The following quote from philosopher Nassim Talib in his book Antifragile recently reached out and grabbed my very soul: “At no point in history have so many non-risk-takers, that is, those with no personal exposure, exerted so much control.” Wow! What a tough but true assessment of our day! The blunt truth is that we lack POWER because we lack COMMITMENT. How do we markedly change this? The answer I believe is for us to get a little more of our “skin in the game.”
Over the entrance to a small paelstra-a wrestling school-in ancient Greece was emblazoned this short phrase: Strip or Retire. During this period, men competed in sports and exercised in the nude…yes you read that right! Thus, the inscription served as a challenge to each man entering the gymnasium: come in, participate, and struggle-or keep out. Mere spectators were not welcome. To be part of this wrestling school, you were literally required to put your skin in the game.
May I ask you a key question: What could God do with the little army of men who will read this blog post, if we were 100% engaged in not just a GAME but the BATTLE?!
As I recently read through 1 Samuel 17, the word “men” repeatedly jumped out at me. There are three types of men described in the text that don’t have enough skin in the game. Towards which category are you most prone?
Men of Fear
1 Sa 17:23-27 “And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them. And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid. And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel. And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him.
Lose the fearful avoidance (23-25a). Did you notice the consuming question in verse 25, “Have you seen this man?” Before we look down on “these weaklings,” remember what was before them. Goliath, at nine foot nine inches tall, wore a bronze helmet and a coat of scale armor weighing about 125 pounds, and bronze greaves. He was armed with a bronze javelin, and a long spear with a 15-pound iron tip! Far too often we avoid threats and risks because we are focused on OTHER MEN instead of THE ONE MAN THAT SHOULD BE OUR CONCERN-US!
Grab the fear-eclipsing reward (25b-27). It appears that David figured, if God can win any battle, then let’s spend our time, not talking about what happens IF WE LOSE but WHEN WE WIN…especially if we are the ones on the FRONTLINES! There are greater things to lose than just the negatives; fear of the what-if’s can rob us of losing the positives that the glory of God and His people could experience! Would you shift your focus to that of a David-imitating optimism that is typically in the minority of even the “Lord’s army.”
Men of Insecurity
1 Sa 17:28-30 “And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle. And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause? And he turned from him toward another, and spake after the same manner: and the people answered him again after the former manner.”
Lose the insecure judgmentalism (28). Before David faced Goliath, he had to overcome an unexpected confrontation with his own brother. You’d think his brother would rejoice to hear of David’s incredible faith and conviction. But sadly, as the human condition so often is, he was harassed. Eliab belittles David’s age, his task, the number of sheep in his care and questions his reason for coming…all to likely mask his own cowardice. The real heart with issues was not David’s but Eliab’s (see 1 Sa. 16:6-7)! Those who have a BIAS FOR ACTION have no time to critique and analyze others…especially their motives. Which will you be Eliab who is NOT HEARD OF AGAIN AFTER CHAPTER? Or you will be David whose THRIVES NOT JUST AFTER THIS CHAPTER BUT IN THE FINAL CHAPTER OF JESUS RULING ON HIS THRONE AGAIN SOMEDAY?
Grab the insecurity-eclipsing cause (29-30). “Is there not a cause?“ carries the idea of “There is nothing wrong with asking, is there?” At any rate, Eliab does not seem to be able to stop him from asking; and David makes thorough enquiry into the matter. Eliab was focused upon his own reputation; David was focused upon God’s!!! Glory hounds are selfishly jealous; worshippers are jealous of God’s glory and go all in with confronting those who are attacking it. Which category does your life testify that you are in?
Men of Insulation
1 Sa 17:31-37 “And when the words were heard which David spake, they rehearsed them before Saul: and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee. And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.“
Lose the insulated delegation (31-37). David’s inquisitiveness even comes to the attention of King Saul himself, who has insulated himself from the risks and threats of the battlefield. David tries to encourage faith in Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail,” and offers to defeat the giant himself, with God on his side that is. But Saul’s response is, “You are only a boy.” No one in this tent or on this battlefield is MORE OF A MAN, in God’s eyes, than David! David responds by reviewing many harrowing experiences/victories in preserving the flock of his father from the evil beasts. Now he assured Saul that he could protect the flock of God from this uncircumcised Philistine. Faith in past events THAT ARE RECENT lends a believer courage to trust in the power of God to meet the crises of the present! (Saul had lost touch with the experiential courage…HAVE YOU?). In verse 37, do you catch the impersonal feel between the Lord and David’s God? “The Lord be WITH THEE”-Saul had, by taking his personal SKIN OUT OF THE GAME, abdicated the presence and power of God in HIS OWN LIFE (see 1 Sa. 16:14)! You cannot play it safe and be a man mightily used by the Lord! History has always be owned and eternity will be owned by those willing to risk it all when God calls them to do so!
Grab the proven weaponry (38-40). Saul armed David with his armor. Since Saul was himself a large man, David must have been close to the same size. David does not say that he cannot wear the armor because it is too big, but rather because he is unaccustomed to it. And so, armed with his familiar sling and a few stones, David and God went out to fight the Philistine and his armor-bearer. A slingshot and some stones that are WELL-USED BY AN “UPSTART” accomplish much more than sophisticated weaponry HANGING UNUSED IN THE TENT OF THE ONE WHO SHOULD BE LEADING! Men of God have no excuse not to know who their enemies are and how to wield the weaponry God had given to conquer them. Take on the battle in your heart, mind, home, our world with boldness in the tried and true weaponry of the Lord!
What happens when we truly have “skin in not just the game but the battle”-God gives us FLESH AND BLOOD, TANGIBLE TROPHIES OF HIS POWER FOR THE BENEFIT OF HIS PEOPLE!
1 Sa 17:50-52a “So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines…”
The reason for the stalemate in 1 Samuel 17 has nothing to do with Goliath, a fourth category of men who will always appear to loom large in our fallen world. It has everything to do with men like you and me who need to step into the battle of our God. What other “men,” like those in verse 52, would step up if they could see you and me lead the way?
As Jay B. Nash writes in Spectatoritis, while sitting in the stands is safer, it is far less satisfying than being in the arena: “The process of adding life to years involves a doing existence. It means facing the current. The same process brings joy to the individual as it brings richness to the group. ‘Strip or retire,’ as in the days of Greece, is still the motto. The individual who strips for action is the one who has fullness of life. The looker-on, the victim of spectatoritis, brings neither joy to himself nor heritage to his people. Living is a struggle, competition — a hope-fear relationship. Remove that and you remove satisfaction. Competition exists not only in post, but in every zestful act. In this struggle, the relationship between the possibilities of success and the fear of failure is the balance which is the essence of interest.”
To be all in with God requires us, like young David, to abandon these three categories of unengaged men. Will you join me in losing the fear, insecurity, and insulation to win the day for our great and glorious God?