We are in the middle of our sermon series, Chase the Lion, based on the book by Mark Batterson. We are following several of King David’s Mighty Men listed near the end of 2 Samuel. These were men that joined David’s cause of uniting all the Israelite tribes into one nation. They were warriors and fought in David’s army both before and after he became king, but they were more than that. They were people who despite their fear were bold in their work for the Lord. The primary one that we have been looking at is Benaiah who chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day. Hence our title, Chase the Lion, but there are many ways to be bold for the Lord. Mostly, our theme is following God’s direction to do things that are really beyond our own ability; those things that we could only do with God’s help. This is true both of us as individuals and as a congregation. Our featured guy this week is a man named Eleazar.
2 Samuel 23:9-10 NIV
9 Next to [Josheb] was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors,
he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle.
Then the Israelites retreated, 10 but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines
till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.
The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
One thing that Eleazar’s feat shows us is dedication, but what it also shows us is preparation and discipline. You don’t stand there and say, “Bring It On” without preparation. If I tried to stand out there, I probably wouldn’t be able to lift the sword. We are not talking about some kind of lightweight fencing foil, but a big heavy thing. I think that I would have to lift some weights for quite a while before I could manage to hold it for any length of time. Then, there is wielding it. More weight lifting. And practice, practice, practice.
Eleazar didn’t work out at the gym. He did not go running around the lake. His training was running around with David’s army as they were being chased by King Saul’s forces. However, Eleazar and David’s army had an advantage that Saul’s forces did not, though they probably didn’t think of it that way at the time. Saul was in a palace while David and his Mighty Men were sleeping in caves. Saul’s forces had all the equipment they needed. Benaiah had to take a spear from the Egyptian. Saul’s forces were provided with plenty to eat. David’s army had to hunt everything they ate. That sounds like a disadvantage, but it made them work harder, allowed them to grow stronger, and they had to be smarter.
On April 18th, 1946 an amazing thing happened. The baseball player Jackie Robinson made his rookie debut in the minor leagues. In the third inning he hit a three-run homer. When he returned to home plate from his trip around the bases, he was welcomed with a handshake by George Shuba, the next batter up. It was a routine ritual for home run hitters, but this historic moment was captured on film. The two men would go on to play together for the Brooklyn Dodgers including the year they won the World Series in 1955.
In the book The Boys of Summer, Rodger Khan described Shuba’s swing “as natural as a smile.” One day when talking with Kahn, George Shuba pulled out a chart covered with X’s. We hear about athletes keeping in shape during the off-season. Every X on the chart represented 60 swings of a weighted bat. Every night after coming home from his off season job, he would swing 60 times and make an X on the chart. After he made 10 X’s, he would allow himself to go to bed. He did this every day for 15 years!
Shuba said to Kahn, “You call that natural? I swing a 44 ounce bat 600 times a night, 4200 times a week, 47,200 swings every winter.” (Rodger Kahn, The Boys of Summer, reissue Edition. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006, 241.)
People may be gifted. They may have skills or potential, but no one is a natural. Gifts have to be developed. Skills have to be honed. If we don’t do those things, we will only have wasted potential.
When you have a God-sized dream, or any dream, we can not only pray as if it depends completely on God. We also have to work as if it also depends on us. From the time God created people, God has used them to carry out his work, his missions.
When it came time for God to rescue and redeem the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he chose Moses. But before he let anyone in on the plan, he arranged for Moses to be adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and be raised in the Egyptian royal court. He learned about politics, and the workings of government, and how to lead people. Also, he must have known a number of the people in the court when he came back later. The Bible doesn’t emphasize that too much though it is dramatized in the movie The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston.
After Moses’ time in Egypt, God sent him to tend to sheep. Great training for guiding the Israelite people around the desert for 40 years. You can’t tell me that God was not honing his gifts and skills over all that time.
Think about David as a teenager facing off with Goliath. It seems like such a mismatch, like me being given a sword and told to hold it up, much less fight or defend myself with it. That is not the case with David. He also tended sheep, and he had to defend them from predators. He tracked lions and bears and rescued his sheep from them. The skills and the daring he developed as a shepherd, God used to defeat Goliath. (c.f. 1st Samuel 17)
The same way Eleazar honed his skills with sparring matches, practice, and battles. God used him to bring about a great victory that day, but Eleazar beat his enemy long before that day on the battlefield.
This could be the best year of your life, the year of your dreams, but first you have to win the day. You put those days together and you will win weeks, months, the year. It is the daily disciplines that lead to the God sized dreams.
Not all of us are going to have to fight big battles or go against hundreds or thousands. Our work will be more personal and intimate. That is just as important. As Mother Teresa said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Those things add up and build up to a life of greatness, faithfulness. However, that still takes discipline and faithfulness. It takes dedication of the everyday. It means keeping our eyes open to see as God sees and to love as God loves.
How can we discern, recognize, what God is telling us to do, what God-sized dream to go after, what lion to chase?
Many years ago, a woman told me the way she determined how God was directing her. She would pray about a particular question, concern, or decision. Then, she would take her Bible, close her eyes, and let it open in a random place. With her eyes still closed, she put her finger on the page. She thought the wherever her finger landed would be the answer to her prayer.
