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Carving Out A Great Life For Yourself

I Samuel 21:1-9

There is a story about a monastery in Portugal perched high on a 300-foot cliff. The only way the monastery can be reached is by a terrifying ride in a swinging basket pulled on a single rope by several monks. One day an American tourist was about to ride up in the basket and became very nervous when he noticed that the rope was quite old and frayed. He timidly asked: “How often do you change the rope?” The monk replied: “Whenever it breaks!”

Too many people deal with the dangers and the difficulties of life in the same way—they don’t deal with them until something breaks. You all know the great hymn “This is my Father’s world/I rest me in the thought/Of rocks and trees and skies and seas/His hand the wonders wrought.” But I wonder if you know that the man who wrote that hymn died by his own hand—a suicide. The wonders of nature, the creation of the hymn which he wrote, the presence and power of the Father of whom he speaks in the hymn—none of that did he remember when life got tough for him. He didn’t deal with the difficulties in his life, and those difficulties broke him.

The fact is many people don’t know how to deal with defeat, discouragement, and disappointment. They don’t know how to profit from their problems. So I want to speak today about how to deal with difficulty in life, and I want to do that by looking at how David dealt with the difficulty he confronted. You remember what happened. Saul had turned against David and David had to flee for his life. In fact, it all happened so fast that David didn’t even have time to gather his personal belongings. As he escapes, the first place he comes to is the small town of Nob. There he speaks to the old priest Ahimelech and he asks him for bread. The priest gives him bread, and then David says: “Have you a sword I might use?” Ahimelech replies: “The sword of Goliath whom you killed is here. You may have it if you wish.” And David says: “There is none like it. Give it to me.” In that brief conversation we find three powerful principles for dealing with difficulty in life.

Let’s begin here …

Notice that David is taking a weapon which was first used against him, and now he is going to use it for his own good. Every sword has two ends. When David first saw this sword in the hand of Goliath, the blade was pointing toward him and was endangering his life. Now he has the opportunity to pick up the sword by the other end, by the hilt, and to use the sword in his own defense and in the advance of goodness. Here then is our FIRST PRINCIPLE in learning how to profit from our problems. Remember that every situation we face in life has within it both obstacle and opportunity; the possibility of hurt and the possibility of good. We must learn to take the sword by the hilt and not by the blade.

Back in the year 1464, an Italian sculptor by the name of Augustino Deduceo was asked by the city of Florence to carve a statue of David. He got an enormous block of marble and began to work on it, but shortly after he began, he died. Unfortunately, even in the brief work that he did, he managed to disfigure the stone in some terrible ways. He did much damage to it. Twelve years later, another sculptor, this one named Antonio Rossillino, decided to accept the task of carving David and he set to work, but he only marred the block of marble all the more. For 25 years then that great block of marble stood in the courtyard of the Cathedral in Florence—wounded, ruined, ignored. Then on August 16, 1501, a young man who wanted to make a name for himself as a sculptor announced that he would take on the assignment. People thought it was a joke, but Michelangelo Buonarroti was not joking. The block of marble was commonly referred to as “The Giant” because of its size and its ugliness. But Michelangelo saw in that great piece of stone two ends. Yes, there was an obstacle—it was scarred, marred, wounded, and ruined. But there was also an opportunity. He would create his own giant; his own David. He set to work and two years later, he finished the “David,” a representation of which you have on your bulletin today. It is a work of art at which the world still wonders. It stands 13 feet, 5 3/8 inches tall. It is full of power, proportion, and grace. Michelangelo said, “Give me the sword”—and what he did with it still leads sensitive people to hold their breath when they see it.

Ahimelech had kept Goliath’s sword hidden away, but along came David, and he took the sword and used it in the defense of good. Florence had taken this marred piece of marble and left it ignored, but along came Michelangelo who took the hilt and not the blade, and created something truly magnificent. There are always two possibilities in every situation. The secret is in knowing which to select. Because we are the children of God, He helps us to choose the right end of the sword. He has given us the capacity to turn typhoons into tailwinds, to turn problems into profits. We have this gift by the grace of God.

Some years ago, there was a Dr. Minot who was doing some experiments with dogs and he ran out of funds. All he could buy to feed the dogs was the cheapest form of meat available, which was liver. His intended experiments were ruined, but he wouldn’t be stopped by that. He said: “Give me the sword.” He began to focus on what effect a diet of liver might have on the dogs. He soon discovered that the quality of their blood vastly improved. Out of this, Dr. Minot brought a liver extract which was the first real weapon we had in the fight against pernicious anemia, a condition which at that time was always fatal. Today, we use B-12 to fight anemia, but even that is built from liver extract. Minot was confronted by lack of money, an obstacle. But he took that sword by the hilt, not by the blade, and turned it into an opportunity. Every situation in life has both obstacle and opportunity. Every sword has two ends. Take the sword by the hilt, not by the blade.

