Paul H. Jeyasingh
Obstacles come in our path very often. They seem to be the cause of our defeat many times. Are they really the cause of our defeats, especially when the opposition is huge? Or is it fear that grips us as we face them? David’s experience with Goliath teaches us an important lesson on handling our fear.
The might of the Philistines and the sorry plight of the Israelites are described vividly in 1 Samuel 13:5-7. No wonder the Israelites were treated with disdain and made a butt of ridicule by the Philistines. “So both of them (Jonathan and his armour-bearer) showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. ‘Look!’ said the Philistines, ‘the Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in,’” implying terrified rats (1Sam.14:11). Later, a giant named Goliath appeared on the scene, openly challenging the timid Israelites. When King Saul and the Israelite army heard Goliath’s challenge, they ran from him in great fear (17:10,11,16,24).
Fear Versus Faith
Fear is always based on a negative expectation about a future event, whereas faith is a positive expectation of a future event. The process of fear begins with a scary stimulus (Goliath, in this case) and ends with the fight-or-flight response – run for life or fight frantically to fend off the threat. Not all fears are justified. Normally, when we perceive danger ahead, we choose the easy option of flight, only to find, later, that the danger was in the mind! “Fear is the wrong use of imagination; it is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.”
When we confront a big problem, its very size can be quite intimidating if fear takes hold of us. Someone has said, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” The situation turns worse when everybody around us, including the leader, is timid and indecisive, and we all run for cover. Here is what fear can do even to a strong man of God: “Elijah was afraid (fear) and ran for his life (flight). When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it” (1Kg.19:3-4). The reason for Elijah’s flight is stated in verses 1-2 (threat perception). “Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.’” F. B. Meyer speaks of Elijah as being “utterly demoralised and panic-stricken.” In fear, he lost sight of his powerful God and, instead, saw only a furious woman. His vision was lost.
It is in such demoralising situations that we need to recall past victories if we are to regain our confidence and strengthen our sagging faith. That is what young David did when the entire nation was plagued by fear and serious loss of confidence. His quiet confidence and courage were rooted in his twin beliefs: nothing is impossible with God and the battle belongs to the Lord. With power from above, he had done it in the past and he was sure of doing it again. Fear is the enemy of faith and courage. Dr. Orison said, “Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight.”
True faith is active, not passive. Passive faith trusts only in the bright light, when the sun shines. But active faith trusts even in the darkest nights. When faith turns passive, it brings with it the ‘impossible’ mindset which leads to fear, anxiety, despair, gloom, discouragement and depression. When we feed our faith, the fears and negative feelings starve to death.
Negative Versus Positive
Our attitude in times of crisis determines our character. Young David confronted the ‘giant’ in his mind and conquered him before he could attack him. David’s confidence and courage stemmed from his deep faith in the God of Israel and the conviction based on that faith. “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 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” (1Sam.17:34-37). “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head... All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands’ ” (45-47).
In the eyes of Saul and Goliath, David looked small, inexperienced and insignificant. But in the eyes of David, Goliath’s capability was a bit exaggerated and the threat imaginary. Little David considered threats as opportunities. How true is the saying, “Doubt creates a mountain; but faith tunnels through it.”
Read what David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him” (v.32). Notice his positive attitude – his courage and determination. He was confident of taking the formidable enemy head-on. Harry S. Truman, former US president, once said, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods, where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
In contrast to David’s approach, Saul approached the problem with a negative mindset, because he had already lost the battle in his mind. Listen to what Saul said to David, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth” (v.33). Perhaps he wanted to say, “If I can’t do it, neither can you.”
The secret of David’s success is stated as, “In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him” (1Sam,18:14). We read, “As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move out to battle, because that will mean God has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army. So David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army, all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. So David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1Chr.14:15-17).
David did not become a powerful warrior overnight. God moulded him by subjecting him to a series of trials (encounters with wild beasts) while shepherding his father’s flocks in difficult and dangerous terrains. His faith and confidence grew in those times of trial. His mighty exploits bore testimony to his massive courage. True leadership comes to the fore in successfully handling near impossible situations.
The reason for Saul’s timidity and failure is stated as, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1Sam.16:14).
Conquer Your Fear
Problems and sufferings are not a figment of our imagination, but fear is. Kent Crockett in his book Slaying Your Giants writes, “Fear and worry are usually nothing more than our imaginations out of control. One of the scariest giants you’ll ever face is the giant of fear. When Joshua was chosen to lead after Moses, it was not without reason God said to him, ‘Do not tremble or be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’ (Josh.1:9). The same God who spoke those words to Joshua thousands of years ago wants to speak them to you today. And the message is the same. Before you can fulfil what God wants you to do, you must conquer your fears.”
Is any fear troubling you? Do not be afraid. God has promised to be with you; He will fight your battle. “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (Isa.43:2).