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Awakening the Giant

November 2013

Dear Friends,

One of the most popular characters in our world today is that of the giant. From an early age, the imagination of children is stirred by tales of encounters with legendary heroes. Some are friendly, as in Roald Dahl’s 24-feet-tall superhuman individual, who has immense speed, and whose primary occupation is ‘the collection and distribution of good dreams to children’. One secondary school in Glasgow adopted the logo of BFG (Big Friendly Giant) to introduce a mentoring scheme in which a sixth-year BFG would adopt a first-year pupil to help him/her adapt to the new environment. Other giants are hostile, like the pantomimic figure, who lives in a castle at the top of a gigantic beanstalk.

The giant has also featured significantly in satiric novels from Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver, who towers over the people from Lilliput, who measure no more than 6 inches tall. Films too have prolonged the culture of the giant humanoid creatures known as the Titans. The search for the Yeti and the Abominable Snowman has produced many websites, with alleged sightings of Bigfoot. Commercial rhetoric has made the giant an essential part of our shopping folklore, as we look for the giant-sized label in the supermarkets in the (often mistaken) belief that it represents a bargain!

Scary Giants

In the church too there are two kinds of giants. In the Old Testament, there were adversarial giants like Og, the king of Bashan, who contended with Moses. His bedstead alone was ‘more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide’ (Deuteronomy. 3:11). The Nephalim, who were of great size (Numbers 13: 32-33), made the children of Israel feel like ‘grasshoppers’. The most famous giant, Goliath, was about nine feet tall (I Samuel 17: 4). These giants were engaged in physical battles with the people of God.

The giants confronting the Christian church today can still take on the form of physical oppression (as is evident from the report from the Barnabas Fund on p.19). However, in the Western church, these giants are for the most part a spiritual and psychological threat rather than a physical danger. The giants do not appear in the guise of some of Dahl’s monsters like ‘The Fleshlumpeater’, ‘The Bonecruncher’, ‘The Meatdripper’, ‘The Gizzardgulper’, ‘The Bloodbottler’, or ‘The Butcher Boy’. The modern giant who terrorizes Western Christians is probably nearer to Bunyan’s Giant Despair, who captured the two pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful, and took them to his Doubting Castle, where they were imprisoned, beaten and starved.

How easy it is to be gripped by this giant and to get side-tracked in our Christian service by guilt, fear of failure, or by our feelings of inadequacy for the tasks God gives us to do. Or sometimes to allow ourselves to be entrapped by ‘Giantess Diffidence’, which is probably a more understandable temperamental weakness. For some, it may be a genuine feeling of inferiority as they consider that they have little to contribute to the work of God. For others, there can be a tendency to see the world and the church through the dark prism of personal disappointment.

The Enabling Giant

How do we lose this negative mentality which can cause us to miss out on so much of the blessing God wants to pour on us? It is by recognizing a power within us who can help us overcome our fears and enable us to break free from the clutches of Giant Despair and/or Giantess Diffidence. It is by drawing on the rich resources of the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers. As John said to struggling Christians:

the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4: 4)

Or, as the hymnist, Henry F. Lyte, penned in 1824, when facing persecution on all sides:

Think what spirit dwells within thee, what a Father’s smile is thine

When facing challenges it is easy to forget the presence of the Holy Spirit, who, in his self-effacing ministry, has brought Jesus to set up his home in our hearts. What an amazing gift from God, to have within us the one by whom and for whom the world was created and is upheld. Equally amazing, the lodging which the Triune God chose for Jesus on earth. Not just the location of the incarnation itself, though in Bethlehem’s stable God chose a birthing place from which all Western mothers in the twenty-first century would shrink in horror. For Bethlehem was a temporary accommodation. The permanent dwelling on earth for the king of kings was even less appealing: our hearts! What an encouragement to press on in the knowledge that this all-seeing, almighty God, incomprehensible in his being, unspeakably good and pure, full of light and truth and wisdom and power, resides in our hearts. A fuller grasp of this fundamental truth should make those of us who are full of doubts and fears into giants before the Lord and should enable us to face whatever challenges may come to us.

Awakening the Giant

To say that the Christian church is a dormant giant would seem to be a contradiction in terms. Yet, as many readers know, this is particularly true with regard to the Church of Scotland at the moment. The problem lies principally not in its buildings or in its financial situation, as so many have said, but in us, its people, whose lives, if given over fully to Jesus, have so much untapped potential. The indwelling Christ is not asleep. In that great pilgrim Psalm of ascent the help and protection from the ever-wakeful God was a constant source of encouragement to press on by day and by night, in whatever change of temperature and terrain:

He who watches over you will not slumber;

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

Will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121: 3-4)

How can the sleeping giant that is the Church of Scotland be awakened? At the end of two WWII movies, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and Pearl Harbour (2001), Isoroku Yamamoto, Admiral of the Japanese fleet, says of the attack, ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’ Now one could never equate the attack on Pearl Harbour with decisions taken at the General Assembly! And we need to keep a perspective on what is happening and maintain proportionality in our response at whatever level. But who knows if recent events will not prove to be a turning point in the spiritual life of the nation, in the call to prayer and to a renewal of vision from those staying in the denomination, and from those who have left or who may be planning to leave. The fact that so many are meeting with a common burden for local and national revival gives courage to both isolated believers and to those in large gatherings of God’s people.

However, while our hearts can be stirred by thoughts of awakening the giant at national and international levels, the real, and seemingly less exciting, challenge comes to us as individuals. But so often we can live beneath ourselves. It is easy for us to point the finger of superiority at those who no longer seem to be upholding the faith that they once professed (though how we need to strive to restore all such and to be mindful of ‘there but for the grace of God go we’). Yet, the challenge comes back to us. Was it in one of the exhortations from Mark Greene with regard to our day-to-day living that we were deeply challenged to strive to be a ‘mighty’ whatever for the Lord, whether it be a cleaner or a company director, a minister or a member of a welcome team?

What gift could be released through our church members, if the giant is awakened in us! A greater awareness of Christ’s presence within us would enhance our worship on Sundays, would enrich our homes, our places of work and our families. What comfort, too, in our sorrows, as He brings that peace which passes all understanding. What help in those difficult meetings and challenging trials! What encouragement in our prayer meetings as Christ intercedes for us. What incentive to undertake outreach!

We might feel that we could never aspire to any gigantic achievement. In a sense that is the right way of thinking as humility is the hallmark of all who have been commended as giants of the faith in the Bible. As the hymnist, Anna Laetitia Waring so helpfully put it, the strength of the giant comes not from our own natural capacity but from God:

So I ask Thee for the daily strength,

To none that ask denied,

And a mind to blend with outward life

While keeping at Thy side;

Content to fill a little space,

If Thou be glorified.

These words have been so helpful to many in adversity, not least to Susanna Wesley, who could not have known how two of her nineteen children, John and Charles, would have changed the destiny of so many in eighteenth-century England. Both Waring and Susanna Wesley would have avoided the limelight. Their primary ambition, like that of all who have become giants, was to seek first and foremost God’s glory.

So let us, with that same ambition, lose the ‘grasshopper mentality’ and release the giant within us.

With very best wishes

Noël Peacock

Session Clerk

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