But let’s continue the story …

Notice that when David asked Ahimelech, “Do you have a sword?” and Ahimelech replied: “I have only the sword of Goliath. You may have it if you wish,” even before David says “Give me the sword,” he says, “There is none like it.” Focus on that. “There is none like it.” What did he mean? He was referring to its size. Goliath, according to the Bible, stood just under nine feet tall. His weapons were described in Scripture as being very large and heavy. This sword was probably the biggest sword David had ever seen. He then says: “Give it to me.” Why? Here’s our SECOND PRINCIPLE: Bigger problems make bigger profits. A baseball player preparing to bat will pick up a lead bat and swing it before stepping into the batter’s box. Then he’ll drop the heavy lead bat, pick up the lighter wooden bat and face the pitcher. Why? After swinging the lead bat, the wooden one feels like a feather in his hands, and he can swing it with great force and skill. In like manner, when difficulty comes in life and you handle it, then that which comes after it is easy. Greater problems create greater people.

It is generally agreed that Michelangelo was the supreme artist of the ages—a superb architect, a magnificent sculptor, the finest of painters, and a brilliant poet. How could he develop all those skills? Well, near the end of his life, he said to his friend Visari, “I grew up in a world of stone. I was born in the town of Carpasi, a town surrounded by high mountains, and every building in town was made of stone. I took in the love of stone from the milk of a stonecutter’s wife. All of my life I have dealt with stone. I have cut it. I have beaten it. I have loved it. I have hated it. I have polished it. I have left it in great irregular masses. For 75 years I have been dealing with hard, alpine stone.” And you see, it was in dealing with the stone, the hardest medium for an artist to use, that Michelangelo became the artist that he was.

Remember, please, when a painter makes a mistake, he can simply paint over it and do it again. When a poet makes a mistake, he can crumple up the page and write again. When a playwright makes a mistake, he can drop out a scene and put in another. When a composer makes a mistake, he can erase the note and insert another. You can’t do that with stone. When you have cut a piece of stone from the block, it is gone. You cannot put it back. That’s why stone is the most difficult of all artistic ventures, but its very difficulty creates excellence. Tougher problems make tougher people. Difficulties in life put muscle into the soul and steel into the spirit and strength into the hands.

Interestingly, the nickname for this statue when Michelangelo finished it was manufortis, which means “strong hand.” Look at the picture of the hand in your bulletin. You see the power and the strength in that hand. The hand speaks of what we find in both David and Michelangelo—both of them faced their own Goliath in life, and both of them won. The size of the problem only developed the size of their spirits. The bigger the problem, the bigger the profit. David said of Goliath’s sword: “There is none like it; give it to me.”

But there is more in this story …

Notice how as David is fleeing Saul, he is without food, without weapons, without the basic needs he requires. Immediately, he set out to meet those needs. In the first place he came to, Nob, he asked: “Do you have bread? Do you have a sword?” He grabbed the first chance and turned it to his advantage. That’s our THIRD PRINCIPLE—to remember in triumphing over tragedy in life: What we don’t use, we lose. Great opportunities come to us in life, but they do not come endlessly. Therefore, when they come, even if they come hidden in obstacles, we have to seize them immediately—or we shall lose them.

What gave David the courage to find and to seize the promise tucked away in this predicament? It was his respect, his love, his devotion for God. And what led Michelangelo to transform the obstacle he encountered into an opportunity? You have only to read his correspondence and his sonnets to know that it was because he loved and obeyed God. To both David and Michelangelo, humankind was the crown of creation, made in the image of God.

Sidebar. You will never find in any artistic work by Michelangelo a wounded body. He painted and sculpted battle scenes, but you will never find in any of them a body which has been cut or slashed or broken. He had such respect for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit of God that he would not depict it in such a way. Even in the scene of the last judgement in the Sistine Chapel—not a single one of the souls in torment is being tormented physically. If you look at the statue of David, you see it as a great celebration of the human form. But the statue is not perfect. It’s important to see that. The left eye is a little higher than the right; the bridge of the nose is compressed a little too much; the eyebrows are a bit too shaggy; the forehead is slightly indented on one side; the neck has tendons which are both tense and relaxed. Michelangelo’s message is clear. We are not perfect either. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and short of what God intended us to be. Still, God has made us but a little lower than Himself—and that is why even with our imperfections we are so beautiful, on the outside and the inside as well.

Something else to note. The only other thing that appears in the statue of David is the sling, and it is casually tossed over the shoulder. Why? Because Michelangelo wanted to make the point that David defeated Goliath, not the sling. This was a victory for a person, not for a weapon. God has given us—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—what we need to be victorious in life. It’s up to us to use it.

Remember that every cut Michelangelo took at that great block of marble tore away some stone which could not be replaced. Yet so bold and confident was Michelangelo that he used a chisel with three blades so that he could cut three times faster. Where did he get the courage, the confidence to cut like that? It came from the knowledge that he was made in the image of God; that he had been given gifts by God, and that he was to surrender his life to God and use those gifts to God’s glory. The same was true for David. David, fleeing for his life from Saul surrendered his life to God, took the gift of that sword God gave him, and used that gift for God’s glory.

The key, I think, is found in the word “surrender.” There’s a wonderful hymn I dearly love. It’s called, “I Surrender All.” It was written by Judson Van DeVenter. No archaic lyrics. No complex theology. Just a soft, gentle, but unqualified pledge of deep devotion. The hymn was written just after the most decisive moment in Judson Van DeVenter’s life. And what happened with him, I pray, may happen for us all. It’s the ultimate secret to a victorious life. Judson Van DeVenter was struggling between becoming an artist living for himself or an evangelist living for Christ. During that pivotal hour, he surrendered all …

“I surrender all, I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”

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