Transforming Giants: A Response to “Five Stones”

There’s always a giant blocking our future; but, we have the resources to respond with creativity and persistence to overcome what stands in our way.  These obstacles can be Goliath-like in nature, but God has given us five stones and the example of the young shepherd David to respond to any crisis that stands in our way.  Certain practices will give us the focus, persistence, and power to defeat these giants just as David defeated Goliath with five small stones.  That’s the central affirmation of Shane Stanford and Brad Martin’s small but powerful Five Stones: Conquering Your Giants.

This past week I have been playing at Craigville Beach on Cape Cod with my almost three year old grandson.  The waves are gentle and there’s virtually no undertow.  At first, however, my small grandson was frightened of the few inch swells.  Looking out to sea, the ocean must have seemed large and he so small.  Over the next few days, he discovered that he could run, dance, and even paddle a bit through the waves.  On the final day of his visit, we couldn’t get him out of the water, except with the lure of Four Seas Ice Cream. The feat might have been insignificant to an observer, but he had just defeated a giant.  He had discovered a small boy had the resources to face the ocean and that the people he loved would insure his safety and support his success.  For him, this is one more tangible step that will help him face future giants.  He had just lived out the statement that “courage is fear that has said its prayers.”  He had discovered the secret of Five Stones.

As I pondered Five Stones, I asked myself: Can we practice in advance for facing giants?  Stanford and Martin give a short course in facing giants.  They believe that all of us, like David, can find the five stones we need to face the obstacles that appear to block our future and challenge our dreams. They see the five stones as: a mental picture, tools, a plan, training,  and courage.

From my perspective, facing giants involves having a vision and discovering spiritual practices that nurture our imagination and self-esteem.  The issue is, accordingly, both theological and practical.  There are many possible visions or theological frameworks; however, the following nurture our agency and belief in God’s companionship and support of our growth:

  • God wants you to have abundant life. 
  • God provides possibilities and the energy to active them.
  • God is our companion every step of our life journey.
  • God supports our well-being and provides opportunities to nurture our personal growth.
  • Within every challenge, God has placed possibilities for our growth.
  • God is willing to give us more than we can ask or imagine.
  • We are created in God’s image and have everything we need to succeed, prosper, and serve God.
  • Our actions can transform our lives, our loved ones, and the world.
  • Every moment reveals God’s wisdom and energy.
  • What we do matters to God; we are called to be God’s companions in healing the world.

These theological affirmations provide a framework for dealing with the giants in your way.  They are the foundation for courage, imagination, and persistence.  There is nothing entirely new about these: they reflect the best of New Testament theology and more particularly the wisdom of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians joins vision and practice in personal and institutional transformation.  The text begins with a life-transformation affirmation: the good work God has begun in your life God will bring to fulfillment and it will be a harvest of righteousness.  Paul continues with counseling us to have the mind of Christ (a spacious and humble mind, welcoming all creation), embrace our agency as partners in God’s creative process (working out our salvation with awe and excitement), living toward God’s vision (running the race with eyes on the prize), all with the belief that God will supply our needs and that we can do all things – face all obstacles – with Christ who strengthens us.

Paul gives us practices to respond to the giants in our way.  They can be found in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice* in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. *5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Responding to giants and challenges involves the interplay of faith, gratitude, prayer, and affirmative living.  These create a life of joy, grounded in an awareness of God’s presence, which is not only the greatest antidote to fear but also the greatest inspiration to courage and creativity.  Prayer connects us with a power greater than ourselves, from whom all blessings flow.  Gratitude reminds us of all our successes and resources and opens us to trusting God’s care in all things.  Affirmations enlarge our spirits and sense of agency and ability.  We are never alone, but live in a god-filled world in which great gifts and possibilities are available to us.  God responds to our needs, gives us the possibilities and energy to achieve them, and treasures our attempts at transformation.

On every life map, we can, like the ancient mariners, affix the words “there be giants.” But, more importantly, we can inscribe the affirmations:

  • God is with us.
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
  • In all things we are conquerors through Christ.
  • God will supply all our deepest needs.
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

With these words of affirmation, a life of interdependent prayer, a community of friends, and the gentle but persistent providence of God, we can face, transform, or go around any giant that stands in our way.

For more conversation on Five Stones, see the Patheos Book Club here. 

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About Bruce Epperly

Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., serves as Pastor at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. Prior to coming to Cape Cod in 2013, he served on the faculties and often in administrative and chaplaincy roles at Georgetown University, Claremont School of Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. Bruce is currently a professor in spirituality, ministry, and theology in the doctoral program at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. He has served as pastor or interim pastor of congregations in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. He is the author or co-author of over 35 books in the areas of theology, spirituality, ministerial excellence and spiritual formation, scripture, and healing and wholeness, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job; From Here to Eternity: Preparing for the Next Adventure; and A Center in the Cyclone: Clergy Self-care in the 21st Century.