean there?
Will I stay healthy?
What if there’s an emergency?
How long will I be stuck on the airplane getting to my destination?

The bottom line is this: A real adventure with a real risk lies just beyond my comfort zone. I hate to admit it, but I like my easy, comfortable life, where I have little to worry about, where things are secure, safe, and predictable.

My friend Martin says I should go to India with him to work in an orphanage. My heart goes out to these poor, neglected children who don’t have the advantages of children in this country. But I’m already helping to support three orphan children in Guatemala. Another friend, Julius, tells me that God wants me to go to Uganda for ten days. I’ve heard about amazing and exciting things that are happening in this part of Africa, but I’ve already sent two checks to that organization. What more do they want? Besides, God hasn’t told me to go to either of these places. After all, they are so far away and foreign. And am I sure that these places are safe? There are just too many risks and uncertainties.

Yet deep in my soul something is stirring—something that calls me to an adventure in spite of my anxiety. It paints pictures in my brain of the extraordinary. It tugs and pulls me out of my comfort zone. I desperately want to embrace this adventure, but at the same time, I fight and resist it.

I’m simultaneously excited and terrified.

Yet I don’t want an ordinary faith! Ordinary faith isn’t worth it. It’s average, boring, tolerable, so-so. I don’t want an ordinary marriage or an ordinary job or an ordinary life. Why in the world would I accept an ordinary faith? Ordinary and faith should be mortal enemies, fighting to stay as far as possible from each other. In reality, an ordinary faith may be no faith at all. It is nothing like the faith depicted in the Bible or in the early church.

True faith is something completely incredible and extraordinary. So what has happened to our faith? What has happened to my faith? Its heart and soul are lost and its lifeblood drained. But I’ve stuffed its body with straw and propped it in the corner, pretending with all earnestness and determination that it’s still alive.

Faith has become far too convenient and comfortable. I sip it in the morning with my coffee and lounge with it in the evening as I nod off to sleep. I have taken something dynamically supernatural and turned it into something dull and natural. What should be the life-giving core of my existence has become nothing more than an optional add-on. I use it only when I need it or when I feel desperate. Otherwise it’s stored away on a closet shelf, collecting dust. I have reconfigured my faith equation into something between obligation, social club, hobby, and life insurance policy.

In this technology-driven, materialistic culture, I’m afraid I have left God out of my faith. Or maybe I have just made him ordinary—stripping him of his mystery and majesty, his awesomeness and absolute power. I have become distracted and oftentimes even hypnotized by the noise and energy and glitter of this world. I act as if this is all there is, becoming attached to and passionate about what I do and what I own.

How could I have forgotten that God is the source of all I need, and that faith is the most amazing, fulfilling adventure I could ever embark upon? A. W. Tozer reminds us in The Pursuit of God, “If we truly want to follow God we must seek to be otherworldly.”

As I ponder Tozer’s quote, I wonder what it really means to be “otherworldly.” I live and breathe and work in this world. It’s my home. It’s where my life happens. This world delights and disgusts me. It’s where I raise a family, watch TV, make a living, pull weeds, visit my friends, go to church. This world is everything I know.

But John warned, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for . . . this world is fading away” (1 John 2:15, 17). It’s fading away; time is fading away; I’m fading away. Sometimes this thought scares me. When I was a teenager, this kept me awake in the dark of the night, when everything was quiet and I felt most alone. This fear can still haunt me when I think of what I might be losing.

But what if I’m not losing anything that’s really worthwhile? What if being otherworldly means gaining all that is ultimately worthwhile? Maybe to be otherworldly means to think beyond all we see and understand and experience. Maybe it means that we’d better not get too comfortable here or start to think this world can offer more than it really can. Maybe it means being willing to take risks and going beyond the limits of this world and all we are familiar with. Maybe that’s when life really begins.

****

People thought he was crazy.

But Bill did it anyway.

In June of 2002 Bill Elliott, a forty-one-year-old writer and therapist, traveled 6,497 miles away from home deep into the Judean desert of Israel. Bill wanted to escape the comforts and distractions of the safe life. He wanted to be otherworldly. He wanted to journey beyond an ordinary faith and fall into the face of God.

