RISK: The Great Wrestling Match in Your Soul

By Dennis Rainey


“Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men experience it. Avoiding the danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

- Helen Keller


Some of you who know me well recognize that I am a modified daredevil – a risk taker.

No, I’m not the variety that would go hang gliding, hunt for sharks, milk a rattlesnake, explore a condemned gold mine in Colorado, or go white-water rafting at flood stage through the Grand Canyon.

But I do like adventure that involves a bit of risk.

In 1980 I took a ride some would say was risky. Only a few months after Mt. St. Helens blew its lid and sent a plume of hot ash 15 miles into the sky, I hitched a ride on a helicopter to get a closer view at the devastation.

For nearly 30 minutes we flew over what had been a pristine mountain stream that was now a grey milky stream. The pilot told me when the volcano erupted, a landslide triggered a massive volcanic mudflow which destroyed the valley and killed 57 people. We hovered above formerly lush forests where tens of thousands of trees now looked like toothpicks lying on the ground near lifeless Spirit Lake. Then we circled the dome of the volcano, still smoking. The smell of sulfur and the view were unforgettable.

Was I crazy for doing that? Not totally … I had been told they had several hours warning before each of the previous eruptions.

But a couple of years later I did something that caused me to tremble and causes me to tighten up my muscles even now as I write about it.

Peer pressure and a camping adventure

I remember the little two-day stress camping trip that my boss put together 40 miles south of Yosemite Valley in the central Sierra Range in Central California. The purpose was to create unity among the leadership. It did that … and more.

That's me on the right with the leadership team

The first night we slept under the shimmering stars. The evening air was cool and brisk. And the steaming coffee and hot chocolate were big winners when we woke up on a chilly morning. Then we set out for our first day’s challenge – mountain climbing.

Words and phrases like “rope up,” “belay ready,” “rappelling,” “sewing machine leg” assumed new meanings as we learned the basics. Five of us attacked a “little” 30-foot granite mountain face while 10 guys held our lifeline (the rope) in case we slipped or fell.

I will never forget looking for minute indentations in the mountain for my hands and feet to grab hold. My legs trembled so badly that they bounced up and down like a needle in a sewing machine … “sewing machine leg” is very humbling and annoying when you are trying to be a macho mountain man. Real men don’t get “sewing machine leg” … especially in front of their peers. My legs could have sewed a factory full of blue jeans that day!

Each of us came to the point, several times, when we felt there was no way the rock could be physically climbed. We had to mentally decide to take a risk. Would that little (think ¼”) ledge, just inches away, hold me? My rope gave me the ultimate bit of security needed to take the risk. I found in most cases physical limitations were not my enemy. My mind gave me the real trouble. It wanted to play it safe, or for sure know the outcome.

Fear and faith were having a wrestling match in my head.

My boss, an experienced climber, scampered up the mountain face like a squirrel. Others of us “hung around” a long time, bloodying our knuckles, knees and elbows before achieving our objective. No one quit. Deep inside, several of us wanted to give up, but the peer pressure was too great!

Supper was a bunch of dried puffy stuff cooked in water. It tasted almost like oatmeal which had been run over several times by a city bus! That night sleep came early for most, but I was awake thinking about the next day’s adventure … rappelling. I peeked out of my tent at our goal, a 1,500-foot granite peak that loomed ominously above us.

I wondered if I’d have another attack of “sewing machine legs”…

“This is dangerous”

The next morning we wolfed down the last fragments of the breakfast cereal and coffee. The packs on our backs were lighter. There was a lot of nervous laughter among all these rookie mountaineers. Our professional guides assured us 5,000 people had gone off the side of the mountain and not a single one had ever received any substantial injuries. The word “substantial” bothered me, but nonetheless there was comfort in their words. I am certain each of us felt we would spoil that flawless record and be the first to die.

Getting to the top of the rock dome was no easy task. I bloodied my left knee and was hit with a milder case of “sewing machine leg” before I scrambled to the top.

At an altitude of 8,500 feet high the sky was deep blue. You could see for miles.

I was number 12 out of 14, which meant I had about two and a half hours to think about sliding down a rope over the edge of a cliff to a ledge some 175 feet at the bottom of this mountain.

As I watched guys lean back against their rope, I thought, This is dangerous.

