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On a sling and a prayer

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:41-50

A shipwrecked sailor spent three years on a deserted island. You can imagine his joy to see a ship drop anchor in the bay. A small boat came ashore, and an officer handed the man a bunch of newspapers. The survivor was confused. The sailor explained, “The captain suggests that you read what’s going on in the world and then let us know if you want to be rescued.”

Anyone here choose the island?

Psychologists say that 60 percent of us are going through some crisis right now. Six out of every ten persons on your pew is going through some crisis right now. Six out of ten would probably rather be on that island than in this church service right now. Do you?

Do you ever feel like a young boy with no training, no background, no credentials, sent to fight a warrior who stands over nine feet tall? Ever feel like David against Goliath?

You’re not alone. Moses had his Pharaoh, his Red Sea, and two million complaining Jews. Peter had his Herod seeking his life. Paul had his Nero. Jesus had the devil himself. You’re not alone.

Who is your Goliath? Where are you at war? Does the giant live in your home? Your health? Your finances? Your stress? Here’s the one point today: you can fight the giant in your strength, or in God’s. But not in both.

Fighting in your strength

We find ourselves part of the best-known story in the life of David, perhaps in all the Old Testament. We are standing in the Valley of Elah, 17 miles west-southwest of Jerusalem. We’re at war with the Philistines, a sea people who have settled in the area known today as the Gaza Strip. Their expertise with making iron weapons has given them military advantage over Israel, and they will remain a thorn in the nation’s side for another 500 years.

As we stand with King Saul and his soldiers, we watch the largest man we’ve ever seen stride into the valley between the two armies. His name is “Goliath,” and he is identified as their “champion” (v. 4), literally “a man who stands between the camps.” He did not fight with the rest of the soldiers, for he was an army unto himself.

We stare in disbelief. Samuel provides the most detailed physical description to be found anywhere in the Bible, recording what stands before us. Goliath is “six cubits and a span,” thus over nine feet tall. Such height is not impossible even today, as proven by one Robert Pershing Wadlow, a man 8’11” tall at the time of his death on July 15, 1940 at the age of 22.

Goliath’s armor is made of several hundred small bronze plates resembling fish scales, weighing 125 pounds. His spear’s point, shaped like a flame, weighs over 30 pounds. Its shaft is “like a weaver’s rod” (v. 7), meaning that it is wrapped with cords so it can spin through the air and thus be thrown with greater distance and accuracy.

Goliath marches out for hand-to-hand combat with his shield bearer before him to give added protection. He looks, and feels, invincible.

In contrast, Saul and his army have no iron weapons. They have no giant champion, except Saul, and he is cowering at the rear of the lines in fear. None will fight this man. And so Goliath will win by default, and his Philistines will continue to enslave Israel.

It is at this crucial point that a young shepherd boy enters biblical history. Saul scoffs at him: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you (emphatic) are only a boy, and he (emphatic) has been a fighting man from his youth” (v. 33). Saul and his army know only one way to fight: in human strength. With human weapons. Using human resources. And they don’t have enough. We never do.

A fascinating book is in the news these days: The Transformation of American Religion, by Boston College professor Alan Wolfe. The thesis is simple: religion in America is no longer about God—it is about us. It’s all about us.

Regarding worship services: “When they worship, Americans revere a God who is anything but distant, inscrutable, or angry. They are more likely to honor a God to whom they can pray in their own, self-chosen way” (pp. 9-10). Popular worship today is “as much designed to make people feel comfortable as it is to fill them with the majesty of God” (p. 16).

One-third of Americans subscribe to the proposition that “people have God within them, so churches aren’t necessary” (p. 38). The day of denominational loyalty is largely over. Now people join a church that meets their needs—whatever they are, whatever the church is.

Here’s an example. Gwinnett County, in suburban Atlanta, was for many years the fastest-growing county in the United States. In 1929, a town in that county named Dacula was 65.8 percent Baptist and 31 percent Methodist. Now its denominations include Christian and Missionary Alliance, Anglican, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Christian Science, Episcopal, Nazarene, Presbyterian, independent Full Gospel fellowships, Southern and Independent Baptist, United Methodist, and African Methodist Episcopal. Not to mention the Eastern Orthodox, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu residents of the town, nor parts of a Wiccan coven or feminist spirituality groups (p. 112).

A group of church members were surveyed regarding the purpose of the church; 90 percent of the members said the purpose of the church is to meet members’ needs—10 percent said it is to fulfill the Great Commission. Only 25 percent of self-described evangelicals knew the Great Commission (p. 205).

We want to meet the needs of our members and community, of course. Jesus always started with felt need and moved to spiritual need. The woman at the well came for water, so Jesus started there and led her to spiritual water.

The problem comes when our faith becomes more about us than our Lord. When we ask God to help us solve our problems in our strength. When we want him to bless our decisions and our actions. When he becomes a means to our end, serving us. When we go to battle with our weapons and strategy, our strength and soldiers, and ask him to help us succeed. He is God and we are not.

Fighting in God’s strength

So how do we fight Goliath in God’s strength and not our own? Let’s ask young David. First he tells us: don’t listen to your critics.

