Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Poor Little Man

1 Samuel 17

Poor little man—so boisterous! But he doesn’t have a clue! Poor little man always trying to convince people of how tough he is! Even believes it himself--but he's only fooling himself. It’s Martin Short swaggering into a room filled with linemen from the Dallas Cowboys trying to pick a fight!

My dad tells me about when he was in the Army there was a little guy who had a hulking brute of a buddy. They would frequent the bars. When the little man got drunk, he would stand up on the bar or a table and shout--"I bet nobody can whip my buddy!" Whereupon a fight would ensue that was sure to leave his friend bloody and bruised.

One evening the little guy got drunk. He stood up on a table and shouted "I bet nobody can whip my buddy!" A guy sitting at the table looked at the huge friend, then looked at the guy standing on the table top.

"Well," he drawled, "I don't think I can whip your buddy. But I bet I could whip you!" He reaches up and yangs the fellow off the table and beats him to a pulp. All the while the huge friend just watched and laughed!

There’s an African proverb that says: You know it’s almost sundown when a small man casts a large shadow. And it was nearly sundown for the people of God! They are caught up in the swagger and bluster of a poor little man. They were completely intimidated by him. He put on such a display—he had them buffaloed and they fell for it!

The truth was, though: he was just a punk! Granted, he was a 7-to-9-foot-tall punk! His equipment and uniform weighed a mere 125lbs and he did twirl a spear weighing somewhere between 25-35 lbs! But he was just a poor little pathetic man. We know his name: Goliath.

Perhaps you’ve never thought of this story in these terms. Far too often the story found in 1 Samuel 17 has been used to champion the cause of the underdog. We usually picture David as a little pre-adolescent kid (due to an unfortunate translating of the Hebrew word na’ar as “boy”). But David is no kid. He’s a young man, probably in his late teens to early 20’s—the age of most of our soldiers. He had taken a lion by the beard and a bear by the hair and killed them while protecting his sheep. Somehow, I don’t think that was a 12 year old kid. Nor do I think Saul would immediately make a 12 year old kid a general (which is what he does in chapter 18). Besides this is not a story of how the mighty Goliath faced a little shepherd boy and was beaten. It’s the story of how the Mighty God crushed poor, pathetic, little Goliath. Poor little guy! He didn’t have a chance!

Check out the entire story in 1 Samuel 17:1-51. But note especially vv. 37, 45-47. David tells King Saul God had delivered him from the lion and the bear and God can deliver him from the Philistine.

Later, as he confronts an outraged and cursing Goliath, he responds:
"You come at me with sowrd and spear and battle-ax, I come at you in the name of GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel's troops whom you curse and mock. This very day GOD is handing you over to me. I'm about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there's an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that GOD doesn't save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to GOD--he's handing you to us on a platter!" [The Message]
David then makes short work of the giant with a well-placed sling stone and the giant's own sword. God and David make good on their word that day and the Philistines are routed!

The point of this story is pretty clear: Victory is the Lord’s business—trust is our business! At the end of the day, God’s will is not accomplished by our power, our plans and our ingenuity. God’s will is accomplished ultimately by God. The question is: will we trust him enough to join him? Will we trust him enough to follow where he leads us? Even if it is into a valley facing the giant?

Ah, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Far too often I am like the Israelite army who can only see a 9-foot giant in front of me. Reality is defined by what I see and understand. I live in an unresponsive culture—Christianity is on the decline in America. There are so many hurting people. The task is too much for me. Satan is too powerful! My first impulse is to reach for Saul’s armor: go state-of-the-art, buy into the newest church growth strategies, try out that new mass-marketing plan.

Has it ever occurred to us everyone uses the latest church growth ideas—but no one is really growing? We’ve been trying the latest “church growth” strategies for 30 years now, and Christianity hasn’t been growing in America! There are even degree plans in church growth! Still, only a handful of churches grow—and even those mega churches so often grow through transfer growth—not through capturing the hearts of those who are desperately lost and lonely in their culture.*

So if church growth strategies, fads, and gimmicks won’t help, what will? I need to understand what I see and the giant before me are not ultimate reality. Oh, they’re real enough to be sure—but they aren’t the ultimate reality. In the words of Eugene Peterson: The only person full in touch with reality that day was David. David didn’t see a giant! He saw a poor, pathetic little man that God was about to whip! Not with a sword or a spear. Not with an army—but with a God-directed and God-propelled stone!

Paul makes a similar point in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
"So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes when compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last
We see our weaknesses—but as real as they are, they are not the ultimate reality. The ultimate reality is what we can’t see: the power of God! The challenge for us is to develop the eyes of Paul—the eyes of David.

So how do we do that? A few suggestions: first, do what David did—spend lots of time in personal communion with God. David was the singer-shepherd of Israel. He was known as a mighty man of prayer—most of the prayers in the book of Psalms are attributed to him. There are no shortcuts here. You have to spend the time. We must become a people who intentionally spend daily time with God.

Second, begin each day asking God to open you eyes to the possibilities—to the opportunities. Then, begin looking to see where God is moving and then join him! Invite your neighbor over for tea, talk to that cashier that looks like her best friend just died, offer your assistance to your co-worker who just experienced a tough situation at home. Start that ministry you’ve been thinking about for the last several months. Talk to that friend who seems to have some interest in your take on spirituality. Swallow the fear, acknowledge God is in control and obey. Victory is the Lord’s business—trust is ours.

What’s it going to be? Intimidated by a poor little giant? Or trust that God will lead you into victory? Let’s quit looking at what we can see! Let’s see God’s power!

So may you never give up your trust in God! May you see with God’s eyes and join him as he captures the hearts and minds of those who desperately need him!
*I recognize there are exceptions. And this is not a condemnation of "mega-churches" per se. But I do believe we, like Israel, get caught up in "largeness" thinking only large is powerful or successful--when such is generally not the case.

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