Moses went up to the mountain for forty days and nights to hear God’s voice. Elijah traveled forty days and nights through the southern wilderness near Mount Sinai to find God. Jesus was led by God into the Judean wilderness for forty days and nights to be tempted by Satan.

Therefore Bill decided to spend forty days and nights alone on an isolated plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. This was Bill’s “lonesome, individual adventure” toward an extraordinary faith. Bill yearned to deepen his spiritual awareness. So he set up his ten-year-old green and white six-foot-by-six-foot dome tent and filled it with four hundred pounds of gear and water. Then Bill waited for God.

This place was not comfortable, but God was worth it. Bill made himself uncomfortable so that his mind and spirit could be sharper. He was surrounded by challenges: intense heat of 125 degrees, deep loneliness, eerie silence, prolonged boredom, general exhaustion. And then there were the animals—scorpions, snakes, mosquitoes, yellow jackets, and flies by the hundreds.

In Falling into the Face of God, Bill wrote that he went to the desert to confront God, to meet his “God-edge” and go beyond it.

“We all have an edge. A place we won’t go near or look beyond. Or don’t want to look into. Or admit is there,” he wrote. Most of us stay away from our edges. I know I do. I like to rest safely and comfortably in the middle, where there is little danger or risk—or life. But faith blossoms on the edge. For the edge reminds me that I’m not in control—God is.

To journey near the edge is itself an adventure. Most of us are like J. R. R. Tolkien’s description of hobbits: “They never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.” Yet with the proper challenge, Bilbo Baggins moved toward the edge and beyond. As a result, he discovered how small and limited and ordinary his world had been.
I think most of us have fallen asleep and grown complacent far from our edge. But being comfortable is dangerous! For comfort leads to mediocrity, and mediocrity leads to nothing.

So often I go through the ordinary motions of life, and even the ordinary motions of faith, but it has all become common and routine and safe. I can do it with my eyes closed and my thoughts somewhere else. Faith has lost its practical, everyday significance, and thus its energy, ecstasy, and ability to excite. I’m afraid I’ve become dull and boring because I don’t understand what I have. Far from my edge, I have no opportunity to fall into the face of God.

As Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer prize–winning author, wrote, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?” I’m sitting in the shadow of the sacred and strolling through the splendor of the supernatural without the slightest sense of what surrounds me.

Deep in my heart I know that something is missing and that this isn’t how it was meant to be. I know that God is the only one who can satisfy my soul. Yet more often than not, I’m like a sleepwalker who, being out of touch with reality, stumbles past my faith into a dark night that has nothing meaningful to offer. I sell my soul to my stuff and make this world my one and only home.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like my house, with its easy chair, television, and cozy fireplace. These things aren’t bad; they just don’t get me where I want to go. They give me roots when I need wings. They lull me into a false reality of safety and complacency, but this is the death of faith. And ultimately the death of me.

Faith is not a place; it is a journey—a risky journey that takes us beyond all we can see and hear and feel into a supernatural relationship with the maker and caretaker of the universe. God has planted eternity in our hearts, and we will never be satisfied with the natural or the ordinary. We were made for so much more. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10). And this life comes through faith—the most extraordinary faith we can ever imagine.

God is always leading us somewhere. Every good journey involves a willingness to follow him into that somewhere. A willingness to take the risk, to throw off the bowline and sail from our protected harbors toward some unknown edge far away in the fog, beyond what is comfortable, convenient, or even conventional.

Each new day we stand precariously on the edge of the extraordinary. Possibilities stretch out before us that are utterly amazing, but we’re usually too afraid to look. Instead, we stand with our eyes squeezed shut, clinging with all our might to the solid ground upon which we’re most comfortable.

This fear is paralyzing. It keeps us from living. Yet Søren Kierkegaard reminds us that “without risk there is no faith.” An extraordinary faith loves risk, for in risk we learn to trust our God more deeply.

But trusting God as we avoid the edges is no trust at all. It is but an illusion built on sweet words and shallow serenity. Trust is only authentic when it is tested and tried. We’re standing on the edge with our toes hanging over. If we truly want to experience this thing called faith, we have no choice but to jump.

As he reflects on his time in the desert, Bill Elliott wrote, “I am just a human being who prays for the guidance and courage to jump in, to go toward God.” Bill went to the desert to face the fears that kept him from the edge.

But in the desert he learned to jump.


 
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