I tried it out. I mean, who knew; she might be right. I prayed. I don’t remember what about. I closed my eyes. Turned to a random place in my Bible, and placed my finger on the page. After a couple of times of hitting passages I had nothing to do with my question, I realized that this method was more like using a Magic 8-Ball. With this toy you hold it in your hand, ask it a question, shake it, turn it over and see what advice it has. Maybe it’s more like a Ouija board where a pointer answers your question.
Let’s give it a try. Let me think of a question… “What does God want our church to do next?”
Here I am at Leviticus 23:33 – “The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for 7 days.”
I’m sure that there is some way that we could rationalize how that could answer the question, but really it’s not helpful.
Actually, the whole concept is backward. We familiarize ourselves with the Bible. We study it, and when a particular question or issue occurs, the Holy Spirit may prompt us with the correct Bible passage that has the answer. This is what Jesus shows us when he was tempted by Satan in the desert. (c.f.. Matthew 4:1-10)
We can do something like The Examan, developed by Saint Ignatius. He was trying to determine the direction God wanted him to go. He did this by examining what was going on in his life. Where he saw God at work. What activities and occurrences of his drew him more towards God, and what pulled him away from God. By looking at what he did in the past, he could discern what direction God wanted him to go in the future, what lion God wanted him to chase. Did I mentioned that Ignatius was the founder of the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits? That was a 500 pound lion if I’ve ever seen one.
The Examan is something you can do on your own as a personal spiritual practice, or you can meet with others and discuss what you discover. That is not unlike the class meetings that John Wesley founded. A group of no more than 12 people get together and talk about where they’ve seen God at work during the week. Where is their life seeming to go right in their walk with God? Where are they having some trouble? It helps people stay on or get on the right track.
In short it means meeting with other Christians or people exploring Christianity. Discussing what you read, what you’re experiencing in your lives, and coming up with the wisdom of the group. What the Holy Spirit is saying to you as you gather. It can be like our United Methodist women’s group, a Bible study, or a prayer group. There are many different ways this can occur. The important thing is to take action. These are the things that strengthen our faith and build up our spiritual muscles.
It also means giving our best to God. There can be a tendency in the church to say that I can do less than give a task my best effort because God will understand. That’s what grace is, right? I can’t make the mark, reach the bar, but God forgives me, and I’ll try to do better than next time.
Well, sort of but not exactly. We are flawed broken humans, and we will never be able to measure up to the perfection and righteousness of God. We can never do enough to earn what Jesus has done for us, and thank God we don’t have to. That is the gospel, the good news. However, we are supposed to do our very best, especially things that we are doing for God.
Don’t misunderstand. We all have physical limitations. There are only 24 hours in a day, and we have to sleep for some of them. Actually, studies show that if we get the recommended amount of sleep most nights, which for most people mean somewhere between 6 and 10 hours a night, we are more productive and efficient.
We are busy people and have commitments. People depend on us, but we have to look at whether we may have too much on our plates. What might we need to give up, so that we can give our best, do our best where God wants us to focus.
How many of you have children or grandchildren in your lives who are or have been enthralled with the Disney movie Frozen? If so you probably have heard the song “Let It Go” more times than you would care to count. When I was in Pocatello, my office opened into the daycare center that rented some of our space during the week.
You know how on an industrial site or even a restaurant kitchen there may be a sign: 5, 50, 100 accident free days? Outside one of the classrooms of the day care center of there was a sign “X days since singing ‘Let It Go.’” I never saw the number higher than one day, usually it was at zero. Kids love that song.
It was written by a husband and wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. It not only won the Academy Award in 2014 for best original song; it sold over 10 million copies.
They are obviously gifted songwriters. You know what I find even more amazing than all that? The seventeen songs they wrote before “Let It Go” that wound up in the waste bin. That is giving your best. (Jackson Truax, Frozen composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Awards daily.com, November 27th, 2013, www. Awards daily.com 2013/11/27/FrozencomposersRobert LopezandKristen Anderson-Lopez.)
London Philharmonic Orchestra picked the 50 greatest selections of classical music. They chose six by Mozart. There were five by Beethoven, and there were three from Bach. No argument, but to achieve that Mozart composed over 600 pieces, Beethoven composed over 650, and Bach composed more than a thousand! That is dedication. That is consistency. That is giving it your best.
Where should our focus be? Discerning that, what God wants. There are two parts. What do we need to take up, focus on? What are we called to? But there is the other side. What are we released from? That can sometimes be harder to do.
If God has released you from something, continuing it is not faithfulness, it is disobedience. You can, you must let it go. Focus on the other adventures God has given you.
But if God has not released you, don’t let go. Keep a hold of that sword. Keep chasing that lion.
Last week, I talked about forming a prayer group specifically brought together to pray and discern what God sized dream, what lion God is calling this church this congregation to chase next. We will get together weekly. Maybe, we will all be in one room. Maybe some of us will be connected by phone or some other means, but together we will pray, listening for God’s prompting. Together, with the help of the Holy Spirit we will try to find out what lion to chase next, knowing that we will need to do our very best to achieve it, and then it will be impossible without God. Again, I invited you to be a part of this Lion Chaser Prayer Team. There is a form in your bulletin. You can place a completed one in the basket at the back of the Sanctuary or in the coffee area.
I encourage as many people to be a part of this as possible. We already have eight people signed up. Don’t let travel plans or mobility keep you from participating. If there are logistical issues, God will help us overcome them. Nothing would please God more than God’s people coming together to pray and petition about the direction we should take as a church to bring forth his kingdom his way.
His kingdom come. His will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.
And the church said, “Amen!”