1 Samuel 17: 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
I recall following the career of Wayne Gretzky. He was born and raised less than an hour from my home. Almost everyone in Ontario, Canada had heard of Gretzky already from an early age where he was playing minor ice hockey at a level far above his peers. He had no impressive stature, strength or speed, but his intelligence and reading of the game were unprecedented. He went on to play 20 seasons in the NHL and holds 61 NHL records including his 2,857 total points. His 1,963 assists alone are greater than the #2 total points leader Jaromir Jagr (1,921 goals and assists). Hockey sportswriters and broadcasters always commented that Gretzky didn’t go to where the puck was, he would go to where the puck was going to be.
Gretzky (a.k.a. “The Great One”) was given an incredible talent, but it was also a honed skill. From an early age his father Walter would build a backyard rink where Wayne would spend every free moment during the winter. On his own, Wayne would get video copies of hockey games and replay them over and over, stopping, pausing, re-winding so he could learn the movement of the game and the movement of the puck.
Gretzky’s story reminds me of a shepherd named David. When King Saul was no longer following God’s instructions, the Lord spoke to his prophet Samuel saying: “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?... I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1). Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse and when he arrived, he saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (vv 6-7).
Samuel looked at all Jesse’s sons and asked if there was another. Jesse rather dismissively says that there is just his youngest son who is out shepherding. When David arrived, he was anointed. But there is no great fanfare after David is anointed; he returned to shepherding. Yet approximately 5 years later a conflict arose between Israel and Philistine which brings us to the story of Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Goliath taunted the army of Israel and David went to the battlefield and decided to take him on. Saul thought it was a joke, 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. (vv 34-35a). Saul gave him his tunic, armor and helmet, but since Saul was likely an XXL and David a size small, David couldn’t move. David took off the armour and instead “he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag … with his sling in his hand.“ (vs. 40a). We know how the story ends; David defeats the giant with his sling and a stone from his pouch.
David had no impressive size or elite warrior training. He simply honed a skill as a shepherd and when needed offered it to God. What is your sling? What talent, perhaps hidden or unimpressive, has God given you that you can hone for the benefit of God’s kingdom? Remember, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”