What Inspired a Shepherd Boy to Take on a Giant
Thirty years ago, in India’s largest and Asia’s second largest red-light district, a group of prostitutes followed a young man and his ministry team through the back alleys and garbage dumps of Mumbai as the team collected dead bodies that had belonged to sex workers who’d lost their battle with AIDS. “The young man and his team treated them gently, loving and silently, offering them in death something they had never known in life. Dignity,” said Pastor of Buntain Memorial Church Dr. Ivan Satyavrata, who told this story as part of the Center for Faith and Inquiry’s (CFI) Tak Yan Lee lecture series in late April.
Even in recognizing the dignity of trafficked women and children after their death, the young man—Satyavrata’s friend and former student—saw an opportunity where others only saw tragedy. In caring for the dead, he helped the living. In 2021, that same ministry now houses 350 women and children—all rescued from Mumbai’s red-light district.
Satyavrata shared this story about his friend because it is a powerful illustration of what it looks like to be courageous in a crisis—a theme CFI has been exploring since the pandemic began. To encourage members of the Gordon community in this season of crisis and provide another example of Christian bravery, Satyavrata drew upon the familiar story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel. “Giants can be felled if we allow faith-infused courage to conquer our fears. A crisis is sometimes God’s gift of an opportunity, and what you do with it can be your gift to God,” he explained. In revisiting the life of David, Satyavrata provided a roadmap for how any person can be courageous in a moment or season of great fear, no matter how intimidating the opponent.
Courage is nourished by personal intimacy with God
Bravery isn’t something a person inherits, and it doesn’t emerge out of thin air the moment a person requires it. It’s a side effect of having a strong personal relationship with God, explained Satyavrata. We know from reading the Psalms that “David’s life was marked by an all-consuming love for God’s presence,” said Satyavrata. For example, in Psalm 42:1–2, David likens his spiritual thirst for God to the physical thirst a deer has for water. “His longing after God’s presence is not just an occasional thing,” Satyavrata pointed out. “It was a basic need. An everyday need like food or air,” which means that David’s confrontation with Goliath did not begin in the Valley of Elah, claimed Satyavrata. “It began when he was tending his sheep on the Bethlehem hillsides, as he bared his heart to God in prayer and worship.”
Courage is rooted and secure in God’s nature
In Psalm 18, shortly after God rescues David from his enemies, David refers to God as his strength, his rock, his fortress, his savior and his protector. “Notice his language,” said Satyavrata. “David’s heart is fixed on the unchanging nature of God. This shaped his view of the world and his approach to adversity. His view of life is shaped by who God is rather than potential threats, which are all around him.”
When faced with giants of our own, fear tends to shift our perspective. Suddenly, we forget how powerful God is and are instead transfixed by Goliath—by his superhuman height and strength, fancy weaponry and impenetrable armor. Yet, even when he’s just a few meters from Goliath, David remembers that Goliath’s strength is no match for God’s and that’s why David triumphs in the end.
Courage carves out opportunities amid crisis
When reading this account in 1 Samuel, David seems reckless. “Foolhardy. Perhaps even suicidal,” Satyavrata commented. “Who in his right mind races toward a nine-and-a-half foot, 700-lb giant with a sling and stones, totally unprotected?” But upon a closer observation, we see that David has a clear strategy, Satyavrata explained. He is able to identify his strengths. With a sling and five stones, David actually has the advantage. “Goliath’s vulnerability was that he was big and slow and had a problem with his eyesight. David was small and fast.” David could attack Goliath from a distance. In a crisis or confrontation, bravery can emerge when a person stops overestimating their opponent and underestimating their own strength and resources.
Courage is marked by a relentless passion for God’s glory
When David fought Goliath, he wasn’t seeking his own glory. He wasn’t after fame, power or vengeance. To provide more context as to David’s motivation in life and specifically for battling the giant, Satyavrata read from 1 Chronicles 29:11, in which David says, “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and Earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” In other words, fighting Goliath wasn’t motivated by David’s selfishness. “David’s deepest desire in life was not to defeat Goliath, not to become a mighty warrior or to become king of Israel,” explained Satyavrata. “What mattered most to him at the time end of the day was God’s glory.”
Courage is natural when a person is in the habit of depending on God
It took 40 days for Israel to find someone willing to fight Goliath—and that someone happened to be a shepherd boy. None of Israel’s seasoned warriors thought they could overpower Goliath. It didn’t occur to them that God could help them. But, it was practically a reflex for David who depended on God for nearly everything. In Psalm 73:25–26, we get a sense of how much David depends on God when cries out, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And Earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Throughout the Bible, “God has a way of doing big things through small people—powerless people,” said Satyavrata. “Christian courage is never contingent on worldly power, either the power of title, position wealth or military might, but on humble God dependence. God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.”