The Criminally Cautious Life

Let me know / Do I still have time to grow? / Things ain’t always set in stone / that be known, let me know

-Daniel Caesar, Streetcar

In his cover of Kanye West’s “‘Street Lights,” Daniel Caesar delivers a melancholic ballad of the questioning fears that accompany a life that barrels toward an unknown future.

Seems like street lights, glowing, happen to be / just like moments passing in front of me / So I hopped in the cab and I paid my fare / See I know my destination, I’m just not there

Caesar sees his life passing before him, and expresses a fear of missing out on the opportunities around him. Rather than staying safe on the sidewalk, he chooses to take a chance and jump in the cab, paying the fare of having control in exchange for a greater purpose. His fear of an unfruitful life overpowers his fear of losing control.

Too often, the reverse happens for us. We fear the unknown so much that we would rather live a mediocre life that is in our control than live the amazing life God has set out for us, simply because it is unfamiliar. We don’t trust that God has our best interest in mind, and that passing over the reigns will result in either our own unhappiness or in God’s disappointment in our performance. Our view of God determines our willingness to completely rely on him.

“It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.”

-Matthew 25:14-18 MSG

In this parable, Jesus describes two types of people. This is not a story of those with more or less talent, but rather of those willing to take a risk to use their talent for something good and those who let their fear of failure take over. The former find that this willingness is rewarded, while the latter are so focused on keeping things under control that they never discover what they are capable of, because they never try.

For more times than I would like to admit, I have fallen into this trap of playing it safe. Though I see God trying to push me toward a purpose, I reject it. My rationale is that I would rather be miserable but in control of my life than trust God and take the chance of being let down. What if I risk everything, pour all of my energy and talents into what God is trying to do with my life, and fail? What would be left of me? My view of God is that of a coach, where he shows me his plan of what I need to do to be successful, and then watches from the sidelines, leaving me to fend for myself. Because of this, I do what the servant with one thousand dollars does; I dig a hole, bury any sense of faith for using my talents for a greater purpose, and settle. I think that as long as I don’t make a huge mistake, I’ll be okay. This is a safe, mediocre life. But it’s not how God wants me to live.

“After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’”….The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’”

-Matthew 25:19-21, 24-25 MSG

The servant with the five thousand dollars understands what the servant with one thousand does not. Rather than having the coach-player, master-slave relationship, the first man discovers that he and God are partners. God doesn’t care how much the servant is able to make from what he was given. What matters to God is that the man trusts him enough to try. The servant with the one thousand, on the other hand, completely misses this. He allows his fear of failing and disappointing God to blind him from seeing that his talents can be used to influence others for the better. He therefore chooses safety over making a difference, and control over having a purpose.

“The master was furious. ‘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?…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

In this passage, God makes his priorities clear. He would rather we risk everything and fail hard, than have it all together and never risk anything at all. He calls this cautious life criminal, because when he places our talents, passions, and interests before us, and we decide not to use them, we waste the opportunity to make any impact. To have the ability to change even one person’s life for the better, but decide not to because we are too afraid to give up control, is worse than any failure. The end of Daniel Caesar’s song echos this sentiment, as he urges his listeners to take this same leap of faith that God calls for in order to live a life worth living:

The good Lord gives / The good Lord taketh away / That’s how it goes / Don’t go live your life in vain

What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing? Whose life would change? What about your view of God needs to change in order for you to stop playing it safe?

To learn more about how to use your talents for a greater purpose, read Chapter One of Russ Ewell’s book When God Isn’t Attractive, “When God Isn’t Attractive: Turning Unhealthy Thoughts Into Healthy Ones.”

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