Originally written on August 24, 2012.
Things have been busy in BoomTown recently. (If you’re new to the blog, click here to find out about its origins.) My student ministry internship is in full-swing, so it’s been a whirlwind of orientation and adjusting to a new role in a new place with a TON of new people. Fortunately, there are 11 other interns caught in the whirlwind with me, and one of the first things we did as a group was go on a 2-day retreat to bond and grow, and to learn a little more about ourselves and the others. Personality profiles, strength assessments, and even our “inner animals” were discovered and shared by the group. (I’m a Golden Retriever-Otter combo, in case you wondered.) Thanks to everybody’s honesty, openness, and willingness to be vulnerable, God forged a family out of a gang of virtual strangers in a little less than 2 days. Just think what He could get done in seven…
A major topic of conversation was the idea of being the kind of leader who “finishes well;” in other words, one whose leadership fulfills the purposes God has set before it. An Ephesians 2:10 kind of leader. Our fearless leader Liz had supplied us with two articles on this subject- one that condensed the necessary info into easy-to-follow bullet points, and another that laid out the same info within the context of a story about a well-respected, wise leader near the end of his journey meeting a small group of younger leaders to share the insights he had learned about the keys to finishing well. As Liz pointed out to us, not every leader does finish well; in fact, a pretty startling percentage don’t or won’t. So it was fitting for us to begin our internship with our eyes trained on our ultimate goal: to be more than a flash in the pan…to burn bright and long and leave a legacy behind that advances the Kingdom of God in a powerful way.
Using the more condensed article, we went over 7 identified barriers to finishing well. These were all temptations and obstacles that could trip anyone up at some point: money, power, pride, sex, lingering emotional baggage to name a few. At the end of Day 1, we were left to read the longer story-like article on our own if we wanted to. Alone in my room, I began to read…and at the top of page 2, God boomtowned me good.
The wise old leader was speaking, and he talked about all he had seen during his time in ministry: the triumphs and the pitfalls, churches that split and ministries that grew. One phrase in particular jumped off the page: “He had seen giants fall.” Immediately my mind wandered to the old story of David and Goliath. If you need a quick recap, basically the giant warrior Goliath spends 40 days taunting the armies of Israel, but especially Israel’s God. And although the Israelites are pretty ticked about this, nobody has the courage to challenge Goliath. News of what is happening reaches young David, who is home tending the sheep. When he hears that the name of God is being defiled by Goliath, he is overcome with a righteous anger, and immediately he heads to the battlefield. The rest, as they say, is history. David the little shepherd-boy steps up, Goliath scoffs, and David slings a stone like a laser beam that drills Goliath right between the eyes and drops the warrior dead.
If you’re anything like me and you’ve heard the David and Goliath story told as a tale that we should apply to our lives, chances are you heard it told with the perspective that YOU are David, and the obstacles you are facing seem like giants. And by trusting God and standing up to them with the knowledge that He is on your side, we can slay those giants just like David slew Goliath. Moral of the story? No matter how lopsided the battle may seem, when God is on your side the victory is sure. Feels all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? Heck, I’ve taught this story myself a couple times, and both times I used the same perspective.
It’s easy to put ourselves into that “victorious underdog” role. We want to be the hero; maybe on some level we even need to be the hero. While I’m not denying that there is value in that viewpoint, what God told me that night is that more often than not WE are Goliath. Every day. It was a sobering moment to say the least, because immediately I knew it was true.
What was Goliath? He was the outspoken enemy of God. He was brash and arrogant, and especially ignorant to the fact that he was opposing the Almighty Creator of Everything. He was ego personified; his reputation and fame was his god. I thought back to the 7 barriers to finishing well, and virtually every single one had pride and selfishness as its root. Why would I get caught up in the pursuit of money? Because I want to get more stuff for me. (Cue: Goliath) What would compel me to get caught up in some sort of sex scandal? Because I’ve become a pleasure-hound, and I’ve decided that if it feels good I’m gonna do it regardless of consequence. Besides, I’m smart…I’ll get away with it, right? (Goliath, party of one!) You get the picture. As soon as it becomes all about ME, you might as well throw David out the window because Goliath is large and in charge.
The good news is that by following Jesus on His terms, Goliath doesn’t stand a chance now anymore than he did back then. In Mark 8:34, Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” ‘Deny himself’ is pretty straightforward: put your selfish ambition on the back burner. But Jesus isn’t satisfied with the back burner. In His day, everyone knew what a cross was. It was a torture device with only one outcome: death. It was reserved for the lowest of the low. ‘Take up his cross’ was a vivid, jarring, unmistakable command to put your selfishness to death in order to follow him. (If you hold your ear up to that verse in the Bible, you can almost hear the disciples’ jaws dropping.) Because ego should be the antithesis of a true Jesus follower; humility should be their hallmark.
More good news is that this happens to all of us. John the Baptist is quoted as saying to a crowd, “He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30) Paul, writer of half the New Testament and arguably the greatest missionary ever, confessed that slaying Goliath was a daily struggle for him. In talking about his life with Christ, Paul said, “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31). Both were wise enough to know that Goliath is always trying to rise up within, and the only way to slay him is to die to yourself so that Christ can live through you.
So may you be someone who finishes well. May you live and lead in a way that adds value to any who follow, may your Goliaths be brought down and your Davids be lifted up, and may you take full hold of the brand new creation that you are in Jesus. Amen.