The walls of my bedroom growing up were covered with posters of my sports heroes. One poster was this goofy shot of Larry Bird sitting on a nest inside a basketball goal (come on Larry Legend . . . how did they talk you into that?) Another poster had Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith holding two smoldering halves of a basketball while wearing a doctor’s coat (wow the 80’s were bad). As cool as these posters were, however, the rest of my walls were reserved for my childhood sports idol, MJ. I grew up wanting to be Michael Jordan. Several genetic factors kept that from happening, but that did not keep me from trying to recreate MJ’s major moments in my driveway. For all the grandeur of Jordan’s posterizing dunks, the thing I always loved the most about Jordan was his ability to hit the game winning shot with the clock winding down. MJ was the greatest winner I have ever seen. Many, many afternoons, if you would have driven by my parent’s house, you would have seen me in the driveway, counting down the seconds to the end of an imaginary game, pretending to be Jordan, and trying to hit the game winner.
As a fan, I looked only to Jordan’s successes, and assumed two things: 1) He won every game he played in. 2) He always hit the game winning shot when he took it. As an adult, I have come to a different level of understanding about the greatest basketball player who ever lived. In Jordan’s entire NBA career he played 1,251 games. He lost over 300 of them (a great percentage to be sure, but certainly not perfection.) In those 1,251 games, Jordan took a shot to try to win the game only 51 times . . . a mere 4% of games played. Further, of the 51 shots that Jordan took to win a game, he only made 25 of them. He actually missed more game winners than he made. Now I don’t write this to devalue the status of a legend. Jordan was a GREAT basketball player (the best ever in my opinion), but it does show that the assumptions of a fan may not be totally accurate.
I say all this today to add a thought to the conversation I started two weeks ago with my post about “When Giants Don’t Fall.” In that post, we talked about how Christians can apply the David vs. Goliath story to their lives today. In that post, we talked about how one of the popular applications of the story is that Christians (like David) get to slay the giant issues in our lives through faith in God. While there is certainly truth in this, there is also mystery (and even frustration) because sometimes when we trust God with big issues in our lives, they don’t go away. David dealt with Goliath in very short order . . . slaying the Philistine warrior just a few hours after he met him. If all we read was this giant slaying story, we would assume that David’s life was filled with only “game winners.” A closer examination of the record, however, shows that David’s life was also filled with a few other “giants” who just did not want to go away.
Chief among these is the man who stood “head and shoulders” above the other warriors in the nation of Israel, King Saul. This Israeli giant cast an enormous shadow over David in the latter stages of the book of 1 Samuel. From the time David slay Goliath, Saul hated him and wanted to kill him. On numerous attempts Saul tried to take David’s life, and drove David from the proud leader of the armies of the living God to acting like a madman in King Achish of Gath’s court just to survive interrogation. Saul drove David away from his friends, his wife, and his job. For years, he hunted him down like an animal. This was one giant that just would not fall. Of course, eventually Saul does die and David ascends to the throne in his place just as God had promised, but the road was anything but smooth or quick.
I add this perspective to the story of David and Goliath to remind us as Christians that there are times God uses our faith to quickly gain victory over an obstacle. There are also times, however, that God allows the giant to stand for years to draw us deeper into dependence upon Him and to fulfill all of His purposes in the world. In the end, we never really know if the struggles we are facing are like the giant of the Philistines (Goliath) or the Jewish Giant (Saul). In both fights, we can have confidence that God never leaves us and that He eventually will bring victory and redemption (either in this life or the next), but the pace at which the giant falls varies greatly.
When we read Biblical stories, many times we want to posterize the “game winning” moments and assume that all life is like those moments of instant triumph, forgetting that the contextual “stats” sometimes tell a different story. The Christian life is a victorious life, but every game does not always end the way we might like.