In chapter one of Gary Haugen’s Just Courage, the CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM) offers a personal experience as a paradigmatic illustration of the lives of so many Christians, particularly in the comfortable Western world.
He describes his reticence at going on an adventurous afternoon trek up Mount Rainier with his dad and brothers. “With… mounting anxieties beating in my little chest, I responded the only way a ten-year-old can to such a proposition and simply said: “No. That looks boring.” Instead of choosing the uncertainty of adventure, he spent the hours they were going up and back on the mountain in the visitor’s center. It was interesting, safe, and–after not too long–boring and dull:
“As the afternoon stretched on, however, the massive visitor’s center started to feel awfully small. The warm air felt stuffy, and the stuffed wild animals started to seem just–dead. The inspiring loop videos about extraordinary people who climbed the mountain weren’t as interesting the sixth and seventh times, and they made me wish I could be one of those actually climbing the mountain instead of reading about it. I felt bored, sleepy and small–and I missed my dad. I was totally stuck. Totally safe–but totally stuck.
Haugen likens this experience to the lives of many Western Christians, opting for safety over adventure, even though it ends up meaning time at the visitor center rather than out where the real action is going on. He writes, “it is my sense that many Christians are starting to suspect that they are stuck at the visitor’s center. They suspect that they are travelling with Jesus but missing the adventure.”
It is here that Haugen introduces a most practical insight. Our call to the adventure of following Jesus will demand that we enter into terrain that makes us vulnerable and calls us beyond places our natural abilities, skills, and giftedness could take us. Haugen takes care to point out that in the midst of following Jesus on this sort of adventure, we don’t lay our abilities, skills, and gifts aside. Rather, we employ them in the service of a “higher climb,” to remain with the mountain-trekking metaphor. Our abilities, skills, and gifts are given to us for a reason, and they tell us something about what God will likely do with us (though God certainly has room to surprise us!). But when they are enlisted in a higher climb than they, by themselves, would warrant, we begin to see God at work among and through us, doing what we couldn’t do on our strength alone. That is a vision for a truly exciting, though scary, place to be.