I was reading I Samuel 17 this morning. It seems to come around to me quite often and its a passage I love, about David and his defeat of the Philistine, Goliath. This morning a number of things I hadn’t really noticed before emerged:
a) David hadn’t prepared. He wasn’t expecting this encounter with the Philistine to happen and so he hadn’t looked ahead, planned, packed what he might need, strategised, read the books etc. He was running an errand: Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp.18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”
He had to trust his gut and what he knew about his God and take courage.
This seems a recurring theme with God, and is certainly a feature of discipleship in the New Testament. Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72 without preparation, except the preparation of having known and followed him – their training for what was to come had happened in their apprenticeship to him, but they probably didn’t know it at the time. The Myers Briggs planning types among them must’ve been beside themselves!
However I think this can speak to us as the church – we didn’t expect to be where we are now. We never knew when the certainties of modernism would end, but we find them ending now and all the systems that went with them have entered the shock of decline. House of Fraser all but disappeared this week, because patterns that have lasted for many years are now changing. We are all at sea and feeling unprepared. We need to draw on what we know of our God, trust our gut and take courage. Drawing up the drawbridge and wishing change would go away is not really an option. Nor is trying to carry on regardless. We need to squarely face up to what is happening.
b) David could not use the tools that had previously been successful for others. Saul layered the armour of a warrior on him and he tried to get used to it:
“Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.”
It was assumed that only a warrior could have a solution to this problem. A highly trained, experienced military expert, wearing the latest equipment. They tried to make David fit the previous mould, expected his solution to be the same, as if there was only one right way of doing this. But he had a different paradigm. His thinking was different, as were his experience, perspective and methods. It was ridiculous really to think that he, a young man from the fields, would approach this mission in the same way as an experienced soldier. And why should he – they, with all their military experience, had not been able to solve the problem after all! David needed freedom of movement. He could not be constrained by the armour, or by the weight of others’ choices and preferred ways of doing things. If he was taking the risks, he needed to be confident and free to do it his way, to respond to the spirit and move freely.
d) David improvised, using what he found around him in the local landscape – seeing a brook, a familiar part of his shepherding environment, he looked around and saw what resources were available: Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the stream.
He chose what was indigenous, what was near to hand. Wherever we are, there will local resources and gifts all around us. We don’t need to ‘import’ genius or expertise from elsewhere. [Let the church planter understand.] God has blessed every place with strengths and good things, not just the place where *we* come from.
e) People opposed him and ridiculed him: When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?”
Sadly pioneers know that this will happen. The fact that he wasn’t doing this in a way that others understood must have seemed a threat to some. The fact that he stuck his head above the parapet and offered to do it at all rattled others, who didn’t have the courage or the solution. He didn’t seem to fit, he didn’t seem a likely candidate, he didn’t inspire confidence. He did it anyway!
f) Saul saw the truth, eventually – that God had brought him here to resolve the situation and was going to work through him. Saul was courageous enough to see past all the possible weaknesses to the courage and passion of the boy. These piqued his interest, they marked him as someone with a prophetic character. It takes some chuzpah to turn up to a battle as a shepherd boy carrying some food and offer to defeat a maniacal giant. He allowed him to take the risk. How many leaders would do this in dark times, when it seems certainty is what is required? Perhaps Saul felt able to let him do it because David’s testimony was full of the Lord and his works, and not David’s: “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” This is where our ability to take risk comes from. Saul blesses him and sends him out: Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
In the world of pioneering there are many unlikely people, taking ridiculous risks for the coming Kingdom. Reading the new Zine today produced by Proost, http://www.proost.co.uk/future-present, it is full of stories of wisdom and people daring to challenge the darkness, people using local gifts and resources to build together with others, people who were likely unprepared for what God had in store for them but who responded with equal amounts of terror and courage. People who the authorities don’t always see or acknowledge; people who academics write books and papers about, ridiculing the new things that are growing and shaping the church, helping it over the hill and into its new future. These are hard to bear and we need to acknowledge the hardships, but we also have work to do! God is leading his church, and none of us know exactly what that will look like in the future, but it is God’s church and so we don’t need to fear. “Go, and the Lord be with you.”