I asked our professional guide, which means he was paid to inflict emotional wounds in his clients, at least 113 questions about what to expect. He didn’t tell me to shut up, but he did say with finality … “Dennis, you will be the next person to find out!”

The 11 guys before me all acted like they were real men as they backed off the edge with two ropes securing them to the mountain. “Real men” don’t eat quiche … or cry in front of their peers when rappelling off the top of a granite mountain!

Finally, with cold, clammy, sweaty palms, I stood up to fasten my rope to my belt. Behind me the granite mountain sloped at a 45-degree angle for five feet. At that point there was a lip you had to go over before you descended mid-air to the ledge below.

I didn’t look back. I just started leaning back on the rope trusting, believing and hoping it would hold me. At the edge of the cliff I had to lean back almost horizontal. RISK. REAL RISK. All those nightmares I’ve had of falling, flashed through my mind.

This is it, I thought. This is the way I’m going to die. At least it will be over quickly. No chance of dying by degrees here – one quick non-stop flight and a thud.

But I took a step of faith and pushed off, trusting the rope would hold, and in a few seconds I realized the risk was worth it. I was dangling there with the valley floor 1,500 feet below to my left. As the rope slowly went through my hands I glided safely for about 30 seconds to the ledge below, where I was glad to return to flat terra firma! I felt like kissing the ground, but real men don’t do that either. Unhooking my ropes I looked up at the mountain and thought: I can’t believe I did that!

Looking back, those moments and others in life were a real tussle between faith and fear. But faith won out because God was “holding my rope.”

The wrestling match between fear and faith

So may I ask you a question: When is the last time you stepped out in faith? An action that was risky? Where you really trusted God?

And now a second question that is perhaps more relevant: What are you facing right now that requires faith in Almighty God? Is it your marriage? A serious challenge with a child? Your job? A health issue? A financial decision?

Consider these instructive words from Hebrews 11:6 about the importance of faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”

Read the first part again, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” “Impossible” is a stout word. Absolute. Stated another way, this verse states that if you want to please God you must have faith in Him, exercise faith, and walk by faith.

Faith is only as good as its object. In other words, Who or what are you trusting in?

As I look back on my life I’ve experienced many a wrestling match between fear and faith. I wish I could tell you my faith has never wavered. Nope, but in the process, I’ve learned that, if I want my faith to function and grow, I need to nourish my faith by reading the Scriptures. For the past few years the Psalms have boosted my faith daily. I have to feed my faith with truth about God and truth of God: that He exists, that He can be trusted, and that He is fully in control. His promises are good.

I ran across something I wrote over 40 years ago, not long after Barbara and I helped start FamilyLife … when we were in hand-to-hand combat with fear:

“RISK is inevitable if we are to climb the mountains and accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God. Right now our ministry to families is on the edge of that mountain. We are leaning out of the very secure promises of Jesus Christ. I’ve never been so dependent before. My mind says, “play it safe,” but the Scriptures exhort us to believe it before we see it. RISK. REAL RISK – REAL AUTHENTIC FAITH.”

So what about you?

Does fear control you or faith?

Are you playing it safe? If so, what are you afraid of?

What are you facing right now that you need to go “all in” with your faith in Jesus?

What are you trusting Christ for that only He could do?

What dreams are you in need of attempting for His Kingdom?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Is safety your goal or the work of God’s Kingdom?

Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, was asked, “What is the need of the hour?” He replied, “I am convinced that the God of the universe is in control, and He will supply all these needs in His own way and in His own time, all else being right. The need of the hour is an army of soldiers dedicated to Jesus Christ who believe that He is God, that He can fulfill every promise He ever made, and that nothing is too hard for Him. This is the only way we can accomplish what is on God’s heart – getting the gospel to every creature.”

The real need is for RISK takers – those who dare to lean out on the promises of His word. Jesus called them disciples.

Venture out! Don’t play it safe – life is too short. Remember Helen Keller’s words: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Find your true safety in Christ and go for it! He’ll take care of you.

Psalm 18 reminds us He is there, holding your rope, filling you with strength and protecting you:

He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. … You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. (v. 33, 35-36)

What are you risking for Christ?

The Rock won’t move,

Dennis Rainey

Matthew 7:24-27



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