Chase the Lion: Identity Crisis

Sunday was Week #2 in our Chase the Lion series.

As followers of Christ, we are called to take to be risk-takers. We are invited to be Lion Chasers, much like Benaiah, found in 2 Samuel 23:20 & 21 (discussed last week).

One of the key characteristics of a Lion Chaser is being yourself – the person God has shaped you to be. You can listen to the sermon here.

If you missed last week, we began a series called Chase the Lion. It’s loosely based on a book by Mark Batterson called In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars. If you’re interested in getting a copy, please let me know. Mark is the Lead Pastor of a church in Washington, D.C., and he based his book on one of the most unusual and obscure stories in all of the Old Testament. And that’s saying a lot, because there are many unusual and obscure stories in the Old Testament. And it’s the starting point for this series, too. It’s the story of a man named Benaiah, who was one of King David’s elite warriors. In fact, Benaiah eventually became the head of all of David’s bodyguard – which is a pretty important position. But before Benaiah was placed in such a key position, he encountered a series of events that many might consider unfortunate.

In 2 Samuel 23:20 & 21, we learned that Benaiah once came face-to-face with two of Moab’s best warriors. Another time, he encountered a man the Bible calls “a huge Egyptian,” who had a spear. Benaiah only had a club. In both cases, he was woefully outmanned and outmatched. And in both cases, he faced the challenges head-on, defeating the best warriors of Moab in a 2-on-1 grudge match, and killing the Egyptian with his own spear. And then there’s the time when Benaiah was almost a lion’s mid-afternoon snack. Instead of running away from the lion, Benaiah somehow managed to get the lion to fall into a deep pit. And rather than leave well-enough alone, Benaiah decided to jump into the pit and take on the lion in a fierce hand-to-paw wrestling match. And Benaiah was victorious.

When you look at the exploits of Benaiah in these few short verses, your initial thought after merely glancing over them and not really paying attention to them would probably the same as mine was: ‘Boy, this guy was crazy! Who on earth would do those things? Who in their right mind would intentionally jump into a pit with an angry lion?’ Maybe he was a little crazy, but Benaiah took a risk. He saw the obstacles in his path – two fierce fighters, a big Egyptian with a long spear, and a lion in a pit on a snowy day – and chose to attack the obstacles head-on, rather than run away from them. And last week, we discussed how we there are lions in our lives that may seem like obstacles that you just can’t get around. And we have the same options that Benaiah had – fight or flight. We can take the risk and go after the obstacles, even though every instinct we have says not to, or we can listen to those instincts and run away. And God is challenging us to take some risks. Even the decision to become a Christian and follow Christ is an exercise in risk-taking, an exercise in lion-chasing. Jesus said you’ve got to deny yourself in order to follow Him. And that means stepping into the risk of the unknown. It’s a risk to open your hands and say, “I’ll go wherever You lead, God. I’ll do whatever You want me to do. I’ll be whatever You want me to be. God, I’ll serve as Your hands and feet.” And sometimes that means facing your greatest obstacle. Because that obstacle could just be a lion waiting for you to defeat it so you can give God the glory.

OK, so we’re supposed to be Lion Chasers. God is calling us on a great adventure and we’re supposed to take the plunge and even take some risks. But what does that look like? How are we supposed to face these lions that seemingly pop up out of nowhere? How do we live our lives in such a way that the risks we take and the obstacles we overcome give testimony to the fact that we are following Christ wherever he may lead and the only way we can overcome these lions is through the power of his hand? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some Lion Chasers found in Scripture – examples of faithful people who were willing to step out and take risks because they were confident in the God whom they served. And remember, the only reason we even attempt to chase after lions is in order to give God the opportunity to work through us in mighty ways.

