In 1999, Scott Ginsberg attended a convention, the kind where they have everyone attending wear a name tag. The kind of name tags that as soon as you are heading out the door you rip off and toss in the trash.
Except Scott didn’t. He thought it might be fun to keep it on and see what happened. The responses the rest of the night led him to a crazy decision. He decided he would never take off his name tag.
It was a social experiment before you could find them all over YouTube. Cute girls started saying hello to him. People would come up to him, say “Hi Scott,” and give him hugs. One of his favorite stories is the time he was in line to get inside an Irish Pub. The big, brawny bouncer looked at his driver’s license, then his nametag, and said straight-faced: “Sorry, no Scotts allowed.”
As of today he has worn a nametag for 6191 days straight. Even if he took off the sticky-backed nametag, he’d still have on a nametag. He got it tattooed to his chest which landed him on a number of “worst tattoos” lists. It has also landed him in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as a world record holder.
On top of that he has turned his social experiment into a healthy six-figure salary. Some would call him an “overnight” success story. But he isn’t. It took him working hard for years and making very little money before success happened. He lived at home. He blogged. He worked on getting his name out there. He did the little things that he needed to do, day in and day out, until the time was right.
That’s true for most “overnight” success stories. Seth Godin estimates that it takes at least six years of hard work to become an overnight success. It might take more.
- It took Bill Gates eleven years before he took Microsoft public and became an overnight success of $350 million.
- Steve Jobs spent almost two decades before he became an overnight dot.com billionaire with Apple.
- Google started in 1996. Three years later no one had heard of it. But another five years it went public in 2004 and was worth $23 billion.
Most overnight successes you and I have never heard of until the moment they make it. They were working their craft. Learning their trade. And when their moment came they were ready.
No one had heard of the shepherd boy until the day he walked into the Israelite camp either. He had been in the hills taking care of sheep. Even his own family forgot about him at times. But this day he took some bread and cheese to his brothers who were on the battlefront.
They were on the battlefront but not in the battle. In fact, no one was. For forty days the Philistine named Goliath had taunted them. “I defy the ranks of Israel today. Send me a man so we can fight each other!” (1 Samuel 17:11). For forty days the Israelite army did nothing.
Oh, I imagine the men talked some big talk. “If I didn’t have a bum knee I’d take him down.” “I could probably defeat him, but I’m not very tall. Did you see his size? Not sure it would be a fair fight.”
Or someone might have said, “If only our ancestors had finished them off when they had a chance.” Three hundred years earlier Joshua had driven the Philistines out of the Promised Land. Everyone was destroyed except the inhabitants of three cities: Gaza, Ashdod, and…you guessed it…Gath. If you’re new to this story, Goliath was from Gath.
For forty days they looked at this giant of a man, all nine-feet, nine inches of him. He looked like an Oak standing on the hill on the other side of the ravine that separated the two camps. Forty days is a long time to listen to his trash-talk. Something had to give.
You’d think what would give is Saul. Not only was he the king, he was the tallest man in the army. You’d think he would step out and step up to the challenge. But he didn’t. He did not allow his anointing to shape his actions.
But David did. He entered into the camp just in time to see the Israelite army marching to the battlefront shouting their battle cry. They were just going through the motions because as soon as Goliath shouted his “usual words” they retreated like a bunch of roaches when the light is turned on.
David could not believe what he saw. He speaks up and says: “What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).
Pay attention to David’s words. He doesn’t see a giant. He sees an “uncircumcised Philistine.” He doesn’t see the Israelite army. He sees “the armies of the living God.”
It’s important what we see. What we see sticks. We have our own giants today.
- Something from our past resurfaces every year on the anniversary of the event and plunges us into depression. The giant of depression strikes. Again.
- The giant of unexpected unemployment taunts you with words you don’t think you can defeat: “You’ll never dig yourself out of this hole, your bills are stacking up so high.”
- Your marriage is shaky and the giant of divorce is challenging you.
- Failure to live up to someone’s expectations—maybe even your own—casts its nine-foot, nine-inch shadow over your days. The giant of shame looms large.
You’ve seen your own giants, haven’t you? And when you did and when you do, do you see God? David did. His first words among an army that has lost hope is about God. And like any group of God-fearing people you know what they did? They ridiculed him!
David’s oldest brother Eliab listened as he spoke to the men, and he became angry with him. “Why did you come down here?” he asked. “Who did you leave those few sheep with in the wilderness? I know your arrogance and your evil heart — you came down to see the battle!” 1 Samuel 17:28
If I were David I would have responded with, “What battle?” But he didn’t. He just kept talking about God. God is what he could see when others couldn’t. The others couldn’t because they had allowed fear and focus on Goliath to ruin the eyes of their imagination. They could not even be thankful for the gift of food that David had brought them. Sometimes our largest giants are in our own camp.
David finds Saul and tells him that he would go fight the giant. Saul, out of jealousy or maybe just care for David, does not want him to go. He points out that David is still a youth and that Goliath has been training for battle since he was young. That’s what Saul could see.
