Play It Safe

“‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’”(Matthew 25:26-30 MSG)

I was shocked at the recent Omega conference when the keynote speaker used the parable of the talents to confront writers. ‘God gave one writer five ideas,’ said Steve James, ‘and as the writer worked on those five ideas, they came up with five more. Then God gave another writer two ideas, and they worked on them, and came up with two more in the process.’

We cringed as he proceeded to the inevitable third writer. ‘But the last—insert your name—wrote their one idea carefully down in a notebook, and planned to work on it later.’ Ouch. Yes, we writers procrastinate. We plan and we plot and we draw up outlines. But what are we actually doing with our God-ordained ideas? What are we doing with our God-given creativity? Most of us avoid taking the plunge. 

What are we doing with our God-given creativity?

Steve continued, ‘Then God returned, and you said, “Lord, I wasn’t expecting you back so soon…but I wrote down your idea, see?” You hold up your notebook only to find it blank. God took your idea, the one you refused to write, and gave it to the writer with five ideas—because they were actually prepared to write.’ 

I was already familiar with this parable. But it was the first time I heard it put in writerly terms. For the writer with one idea, playing it safe may have seemed like the best solution, but it was actually the worst possible outcome. And God was not impressed. 

Playing it safe may have seemed like the best solution, but it was the worst possible outcome.

“It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!” 

It’s risky to write a story that may or may not work. It’s risky to write something we may not have the experience or knowhow to write. It’s risky to confront our creative fears and limits and find out what we are made of. It’s risky to follow God out on a creative limb, listening for his whisper rather than relying on our own ideas and originality. But playing it safe backfires. 

“Get rid of this play-it-safe who won’t go out on a limb.” 

As followers of God, risk-taking is part of the package deal. And I’m not talking about jumping off cliffs. I’m talking about doing the creative thing that terrifies us the most. I’m talking about leaning into mystery and the unknown. I’m talking about writing blind. 

There’s nothing wrong with outlines per se. Nothing wrong with pondering an idea, researching an idea, bouncing an idea off others. But at some point, we’ve got to follow God off that metaphorical cliff and write the thing. Sometimes that’s all God wants us to do. Sometimes he wants us to take further risks: enter contests, query publishers, self-publish. It’s all by faith. 

At some point, we’ve got to follow God off that metaphorical cliff and write the thing.

I was challenged at the conference to write the thing that feels the least safe. So I, a non fiction writer, am writing my first fantasy novel. It’s scary. Well, terrifying actually. I don’t know how it will turn out. It might be a complete trash fire. But I’m going to write my trash fire anyway. It’s God’s trash fire. 

Who knows? It might turn into something more. But I won’t know until I stop playing it safe and start writing. 

What’s your play-it-safe zone at the moment? Where might God be calling you, as a writer or creative, to take risks? How can you trust God when you’re terrified of the outcome? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation. 

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