The Battles Before the Battle – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 128

President Stumbo gives fresh insights to the story of David and Goliath and how God prepares us for the battles we face.

– Don’t you love it when you get a new insight into a passage of Scripture that you’ve read countless times but then it suddenly takes on a new light? It’s my joy to share such an experience with you today. David and Goliath. It’s a great story, loved from our childhoods, the classic underdog, the redemptive narrative of good overcoming evil, the giant as a metaphor for the battles we face. With good reason, even in secular culture, the mention of David versus Goliath is understood as a battle between the little guy and a huge opponent. But today my intention is not drawn to the battle itself. It’s drawn to the multiple skirmishes David had before he even faced the Philistine foe. David had multiple good reasons to not do what he did, to never even make it to the battle line. Before David faced the enemy in front of him, he had to face the detractors around and within him. Yes, we all know that David won the battle with Goliath, but only because he had already won on many other fronts. Consider the reasons David had to never go up against Goliath in the first place. Each of these reasons would’ve been a valid excuse to excuse himself. See if you recognize any of these. Have any of these impacted your life or ministry?

Battle number one—David wasn’t in the army. He wasn’t in the army. He had an assignment, but it wasn’t to fight. He was only there to bring supplies to his brothers and the commander and to return with a report to his father. He’s not a soldier. This isn’t his responsibility. Have you been there? “It’s not my problem. It’s someone else’s job.” And we walk away. If curiosity becomes passion, it might be your assignment after all.

Number two—the giant was a surprise to him. This was the first time he heard of Goliath or knew about the situation. He had to ask around to figure out the story. When he got up that morning, this wasn’t on his to-do list. Many a good deed has not been done because we didn’t see it coming. We need more time to think about it. It wasn’t on our schedule for the day. Is God allowed to interrupt our agenda?

Three—he’s entered a culture and context of fear. No courage is being displayed, not even by the king. I believe that fear is the dominant spirit of the day in which we live. Fear blinds vision. Fear suffocates passion. Fear’s favorite word is “no.” Fear is the underlying driver of far too many decisions for far too many people. As Javier, my district superintendent friend from Puerto Rico, reminds me, when I lead from fear, I make poor decisions.

Number four—no one else had taken up the challenge. Twice a day for 40 days, the Philistine had been making his offer for a one-on-one dual. An entire army of veteran soldiers had 80 times declined the offer. The normal, expected, easy thing to do would to just stay with the crowd, take the posture everyone else had taken, and let it go. “Blend in. Don’t make a scene. Why put yourself in the position of being an outlier? Why be the contrarian? Being a disruptor is costly, painful. Stay inside the lines.”

Number five—David received his oldest brother’s ridicule. 1 Samuel 17:28 reads, “Why have you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is.” Ouch—the scorn of those close to us stops many of us before we even get started. For some of us, a family member doesn’t have to say much, and we’re stopped dead in our tracks. Some of us have an awkward relationship between ministry and our family of origin. They just don’t get what we do, or we feel the need to prove ourselves to them. David wasn’t stopped by his brother’s scorn.

Number six—David was an unlikely candidate for the job. Young, inexperienced, a visitor—often we’re called to do things that we feel others are better positioned to do, right? “I can’t, send someone else.” “You’ve got the wrong person” is a common biblical theme. Moses—”I can’t speak.” Gideon—”We’re the smallest tribe.” Saul—hiding in the luggage. Jeremiah—”I’m too young.” Esther—”I might die.” Peter—”Go away from me, Lord, I’m a sinful man.” The Lord has a long history of calling the unlikely.

Seven—his senior-most leader, the king, reacts negatively to him at first. King Saul basically says, “There’s no way you can do this. You’re too young, unqualified, and your opponent has been fighting as long as you’ve been alive.” Once again, for the second time today, negative words don’t stop him. Many of us have a voice of authority in our past or present that has had the ability to stop us just by a comment or initial opinion. There’s a delicate balance required of us to respect and honor those in authority over us while not letting their initial reaction be the only word. How we handle this varies from culture to culture, but if the first word of the leader we serve is the only and final word, our organizations will be limited to the capacity or willingness of that leader. Better organizations have a means of respectful appeal for consideration.