When you think of people in the Bible who saw obstacles as opportunities, one of the first people that surely comes to mind is David. David was a shepherd boy who eventually became the greatest king in all of Israel’s history. He was the standard by which all subsequent kings were measured – and they all came up short. And even though he had his faults: he was a liar, an adulterer, and a murderer; he is known as a man after God’s own heart. And David’s reign was one for the record-books. But David certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He wasn’t groomed to be a king. In fact, he was the youngest in a family of shepherds with no royal aspirations at all. When you’d look at the attributes he initially showed, he hardly fit the stereotype of a mighty king. But that’s where God works the best, doesn’t it? His power shines through most clearly when the odds are stacked against you. And the odds were certainly stacked against David. But David was a Lion Chaser. And God used him in amazing ways.

Turn with me, if you will, to 1 Samuel 17:32. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are found in the Old Testament, immediately following the books of Judges and Ruth and preceding 1 & 2 Kings. If you don’t have your Bible, you’re welcome to use the one in front of you. 1 Samuel 17:32 is found on page 249 in that Bible.

Before we dive into these verses, we definitely need a little background. When God delivered the people of Israel from the land of Egypt, they had no king. And that’s the way God had it planned. When a leader was necessary, God would raise one up and that person would lead the nation. Eventually, the people decided they wanted to be like everyone else and began demanding a king. So God allowed the establishment of a monarchy in Israel. And Saul was named the first king of Israel. In the beginning, Saul tried to do things in a godly manner, but he quickly became deceitful and power-hungry. He began to seek his own glory, rather than the glory of the One who put him in power. So after receiving many second-chances, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king of Israel. And while Saul still reigned as king of Israel, Samuel anointed the shepherd boy, David, as Saul’s successor. But Saul is still king over Israel at this point.

Enter the Philistines. At this time, they were the chief rivals of the people of Israel. The two nations had been warring off and on for years. And now it was time for another battle. David’s brothers answered the call to service and were part of Saul’s army that had amassed on one hill while the Philistine army assembled on another hill, with a valley separating the two armies. And as the two sides sat and waited, a 9-foot tall giant stepped out from the Philistine army. And he issued a challenge to the army of Israel. “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your servants. But if I kill him, you will serve us.” (1 Sam. 17:9) Well, of course no one was brave enough to take on such a giant of a fighter. They just sat back and trembled in fear. Every day, Goliath would come out and taunt the army of Israel and every day they’d quiver in their boots.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story. It’s definitely more well-known than the story of Benaiah, that’s for sure. David’s father sends him to the military front with some food for his brothers. As he’s sharing the food with them, the giant comes out again and taunts them. And David can’t understand why no one will go out and fight this man. They were the chosen people of God. God was on their side. Why couldn’t someone step up to this challenge and bring the victory to God’s people? What were they so afraid of?

Of course, his brothers tried to keep him quiet. They thought he was all talk and was going to get himself into trouble. But word of David’s boldness made its way to King Saul. So Saul summoned David to his presence. And that’s where we pick up in verse 32.

Read 1 Samuel 17:32-40

David had confidence that God was going to use him to defeat this obstacle. God had used the other events in his life to prepare David for this one. The lions and bears that he chased were merely training exercises to prepare David for an even bigger Lion for him to take on. And so this Lion Chaser was ready for an even bigger challenge, with the fate of an entire nation relying on his success. It’s quite a large risk David chose to take. But he was sure that God would deliver him and his people from what on paper certainly appeared to be certain defeat.

Saul’s not so sure. He wants to make sure that this small warrior has all of the proper equipment, so he gives David his own personal armor and weapons. Saul was trying to make David into something he wasn’t. David was a shepherd. He didn’t have armor when he was tending his sheep. It was just him and his slingshot, doing whatever he could to protect his sheep from predators. And sometimes that meant hand-to-paw combat. Confident that God would protect him, David chased the lions and bears and fought them to the death. And God used those risks that David took to prepare him for an even larger risk. David was uniquely prepared to face the giant, just like I’m sure Benaiah was uniquely prepared to fight the lion. I mean, it’s not every person that is going to just jump into a pit with a lion on a snowy day. There had to be something in his history that showed him that he could be victorious.

So when David had on this armor that Saul had thrown upon him, it just didn’t feel right. He couldn’t maneuver around very well and it just didn’t fit. And that’s a key characteristic of being a Lion Chaser: Be yourself. Don’t try to be what you’re not. Don’t try to be what everyone else thinks you should be. God has shaped you in a unique way with your own set of gifts, talents, passions and experiences. And He has shaped you that way to accomplish His own purpose. Trying to fit yourself into what someone else’s idea of who you should be and what you should be doing is like David trying to go out into the battlefield with Saul’s armor on. It’s not what God is preparing you to be, and you won’t be able to effectively chase lions and overcome obstacles if you’re so concerned about how the armor fits on you. We need to worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Because God is the One whom we are trying to glorify. It is His favor we seek, not that of other people.

When we think of people making a difference for the sake of the Kingdom, we think of ‘big names,’ don’t we? It’s easy to think of some kind of ‘super-spiritual,’ ‘super-Christians’ and think they’re the ones who are really giving God the glory. It’s tempting to look at our own lives and then try to compare them with some of the well-known names of people who have been following Christ. You think of people like Billy Graham or Rick Warren, who have impacted millions of people with their preaching and their writings. You think of people like Mother Theresa, who gave up all she had to minister to the poor and suffering in the horrible slums of Calcutta. We look at these people as contemporary pillars of the faith, which they are, and somehow seem to think that the only way we can make an impact is if we mimic their lives. But that’s not how God has shaped us. He hasn’t called us to be another Billy Graham or Mother Theresa. He has uniquely shaped each one of us and has our own set of lions that He wants us to chase. Trying to become someone we’re not is just like putting on the armor of Saul. It will hinder our impact as salt and light. It will slow us down as we try to chase the lions in our own lives.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We have great examples of faithful people all around us. The people I mentioned earlier are just a few. We can learn from them and be challenged by them. But don’t get caught up in the idea that every one of us is called to be a Billy Graham, preaching to thousands at a time with boldness and confidence. God hasn’t shaped every person to be a preacher or an evangelist. But He has shaped each of us to accomplish His will in a unique way. You can be a teacher, engineer, farmer, factory worker, stay-at-home parent, accountant, a retiree, you name it. Whatever you are, God has used those experiences to prepare you for the lions that you will face. Of course, the lion you’re facing could mean a change in jobs or a change in lifestyle, or any other number of changes. And it might take the movement of the hand of God to accomplish what He is calling you to do. That’s the exciting thing about being a Lion Chaser. When you look back, you’ll see that there’s no way you could be where you are without the direct intervention of the Living God. And that’s a story that’s worth sharing. But it all begins by taking a risk and choosing to do what He is calling you to do. Even if it seems crazy to everyone else.

David certainly seemed crazy. His brothers tried to keep him quiet because they thought he was just talking foolishness. And surely when he walked out into the valley without any armor, Saul thought, “This will be over in 5 seconds.” But because David was more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing others, and because he wasn’t trying to be someone he wasn’t, he could face Goliath with confidence. Even the giant laughed at how ill-prepared the boy seemed. But David knew. He knew the training God had already given him. His own experiences had shown him that God would continue to be with him and would deliver him. And so he chased the lion with a sling and five smooth stones. Of course, he didn’t need all five. He killed that giant with one rock right between the eyes. And all who saw David kill Goliath saw what God can do with a Lion Chaser.

Remember, as a follower of Christ, you’re already a risk-taker. You’re a Lion Chaser. As we continue to chase lions, we need to remember to be ourselves. We need to seek our identity in God and who He is shaping us to be, not in what everyone else thinks we should be. So: be yourself. And chase the lions that pop up in your life. You’ll be amazed to see how God works when you merely make yourself available.

God wants to use you just as you are. You don’t have to go to a special school or receive special training for Him to use you. You don’t have to be a world-traveler or know Greek or Hebrew for Him to use you. And you certainly don’t have to somehow get it all together for Him to use you. He wants to use you right now. Just as you are. All He wants is a willing heart to say, “I’ll go where you tell me and do what You tell me. Use me the way You want to use me. I’m Yours.” You don’t have to pretend to be anyone else or worry about how others will look at you. He wants you just as you are. Because He has a purpose for you.

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