The task of reaching the UK for Jesus seems an increasingly gargantuan one, doesn’t it? Especially when we’re dimly aware of all those demoralising stats about the decline in UK church attendance and the such like. It’s hard to get motivated under such a heavy grey blanket, it’s easy to let your knees knock in the shadow of a Goliath like this.
In a conversation recently where I was bemoaning again my rather anaemic evangelistic record, the David and Goliath story (from 1 Samuel 17) popped in for a visit unexpectedly. The more I have mentally hassled the metaphor the more I have warmed to it as a resource in the context of evangelism. Here’s why:
Goliath kept the Israelites subdued through a campaign, not of action, but of taunting words and boasts. Are we cringing before the empty jibes and boasts of the Devil? Are we intimidated just because he has a spear the size of a weaver’s rod (whatever that is)? Have we checked to make sure the emperor is actually wearing the clothes he says he is?
The Israelites went through the motions of going to the battle-line every morning for forty days, but never actually crossed it. Do you, like me, sometimes find yourself immobilized by despondency? Does insecurity seep into your faith, and pollute your witness with defensiveness, apathy, or wheedling neediness? Have we settled into a self-fulfilling resignation that keeps us from actually having a go?
Here comes David; a youngster delightfully inoculated against the fear of Goliath by an even greater regard for God and the things he knows him to be capable of. A close walk with God on the Bethlehem hillsides, and a string of previous God-authored victories against lions and bears was a wonderful tonic in the run-up to a show-down with Goliath. Are we similarly being inwardly fortified by regular immersion in God’s presence? And are we intentionally putting ourselves out there and keeping the ball in God’s court? There’s nothing better for growing in confidence than progressively venturing out of our comfort zones and seeing God come through for us again and again.
Saul belittles David, whilst his brother Eliab rebukes him. Whether it’s through jealousy, annoyance, warped theology, or splurging insecurities, it’s a sad fact that sometimes the very people who should be cheering us on, pull us back instead. Let’s make a concerted effort to avoid heeding (or indeed voicing) these voices.
King Saul tried to lend David his armour, but it didn’t fit, so David chucked it. Rebecca Manley Pippert once wrote: ‘Our problem in evangelism… is that we don’t know how to be ourselves.’ Do you find, like me, that you turn into an alien the second an opportunity arrives? Cometh the hour, cometh the spluttering idiot. We watch in dismay as our goodnewsing comes out all clunky and ill-fitting. We express it woodenly in second-hand clichés, or language, and formulas we’ve had handed to us from another generation. It may have fitted that culture, but does it fit us today? Similarly, sometimes our how-we-came-to-faith ‘testimony’ has been straight-jacketed in a flat-pack formula that doesn’t quite do God’s creativity justice. How can we relearn to articulate God’s grace in ways that flow naturally and vitally from us? Who can we practice with?
David chose not to wear armour or dress up like someone else, but stayed stubbornly vulnerable. Likewise, we don’t need to suit up in faux perfection; our armour glinting in the sun of a holiness or ‘sorted-ness’ we don’t actually possess. People can smell inauthenticity a mile off – better to be honest and real. Tin men and robots make rubbish evangelists, but weak and vulnerable humans are not only lighter on their feet, but jars of clay through which God excels at shining.
David plucked five smooth stones from the river bank and charged his sling. That was the David-way of doing battle. What’s the You-way of doing evangelism? Why swing a sword if you’re better with a sling? And what are the five smooth stones that you might pick out of the living stream of God’s current work in your life? How about taking half an hour out of your day this week to jot them down? Yes! Those 5 God-things you’re passionate about right now; those things you love talking about; those things which make your eyes shine and your soul power-up. Once you’ve got them, and perhaps polished them in the river of a little practice, look for conversations to slot them into. Oh, and launch them with enthusiasm – give it some welly!
Somehow, one of David’s five pebbles found its mark. Likewise, we need to trust God’s timing and that the Holy Spirit is more than able to use the gospel to knock someone for six. It’s a message that can sink in with the force of a bullet.
And so the giant fell, and the tide turned. One victory was all it took for the rest of the Israelites to wake up and – who knows? – perhaps a turning point in our personal or corporate witness is closer than we think. In the same way that David skipped forward and cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword, God is adept at using the Devil’s tricks against him. The very gospel-retardant climate Satan works so hard at creating in individuals and societies can swing round in the blink of an eye or the swish of a sling. So let’s be encouraged by this old story as it becomes new again in our time. Let’s throw ourselves at Goliath with Davidic vim!
(Phil Durrant is the Associate Minister for Discipleship at Clevedon Baptist Church in Clevedon, Somerset.)
 Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker, (IVP: Leicester), p.18.