David saw something else. He tells Saul that he has had to kill lions and bears while protecting his sheep. Now he would treat Goliath just like one of those beasts and protect the sheep of Israel. Saul tries to give David his armor but it doesn’t fit and it weighs him down. He goes with what he knows: his staff and his sling.
What he does next is the difference between seeing God and seeing Goliath. He stopped at the brook and chose five smooth stones. Imagine the scene. Eugene Peterson did and he imagined David kneeling at the brook. It doesn’t say he did in the text, but he had to in order to select his smooth stones.
Kneeling makes all the difference in a battle. How did David know to do this? Kneeling he could not see Goliath. Kneeling he could not run. We usually move to the dramatic part of the story, but let’s pause here for a moment.
David kneels and the story freeze-frames for a moment. He is in the valley of Elah. On one side is an anxious Saul. On the other is a brutal Goliath. Maybe you’ve been there yourself. Stuck in the middle of two bad options. You can retreat in fear or you can continue to let brutal voices attack you.
Or you can kneel. David knew to kneel because he had spent his years quietly shepherding sheep. No one to talk to. No noise. No television or Beats Headphones or iPads blaring nonstop. Only God-stories to ruminate on while he was out tending sheep.
He knew the story of the Exodus, how God delivered his people when the giant named Pharaoh held them captive.
He knew the stories of the Wilderness when God provided for his people when the giants of hunger and thirst attacked them.
He knew the story of the twelve spies and how ten saw the inhabitants of the Promised Land like giants and saw themselves as grasshoppers. He might have spent a lot of time thinking about that one.
He knew how Joshua and Caleb saw something more than giants. They saw God.
David had years of training in seeing God. In looking for God. In listening to God. He was saturated with God-stories and God-vision. He had years of worship. Years of kneeling before his God.
That’s how he knew what to do in the battle. He knelt, picked up the stones, and approached Goliath. It looks like a giant mismatch. A shepherd boy from Bethlehem and a Goliath from Gath. If that is what you see, look again.
Ancient armies had three kinds of warriors: cavalry, infantry, and archers and slingers. Slingers could hurl stones with an accuracy “within a hair’s breadth.” David was carrying a lethal weapon.
And Goliath was carrying armor of a heavy-infantryman. That was his expectation. He tells David to “come to me” because he is expecting a close confrontation. But David doesn’t need to in order to win the battle. He can sling his stone at Goliath and hit him with accuracy. And he can do it within a second.
One historian said that “Goliath had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic pistol.” No one saw David as the person with the superior training.
All they saw was Goliath. And according to Malcolm Gladwell they did not see him clearly either. He notes that Goliath moves slowly. He’s insulted instead of terrified of a slinger. He characterizes David as a “dog with sticks”, plural, when he is only carrying one, his staff.
Gladwell says that many medical experts today believe Goliath suffered from acromegaly, a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. Two problems result. First, it causes unusual growth which would explain Goliath’s size. Second, it compresses the nerves leading to the eyes, causing vision problems. He needed David to come to him because he was not able to see him clearly.
But David didn’t. Once on the battlefield he took a stone out of his sling and sunk it into Goliath’s forehead before he ever knew what hit him. Then …
David ran and stood over him. He grabbed the Philistine’s sword, pulled it from its sheath, and used it to kill him. Then he cut off his head. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they fled. The men of Israel and Judah rallied, shouting their battle cry, and chased the Philistines to the entrance of the valley and to the gates of Ekron. Philistine bodies were strewn all along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron.
David knelt. Then he ran and defeated the giant.
You will too when you learn to be human with David. Notice the progression of the first three stories we have about David. The first story tells us we are chosen by God for his purposes. The second tells us that God’s purposes are developed in our lives through the workplace. And this third story shows us how a God-focused imagination will lead us to reject Goliath-dominated imagination.
We are chosen and we live as if we believe it. We become who God wants us to be through our work, not by merely sitting in a sanctuary on a Sunday. We see God when and where others don’t.
We kneel. Then we run.
In this story David mentions Goliath only two times. He mentions God nine times. Do you think that perhaps your giants would be slayed if your thoughts of God outnumbered your thoughts of your giants by a nine to two ratio?
- When finances are tight, remember when God has provided.
- When relationships are rocky, remember God’s faithfulness.
- When doubt descends, remember God has chosen you.
What you see can change the course of your life.
It did for Scott. Remember Scott Ginsberg, the nametag guy? When he saw the pile of nametags being tossed after the convention, he didn’t just see trash. He saw a trend. What you see sticks.
What you see will shape your life. And it may shape the lives of others too. The stories David knew, the ones that shaped his God-sight, were great stories of faith of his ancestors. But their faith could not save him. It had to become his own.
And because it did, his faith encouraged others to route their enemy.
Yours can do the same. You have a spouse, a friend, your family, your children who need someone in their lives to help them face their own giants. They need someone who sees what maybe they don’t. Someone who sees God.
Kneel. Then run. Then watch your giants run.
 Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 40.
 Judges 20:16.
 Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath (Little, Brown and Company, 2013).