When this youngest of Jesse’s eight sons volunteered to fight the giant, his brothers laughed him to scorn (v. 28). So did Joseph’s, as you recall, and Jesus’.

Then Saul would ridicule him (v. 33), as did Goliath; but so did the crowds while Noah built his ark. The children of Israel slandered Moses before the Read Sea; the crowds accused Peter of being drunk at Pentecost; the Romans thought Paul insane when he stood before their governors; the thieves made fun of Jesus on the cross. There will always be doubters.

To fight in the power of God, don’t listen to his enemies or yours.

Second, believe what God has done, he can still do.

David has killed a lion and a bear, so he knows he can kill a man (vs. 33-37). He knows what God has done in his life, so he knows what God can do.

In South America there is an Indian tribe which looks at life in exactly the opposite way from our worldview. We picture the past behind us and the future before us. They picture the past before them and the future behind them. They look at the past they can see for guidance in facing the future they cannot see. So did David. So should we.

Where has God been faithful to you in the past? Where have you seen his healing power, his forgiving grace, his mercy in your circumstances? Remember the lions and bears you’ve killed before with his help. What God has done, he can do.

Third, trust what God has given you.

Saul wants David to wear his armor (v. 38). The ancients saw this as a way of giving David some of his strength, and also gaining some of the glory for the victory David would win. Saul wants to defeat Goliath using the weapons of Goliath.

So David, a boy of 12 or 13, tries the armor of the tallest man in Israel, but it doesn’t fit (v. 39). We can imitate others, but we cannot wear their armor.

God has given you all you need to win the battles he has called you to fight. In this case the weapons are simple (v. 40): five smooth stones, typically two to three inches in diameter. The sling shot is two long cords with a pocket in the center in which the stone is placed; the slinger grasps the ends of the cords, whirls the stone, and shoots it by releasing one of the cords. The weapons aren’t much, but they are his. They are the abilities and gifts God has given to him. And they are enough.

When God called me to preach he called me, not Billy Graham. When he called you, he called you. With your faith, your talents and abilities, your problems and shortcomings. Moses stuttered, Daniel was a foreigner in a strange land, Peter and James were just fishermen, Paul was a murderer. Yet because of them the world will never be the same.

He called you. Find your weapons right now, and use them.

Fourth, fight in the power of God.

Goliath taunts David: “Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” (v. 44). To which this young shepherd boy replies, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the god of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands” (vs. 45, 47).

To fight in the “name of the Lord Almighty” is to fight in his presence and power, with his strength and Spirit. Give the battle to him, and trust him for the victory he alone can give. Pray first, then step by faith into the future which is his.

When you refuse to listen to your critics, believing that God’s power in the past is his power for today, trusting all he has given you, fighting in the power he gives to those who surrender the battle to him in prayer, Goliath cannot win. Your sling will be true, the stone will find its mark, the giant will fall, the enemy will fail, the victory is sure.

Conclusion

Emily Dickenson’s experience with fighting Goliath is all too often ours:

I took my power in my hand

And went against the world;

‘T was not so much as David had,

But I was twice as bold.

I aimed my pebble, by myself

Was all the one that fell.

Was it Goliath was too large,

Or only I too small?

But it doesn’t have to be so. On Easter Sunday I quoted Dr. S. M. Lockridge’s description of the risen Christ. So many of you have asked me for those words that I thought I’d read his longer prayer from which they were taken. Today, as you face your Goliath, make this God yours:

He is unparalleled and unprecedented; he is the centerpiece of civilization.

He is the superlative of all excellence; he is the sum of human greatness.

He is the source of divine grace.

His name is the only one able to save, and His blood the only power able to cleanse.

His ear is open to the sinner’s call, his hand is quick to lift the fallen soul.

He is the eternal love of us all, every one, and you can trust him.

He supplies mercy for the struggling soul, and sustains the tempted and the tried.

He strengthens the weak and the weary; he guards and guides the wanderer.

He heals the sick and cleanses the leper.

He delivers the captive, defends the helpless, and binds up the broken-hearted.

He’s for you—and you can trust him.

Jesus is the key to all knowledge, and the wellspring of wisdom.

He’s the doorway of deliverance, and the pathway of peace.

He’s the roadway of righteousness, and the highway of holiness.

He’s the gateway to glory, and yes, you can trust him.

Jesus is enough—he’s the all-sufficient King.

He’s the King of the Jews, he’s the King of Israel.

He’s the King of Righteousness, and he’s the King of the Ages.

He’s the King of Heaven, and the King of glory.

He’s the King of kings and he’s the Lord of Lords.

And yes, you can trust Him.

There is no gauge to measure his limitless love.

There is no barrier to block his blessings outpoured.

He is enduringly strong, and he is entirely sincere.

He is ee’s the King ternally steadfast, and he is immortally faithful.

He is imperially powerful and he is impartially merciful.

He is indescribable, incomprehensible, invincible, and irresistible.

You can’t outlive him and you can’t live without him.

The Pharisees couldn’t stand him, but they found they couldn’t stop him.

Pilate couldn’t fault him, and Herod couldn’t kill him.

Death couldn’t conquer him, and the grave couldn’t hold him.

He’s the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.

He’s the God of the future and the God of the past.

He is for us—and we can trust him!

Now who’s bigger—Goliath or God?