Christianity 201

January 23, 2015

God Wants to Use Non-Professionals, Non-Experts

38 Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. 39 David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before.

“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 40 He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.

if you’re not familiar with the story click here to read the full chapter

Today’s thoughts are taken from Eugene Peterson’s book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, which is a study of the life of David. So many times in church life we think we have to leave certain responsibilities to the pastor. Depending on where you worship, there are often limits on what non-clergy — the laity — can do. This often transfers to a belief that if you are empowered to carry out a task, you have to do it in a certain, prescribed way. You find yourself often imitating the person who usually carries out that task, because that is what is expected.

Those of us who have worked vocationally in Christian ministry often use the two word shortcut code “Saul’s armor” to describe these situations. We’re being asked to perform in a way that is simply not us.

Eugene PetersonOn the near side of the valley, King Saul is worried over this kneeling David.  He has just tried his best to be of help by outfitting him with his own armor.  He set his bronze helmet on David’s head, wrapped him in his coat of mail, and handed him his sword, which David strapped around his waist.  David had never been dressed like that before.  And it seemed like such a good idea.  Saul’s Armor!  The king’s weapons!  If there was anything that would fit him for the task ahead, it was certainly this.  Was there a man in Israel who wouldn’t have counted it the highest privilege to be so equipped?  But when he tried to walk, he couldn’t move.  Weighted down under the cumbrous metal, he was reduced to a stiff and awkward waddle.

There was no question but that Saul was well intentioned.  He wanted to help and was helping in the only way he knew:  pile on the armor, protect yourself, get a weapon with proven effectiveness.

This is a common experience in the Valley of Elah, when an amateur ventures into a field dominated by professionals.  All around us people who care about us are suddenly there helping – piling armor on us, dressing us up in equipment that’s going to qualify us for the task (even though it didn’t seem to be doing them much good).  We get advice.  We get instruction.  We’re sent off to a training workshop.  We find ourselves with an armload of books.  These people are truly concerned about us, and we’re touched by their concern, in awe of their knowledge and experience.  We listen to them and do what they tell us.  And then we find that we can hardly move.    (p. 42)

As I read this, I was reminded of an earlier part in the book where Peterson talks about how we tend to defer everything to pastor, priest, rector or minister:

Most people who venture upon a life of faith are laypersons.  Why do so many of the habitually and pliantly take a subordinate position under the certified experts in matters of faith – that is, the clergy?  As a pastor myself, I’ve never gotten over either my surprise or my dismay at being treated with doggish deference by so many people.  Where do all these Christians, who by definition are “new creatures in Christ” and therefore surely eager to taste and see for themselves (a universal characteristic in newborns) that the Lord is good, pick up this deprecating self-understanding?  They certainly don’t get it from the Bible or from the gospel.  They get it from the culture, whether secular or ecclesial.

They get it from leaders who love the prerogatives and power of expertise and bully people by means of their glamorous bravado into abdicating the original splendor of a new life in Christ and declining into the wretched condition of the consumer.  The consumer is passivity objectified:  passive in the pew, passive before the TV screen, vulnerable to every sort of exploitation and seduction, whether religious or secular. (p. 21)

As I read these words several days later, I am reminded that there are likely people reading this who, while they long for a deeper walk with God, settle for a church life that reflects the passivity Peterson speaks of.  When needs are mentioned, they assume someone else will answer the call. Someone more gifted. Someone more intellectual. Someone who has the particular expertise they think is needed.

It’s common today to be in a room and you hear the sound of a cell phone ringing and you ignore it and then suddenly realize, that’s my ringtone. Of all the people in the room, it’s me they’re calling. Perhaps that’s true in Christian service as well. Appeals are made but few take the time to say, that call is for me.

It may be that someone is reading today and God has a calling on your life to step out in faith in what we would call a ministry, but an inner voice halts you from making the first move:

  • I’m not trained
  • I’m not a Bible scholar
  • I don’t know Greek
  • I’ve never taken any Bible college courses

Now by all means, if you can, take some courses, get some training. But God may be wanting to use you, right now, the way you are — imperfect, tempted, broken, unschooled — with no armor, just the five stones in your hand.

Your posture as a warrior for God may not include armor, helmet and a sword. You may be kneeling at the brook, looking to all the world like you’re playing in the water, when you’re actually gathering stones, formulating a plan and acting on a vision.


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