By Brian Jennings
How can I encourage people who are dealing with disadvantages?
School has never come easy for Lori. Her heart sinks when her teacher tells the class to exchange papers so they can grade each other’s work. She’ll surely miss more than her classmate—a lot more. Her parents don’t understand why she struggles so much. It seems like the deck is stacked against her.
The church has seen the economic rise and fall of their neighborhood. These problems have ushered in a host of other issues. Families, local schools, and community resources seem alarmingly unstable. And while the needs grow, the church giving decreases. It seems like the deck is stacked against them.
We’ve all felt like the deck was stacked against us, and we’ve also been left trying to know what to say to the person who feels like the underdog. That’s OK at first. Listening ought to be our first, second, and third response. Yet a time for speaking will come. Recently I read a book that gave me some words you need to know.
Malcolm Gladwell is a fierce researcher, world-renowned author, and brilliant storyteller. I’m drawn to his curiosity. He loves tackling widely-accepted narratives, showing how we’ve missed a truth, lesson, or idea. His podcast, Revisionist History, soared to number one on iTunes for good reason.
I don’t know much about his spiritual beliefs, but his latest book taps into one of the most famous Bible stories of all time, David and Goliath. Goliath, the Philistine’s mightiest warrior, daily taunted the Israelites and mocked the Lord. Not a single Israelite answered his challenge until David, the shepherd boy who was delivering a care package to his older brothers, accepted the fight. He slayed the mighty giant. It is the ultimate underdog story. Or is it?
Gladwell’s premise is simple yet counterintuitive: David wasn’t quite the underdog we paint him to be. In a one-on-one battle with a slow-footed, near-sighted giant, David’s long-range attack proved advantageous. Sometimes what we perceive as disadvantages are actually advantages.
David lacked size (disadvantage), so he refused the cumbersome armor (which gave him a speed advantage). David could not equal Goliath’s strength (disadvantage), so he chose a sling as his weapon (a great advantage when fighting from a distance).
Regardless of how you feel about Gladwell’s application of this specific text, he’s found something true. The Bible and history are full of underdogs. God uses underdogs because they are often humble, teachable, and, most importantly, they won’t be seen as the hero. People will recognize God’s mighty hand.
Gladwell’s David and Goliath tells many stories about people with seemingly insurmountable disadvantages, such as poverty, learning disabilities, and oppression, who developed phenomenal resourcefulness, courage, and ingenuity. Many people with dyslexia have struggled in life, but a disproportionately large number have also become world-changers. Why? Because in order to survive, they developed spectacular listening skills, work habits, or intuitiveness. Their disadvantage led to an advantage.
I’ve enjoyed sharing this book with some friends. I’ve been careful to avoid implying that the challenge they or their kids are facing is something they should celebrate. I want only to approach people with humility and compassion. Without pretending to understand their struggle, I’ve encouraged them to consider God’s ingenuity. He often uses underdogs to do his greatest works. Perhaps you can share this encouraging principle with a struggling parent, coach, teacher, or student. Whatever disadvantage you have, remember God loves you. He knows you. And he may be shaping you with advantages he’ll use to advance his kingdom and care for people in extraordinary ways.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, New King James Version).
Brian and his wife, Beth, and their four children live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he preaches at Highland Park Christian Church and writes (brianjenningsblog.com).