David’s appeal leads me into point eight. David had never been in a battle such as this. When standing before Saul, he declares that he’s killed wild animals. Impressive, but they’re not the same as battling another human, a very large and battle-experienced human. How many of us have been stopped because we’ve never been here before? If “I’ve never done this” stops us, then we will never do anything for the first time. If we never try anything new, we’ll only do what we’ve always done.

Number nine—Saul tried to impose the standard accepted methodology upon David. Best practice and top-quality materials, Saul’s armor, seemed like good strategy, but David had the courage to counter. He had to say “No thank you” to the king’s plan and provision. He declined the commonly accepted practice of the day and went out in a manner that appeared reckless. When I speak to the arising generations, I often say, “The gospel and the Church must be owned by every generation.” We’re in the midst of a generational leadership transfer of the Church from baby boomers such as myself to the generations that follow us. Those of us who are existing leaders need not apologize for our methodology. We did what we felt best for our generation. Our armor suited us well, but neither must we impose it on the next generation. We may feel like their plan doesn’t have a slingshot chance of working, but assuming that our methodology will work for another generation is naivety or smugness on our part. David heads out with the tools he had mastered and doesn’t overcomplicate it with what worked for Saul.

Number 10—words hurled against him didn’t stop him. For the third time today, a voice is belittling him. This time, it’s the thundering voice of the giant echoing through the canyon: “‘Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals.'” Strong words. This time in public, everyone on the hillside can hear, social media has been activated, the story goes viral. Public confrontation is different than private. What we’ve heard in a closed-door meeting sounds more powerful in the public setting, and to add to the complexity, there was a measure of truth to what Goliath frothed, which leads to point 11.

David was outsized, out-equipped, and outnumbered. The massive opponent had superior weaponry and a shield bearer out in front of him, and our reality is that we’re sometimes called to take on things that are bigger than us. If we only pursue a dream when the math works, if we only pray for what we already have a plan to accomplish, if we never place ourselves in a position that if God doesn’t show up, we’re in trouble, I question whether we’ve ever really stepped out in faith.

Finally, number 12—the giant moved toward him, took aggressive steps. Problems look bigger the closer they get. From a distance, it didn’t seem so bad, but now that we’re down in the canyon with the giant, “Wow, what was I thinking? I can see why no one else accepted this assignment. What am I doing here?” David has a dozen exit ramps before he lets that stone fly. He takes none of them, and there was a great victory that day that we still are inspired by on this day. I must ask—what words spoken against you have stopped you? Is there a culture of fear unhelpfully influencing your heart? Is there a step of faith God is calling you to take? If you don’t take on this giant now, will you regret it for the rest of your life? Where are you outsized, out-equipped, and outnumbered? How many battles were lost because they were never fought? Someone quit before they even got to the battle line. Most battles are not won in a day or even won by a single person. Most battles require others to be engaged. The slingshot whirls, the stone flies, hits its target, the enemy falls, and suddenly courage comes to an entire army who, just moments before, were immobilized by fear.

There is an army of prayer that could be released. There is an army of money that is being undeployed. There is an army of volunteers that has not yet been mobilized. There is an army of spiritual gifts that have yet to be marshaled and mustered and made available to a broken world. There are victories to be won but won’t be until someone accepts the call of God to step into the battle, only to realize that God has already been preparing you for it. You know how the story started—not in a battlefield but in an open field. How would David have used his time in isolation as a shepherd? When the song-writing shepherd boy with a heart of worship, countless hours of slingshot practice, and a growing courage to defend his flock had honed a skill, learned to reverence the Almighty God, and had grown in a spirit that refused to let a dozen obstacles stop him from the task he was called to do. I believe the evidence shows that David became a warrior because he first was a worshiper.