"God Is In The Details"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 6, 2003

I Samuel 17:32-49

     Many years ago I had a friend come to my office who had experienced an incredible number of life-reversals.  He needed a listener and a safe place where he could ventilate.  His story  represented an intense drama that would have been challenging to negotiate for any of us.   

     Within the time span of one month a number of life-issues converged.  His physically attractive wife had fallen in love with her tennis instructor and she wanted a divorce.  His father, who lived on Prince Edward Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, had his home catch fire during a severe electrical storm. While escaping the blaze, he fell to the ground, broke his leg, and watched his earthly belongings disappear in the flames. There were unanticipated shifts in the academic institution where my friend was a member of the faculty.  He feared he might lose his job because of power struggles taking place between department heads.   

     He wanted my opinion about God's role in life.  "Does God ever intervene?" he asked.  "Is it possible that I am being tested?  Are there things surfacing now that I should have been paying closer attention to? Is it natural to feel this overwhelmed, depressed and immobilized?"   

     All of us have times when life-issues come at us as though we are inside some arcade video-game being pursued by imaginary predators. When such change agents come on to the landscape of our lives, we would at least prefer that they spread themselves out over months if not years.  Why they appear to come like a pack of hungry wolves all at once is beyond explanation.   

     Life's dramas, however, need not cause us to doubt our faith or cause us to believe that God is vacationing any more than we personalized the motivation of our History professor for giving us challenging essay questions on a mid-term examination during the years of our formal education. What causes us to question and doubt has to do with the judgments we make about what is happening to us. 

     When life events happen so suddenly and close together, we forget the role we play by  analyzing them and assigning meaning to them.  When our minds generate fear and worry, we are the ones who create the malignancies that can appear in our spirits. That in which we invest mental energy will always expand.  The obvious question is, "Why go there?"  Why paralyze ourselves before we learn what it is we can accomplish?  

     In our lesson this morning, we have a young shepherd boy named David who looked at Goliath very differently from all the members of the Israelite military.  He made no judgements about his ability to deal with this hulk of a man, so the seeds of fear and doubt were never given a chance to germinate and grow.

     He saw something that needed better management and said to King Saul, “Your Majesty, no one should be afraid of this Philistine!  I will go and fight him.”  Saul responded from a very different emotional state. “How could you fight him?" Saul asked.  "You’re just a boy and he has been a soldier all his life.” 

     Notice the source of David’s power.  He said, “The Lord has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine.”  David was not concerned with how God would do this;  he only knew that God would be with him.  Does David's response influence and inspire us?   Sometimes, but not always. 

     For example, fortunately we have little trouble motivating people to involve themselves in certain tasks in the life of our church family. Yet frequently when we ask, “Would you chair the committee?  Would you coordinate the project?  Would you spearhead this effort?” it is as though we are asking people to leap out of an aircraft without a parachute.    

     When people hear such questions, some transform themselves before our eyes. They appear powerless, completely overwhelmed.  Such responses often appear before they have given themselves time to think about what is being asked of them.  Look at the power one question can have to change the physiology and spirit on a person! The mind is very powerful in manufacturing thoughts of failure and reticence when we have nothing in place that will confront and cancel such thinking. 

     Try to imagine what it was like to find the entire Israelite army having such a collective will. None of its generals or commanders were willing to step forward and say,  "Why are we being intimidated by a large man dressed from head to toe in armor?"  King Saul even found himself trying to entice David away from his courageous attitude. 

     We love the story of David and Goliath, but frequently we fail to translate it so that it will communicate its powerful message to our particular need. The interesting quality of Goliath is that he can change form. What may be happening in our lives right now that appears to be our giant?  Is our marriage more fragile than we would like?  Does worrying about our financial indebtedness keep us awake at night?  Are we facing an uncertain surgical procedure?  Do we have a child who continues to exercise poor judgment?  Are we dealing with job insecurity?  Do we fear aging or being alone?  Is someone close to us dying?   Not all giants come packaged as a Philistine covered with protective armor.

     The story of the shepherd boy facing a threat to his people is a favorite of ours because David shows us what faith looks like.  There are two things that David's response teaches us:  First, God knows that incredible barriers to our peace will confront us from time to time, so God built into us countless ways of dealing with such threats.  We are so quick with our fearful responses that we forget that God also hardwired us with the capability for being fearless and courageous.  By standing up and facing whatever it is, we learn that life's events cannot ultimately defeat us. 

     Secondly, David may not have known or cared how he was going to defeat Goliath, he only knew he had the confidence that he would.  He knew God was with him so David came armed with that trust as he ran toward Goliath.  He brought the ingredients of his faith and this orientation toward all life's threats carried him to victory.   

     This is all any of us can do. God does not come through the front door and conquer our giants for us.  Wise parents know that their children will never learn if Mom or Dad write their term papers, put together their science fair projects or become overly generous in helping them with their homework assignments. 

     My professor friend found this to be true as he learned to manage his life one issue at a time.  He has since remarried and his adventure is continuing to this day.  He learned to turn his fears into an enthusiasm for stretching toward new skills of spirit.    

     Sometimes life brings us to a stop as it did for the entire Israelite army.  Like for them, occasionally we need someone to remind us that God is with us.  Fearlessness and fortitude come from the same mind that also has the ability to create fearful imaginings. What makes the difference between the two choices the mind can select is the confidence within the one that is inspired by faith.     

     Such faith instructs us to stand up and do while allowing God to attend to the details. It worked for David and it most assuredly will work for us.  But we will not know the power of such faith until we experience it through constant practice again and again.  This, my friends, is how we slowly acquire a dynamic faith that equips us to face all our giants.   


    Loving and peaceful God, how well we know that our lives communicate an accurate picture of who we are.  Our attitudes and behavior reveal more about our spiritual depth than the sum of all the beliefs of which we speak.  May we strive to bring a peaceful spirit while in the presence of those whose values lack kindness and compassion.  When we feel compelled to defend what we know, may we do so with an eager desire to teach others what we understand.  Encourage us to find the balance between sharing our insights and our need "to be right."  As we learn to dispel our fears, O God, may we find the satisfaction of living our lives with faithfulness, integrity and character.  Amen.


    Eternal and always loving God, we thank you that on this weekend of heat, celebration, traveling and transition we may once again enter the quietness of one of your sanctuaries and focus our lives on what is timeless -- your love of us.  Thank you for the moments when we can recoil from all that presses in on us and experience peace and stillness. 

    We are fresh from celebrating our country's birthday.  And against the backdrop of our fireworks, our national hymns and all the inspired words that our foreparents spoke about America, we hear reports of fermentation around the world from nations who would love to experience what it is we do.  Help us realize, O God, that our freedom has become visible through our common consent to values and responsibilities that most of us share and express.  We have recognized the result of what happens when most of us practice the wisdom of Jesus' message, "I have come among you as one who serves."  As we each produce something of value for others, our society continues to be a symphony that harmonizes the flow of goods and services that benefit all people. 

    Today we pray for our country's vast array of diverse people.  May we never forget that our freedom is the result of each of us taking responsibility to bringing our best to what we do.  Inspire our leaders.  And regardless of the controversy it evokes within a few, may our national motto, "In God We Trust" invite each of us to remember who you created us to be as we make that relationship forever visible.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .