Are underdog stories realistic to my life?
People like to pull for underdogs. You know who I mean.
Think of the American Revolution, when a ragtag army of colonists stood against the well-equipped redcoats and won their independence from England.
Or recall the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics, when an unknown group of American hockey players whipped the “undefeatable” Soviets at their own game.
These and countless other stories of unexpected heroes rising to the occasion line the shelves of bookstores and draw crowds at movie theaters. The underdogs, with the odds stacked against them, somehow pull off an astonishing victory. This moving theme undergirds the plots of historic blockbusters like "Star Wars," "Rocky," and "The Karate Kid."
We love underdog stories.
That is, as long as we’re not the underdogs.
The mentality tends to shift when we’re the ones outnumbered, outweighed, or outmaneuvered. More often than not, instead of standing tall, we slink away. Instead of drumming up optimism, we slip into cynicism. Instead of charging the hill, we retreat into an attitude of defeat. Left all alone, we begin to feel reluctant, overwhelmed and intimidated. We prepare for loss before we’ve even entered the fray.
Strange how that works, isn’t it? We love the stories of other underdogs taking on the Big Dog, but all too often we believe those stunning victories could never happen to us.
God preserved an account in Scripture that sheds light on this classic underdog dilemma. Though true, the story has become a metaphor for any against-all-odds confrontation between a little guy and a giant. How often have we heard people refer to a situation as a “David and Goliath” moment? And how deeply they long for “David” to win!
Yet if observers standing on that ancient field of battle had been taking bets on the outcome, nobody would have placed a wager on David.
I’ll never forget the day I met a real giant.
Years ago, Cynthia and I vacationed with several family members on the small island of Kauai, Hawaii. I got up one morning for an early jog along the beach, opened the door of our hotel room, and stepped into the hallway. To my absolute shock, standing before me was a seven-foot-two real-life giant!
The true shock was, I had just watched that giant win the NBA championship with the LA Lakers a couple weeks earlier. There he stood, staring down at me—basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
That man not only had a giant reputation, but his looming presence made me feel like I had just shrunk several inches.
When my heart started beating again, I realized he wasn’t at all the mythical giant I had made him out to be. You see, he had misplaced the key to his room, just like every average Joe does a dozen times while vacationing. There he was, roaming the hallway to see if he or his wife had dropped it somewhere along the way.
Believe it or not, it turned out that his key was on the floor in our room, just inside the entrance. His wife had slid it under the door, thinking our room was theirs.
So much for giants. After a few friendly words, we went our separate ways. I still chuckle a bit when I remember that encounter.
Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could just laugh off all of life’s giants?
While we can avoid some imposing confrontations, we can’t dodge them all. And often, running isn’t an option. This is especially true when giants threaten us and our families. With so much at stake, we have to take a stand.
Let’s return together to one of the most familiar stories in the Bible — so well-known that people who have never cracked open Holy Scripture have heard about it. Though this story deals with a real giant named Goliath and a real underdog named David, it illustrates a vital lesson about facing the inevitable giants of our own lives.
That lesson is summed up in 1 John 4:4: “You belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”
We all deal with giants from time to time. And even though none of them are nine feet tall, clad in armor, and roaming the streets in our neighborhood, that doesn’t make them any less real. Most of the time, they’re not even people, but terrifying situations, exasperating circumstances, frightening challenges, or threatening experiences. Though they have no proper names, they’re giants, nonetheless.
Perhaps you have experienced the sadness, anger, and even shame that come with the specter of divorce; it can feel overwhelming at times. Or maybe your giant is a wandering son or daughter. The death of a parent, a spouse, or even a child is a loss that looms over you, casting its cold shadow on everything you do. You may be tending to a loved one with a disability or, perhaps, with Alzheimer’s.
Maybe you’re distracted by a lawsuit or facing eviction from your home. Or perhaps you are coping with the consequences of poor decisions in the distant past; the domino effect of those decisions may feel like it could ruin your life. Maybe the giant you’re facing is depression, anxiety, loneliness, or just the melancholy reality of growing older and feeling useless. If retirement isn’t what you thought it would be, your giant may be regret or a gnawing, numbing boredom.
Maybe you’re collapsing under a load of debt. You lost your job and can’t find a new one. The bills are mounting. Perhaps your business went belly up. Or an investment tanked. Or you’ve been struck by sudden medical expenses or car repairs. Maybe you’re in such severe financial straits that you’re considering bankruptcy, which means you’ll be coping with regret, disillusionment, and embarrassment. You may have even considered suicide. Financial giants can make us want to run and hide, or to pretend there is no problem. All the while the monster of the valley seems to grow bigger and shout louder.
How about spiritual giants? Are you running from doubts? Wrestling with unbelief? Has your relationship with God and fellow believers cooled to room temperature while the guilt and shame keep taunting you? Maybe you have been defeated in your struggle with the pull of the flesh toward the allurements of the world and the temptations of the devil. You may feel spiritually and morally depleted, beaten up by church conflicts, worn down by a culture at war with Christianity. Is the pressure mounting, urging you to compromise your convictions? Those spiritual giants can be worse than anything in the domestic, personal, or financial realm. When our faith is attacked, it’s easy to panic.
Though you’re not armed with a sling and facing a menacing nine-foot-plus warrior on the battlefield, God has outfitted you with everything necessary for victory against the giants you’re facing today (see 2 Peter 1:3). He has equipped you with the ever-powerful Spirit of God and all the necessary wisdom, character, virtue, and perseverance only He can give. You’re equipped with the One who has never known intimidation or defeat. In fact, He lives within you (see 1 John 4:4). And because He’s not a Spirit of fear but of power (see 2 Timothy 1:7), He can motivate you to get out of your tent of fear and confront whatever giants are in your path.
Adapted from Clinging to Hope: What Scripture Says about Weathering Times of Trouble, Chaos, and Calamity by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright ©2022. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Pastor Chuck Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation of men and women for ministry.