The following is a guest-blog by Tyler Goss, converted from a sermon he preached at Berea Mennonite Church in Atlanta, GA, June 24, 2018.
I have a hard time understanding what complete trust in God looks like. I mean—I trust that God cares about me…I trust that God pours out unconditional love for me…but, what about when it comes to a big situation that seems out of my control, like a car accident or a robbery? What about the risk of nuclear war in my lifetime…? I don’t know what completely trusting God looks like. Why do some die, and some escape death? Why do some suffer and others live extravagantly? In a war, both sides may trust in God to see them through the fight…but it’s a battlefront, people will die, loved ones will not return home. Does my trust in God lead to my safety? Or, looking at trust from another angle, if I trust in God, what is it that I am to trust God with? My future, my finances, my health, my plans? What does it mean to trust in God?
1 Samuel 17, is a story of trust I think you may be familiar with. It’s the story of David and Goliath. Israel, God’s chosen people, are on the battle lines against the Philistines, the major enemy of our story. Now earlier in 1 Samuel, Israel declared that they wanted a king to help fight off their enemies, or in other words, Israel declared that they were needing more than just trust in God to see them through the battles; they wanted to place their trust in a king. So, Saul, appointed by God, at first does alright. He rallies Israel, wins some important battles, but this time, this particular battle against the Philistines, the trust in a king confronts the trust in one’s own brute strength. Saul could rally some people together, but no individual in Saul’s army could compete with the size, skill, and strength of the Philistine individual known as “Goliath.”
And there came out form the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron.
Needless to say, Goliath was one big, bad dude.
Israel had their trust in their king and his ability to rally the troops, but the Philistines had their trust in the size, skill, and strength of their great warrior, Goliath. Israel’s trust in their numbers worked for them until Goliath made the battle not about the collective, but about the individual.
Imagine thinking you’re going to a regular church potluck and then finding that it’s actually a Thanksgiving dinner and you were suppose to bring the turkey. For a potluck, the goodness is in all the many dishes—the collective: corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, and mac-n-cheese—but when it comes to Thanksgiving, it all comes down to the main dish, the turkey. If the turkey isn’t up to par, it brings the whole meal down. Israel was ready for a potluck, but Goliath changed the dinner plans to a Thanksgiving feast, and Israel couldn’t provide the turkey.
Goliath shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us!”
The war of the many suddenly became a victory decided by two, Goliath vs. his challenger. Israel needed to place their trust in an individual, but no one in Saul’s entire army dared take on Goliath… no one, except for David.
David, who is just a boy, has left his flock of sheep to deliver food to his eldest three brothers and their commander as they are at the battle line.
David, having fought off bear and lion to protect his sheep says, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Israel trusted in their king, the Philistines trusted in their warrior, but David trusted in God.
And this is what David teaches us about trusting in God: Notice how David responds to Goliath’s taunting compared to the rest of Israel. Before David’s arrival, Goliath defied the ranks of Israel for forty days! For forty days, the Philistine had come forward and taken his stand, morning and evening. And for forty days, all the Israelites let their fear consume them. Verse 24 says, “All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid.” All the Israelites, when confronted by this big, bad Goliath, remained consumed by their fear. David, on the other hand, upon arriving to the battle and learning of this Goliath, immediately volunteers to fight. See the Israelites were fixated on fear, but David was fixated on something bigger. David was focused on God and God’s glory.
The soldiers had been focused on something very different. What they told David when he arrived was, “The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.” They were focused on risk and reward. David reoriented that focus to the purpose of the battle in the first place. David reasked the question as if to say, “You are focused on personal circumstances…personal gain of the challenger… but, trust in God focuses on what is bigger, on God’s reign.” David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” All of Saul’s army became consumed by fear and oriented their Goliath crisis on the personal gain. But David, orients his actions in this Goliath crisis, not on fear, not on personal gain, but on God’s reign.
Trust in God means orienting yourself to something larger than yourself. Trusting in God means aligning your vision with God’s vision. It means looking with eyes of compassion, dreaming the dreams of God’s kingdom, here on earth as it is in Heaven. It means listening with ears that hear the sorrows of all of God’s creation. Trusting in God means you may recognize that you have some fear of the other, an immigrant crossing the border, for instance, but you do not let your own fear keep you from showing compassion to any stranger in need. Trusting in God imagines a world beyond the separation of families, Trusting in God sees a solution beyond families staying together but remaining in detention, Trusting in God means that “love thy neighbor as thyself…” is not a far-fetched suggestion but a holy reality.
And notice, trusting in God does not guarantee safety. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done,” said Jesus before his crucifixion. Jesus’ trust in God meant the cross. Trusting in God is bigger than fear, bigger than personal gain, bigger than safety. Trusting in God means orienting yourself to the “bigger.”
David oriented himself to the bigger. God’s people were being made fools, the people of the living God were being taunted by this Philistine, so David set his safety aside, his personal gain aside, and oriented himself on God’s reign.
Consider, what is actually going down here. On one side you have big, bad, well-armored Goliath, and on the other side you have small, shepherd-boy David with no armor, no sword, just a staff, five stones, and a sling. David, this little, shepherd boy is going up against Goliath, this big, mean, fighting machine! It’s like trying to take on a tank with a tricycle! If I was in Saul’s army, you better believe I would be worried! If David lost, I would become a slave to the Philistines. My fate is in the hands of the little, shepherd boy, and if I had to guess, I’d say, David was going to lose.
Goliath seems to agree as he taunts him, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?!? With this staff in hand! HA! Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field”…basically, I will obliterate you!
But David, stands tall and says, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Turning Goliaths own threat against him says, “you think you are going to give my flesh to the birds and the wild animals? No, this very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
Let me say that again, “The Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
See, Israel trusted in their king and their numbers, the Philistines trusted in their mighty warrior Goliath, but both sides trusted in the sword and the spear, weapons of power, might, and sharp edges … but David, David carried his staff, a sling, and 5 smooth stones.
The staff, my guess is he was carrying his shepherding hook, a humble symbol of protection.
A sling, now, I am not all that knowledgeable on ancient biblical weapons, but something tells me that slings are extremely basic of weapons…inexpensive to make and fairly commonplace.
And then smooth stones, solid, trusty, and smoothed out over time.
Power, might, and sharp vs. humble, commonplace, and smooth. “The Lord does not save by sword and spear.”
“When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and [Goliath] fell face down on the ground.”
Trusting in God means orienting ourselves to the bigger… but God’s reign works through the humble, commonplace, and the smooth. We too need to dream big, and act in the small, the lowly, the humble, because, as the story of David and Goliath teaches us, trusting in God means orienting ourselves to the big, but working through the small.
Trusting in God means orienting ourselves to the big, but working through the small. It’s both a reorientation of mindset, and an action on our part.
As Margaret Mead says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Big or small in attendance, the point is not so much about the population, but about the abundance of love packed within the little things we can only do. As the saying inspired by Mother Teresa goes, small actions with great love move mountains. And that’s not to say that we also can’t attempt to do great things, or that we cannot actually accomplish great things, but great things come about when we trust the way God works through the small, the humble, the lowly.
So, as we trust in God as a church, may we continue to orient ourselves to the big of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven, but may we do so by pouring our energies, our time, our love, and our work into the small, the meek, the commonplace. May we continue to show great love to each stranger we meet. May we continue to show great patience, compassion, and gentleness as we journey together as a church. And may our little, combined with God’s great, move mountains. Trusting in God means orienting ourselves to the big, but working through the small.