“David and _____.” Most people would fill in that blank with “Goliath,” of course. No surprise there. And no biblical interpretation required. We all know what a “David and Goliath” matchup means, even if we’ve never cracked open the Bible.

Now you’d think a battle as proverbial as this one must have been a herculean challenge for David. He probably had to squeeze his heart and soul for every last ounce of energy to rise victorious over this massive foe.

But no. That’s not how the fight went down at all. David strolled onto the battlefield, slung one stone, and sank it into the Philistine’s skull. Then David walked up and whacked off his head with Goliath’s own blade.

I doubt the kid even broke a sweat. Compared to the wars, persecutions, backstabbings, and family turmoil that David was yet to endure, killing Goliath was like taking candy from a baby.

The Not-So-Obvious Enemies

There’s a bit of wisdom in that for all of us. You see, it’s not always the “Goliath” issues in life that prove the most difficult for us. Goliath was an obvious enemy. He and David met on a real battlefield. And the goal was crystal clear—kill or be killed.

Not so with much of David’s post-Goliath life. And not so with much of our lives either.

For years afterward, David’s life was endangered by Saul. He was not only David’s king but his father-in-law. He threw his spear at David multiple times. Hounded him through the wilderness. Had spies lurking, watching David’s every move.

Facing a giant on the battlefield on a single day was easy compared with facing years upon years of a family member making his life a living hell.

Perhaps that’s something you can relate to.

David was also surrounded by both insiders and outsiders who just couldn’t wait to throw him under the bus, spread lies about him, and use their venomous tongues to attack him. Again, listening to Goliath spout his idiotic bragging on the battlefield was a joke compared to the onslaught of whispering, lying, backstabbing, and character assassination that David was yet to endure.

Perhaps that too is something you can relate to.

David also brought trainloads of heartache into his own life. His cold and calculated killing of one of his best friends (Uriah), prompted by his desire to cover up his sexual assault and resultant pregnancy of this same man’s wife (Bathsheba), produced some of the saddest chapters in the Bible. David’s family disintegrated into rape, coup, murder, and shame. And who was to blame? David. His youthful skirmish with Goliath, well, that probably seemed like heaven compared to the familial hell that David created as a result of his selfish and stupid actions.

And that too, I’m willing to bet, is something that many of you can relate to.

What's a Person to Do? (Wrong Question)

Friends, it’s not always the giants, the obvious enemies, the clear battlefields that prove most exhausting and dangerous for us. It’s the ongoing, subtle, seductive, soul-gnawing smaller things in life that wear us down. The job we hate. The marriage we feel trapped in. The child who’s in and out of rehab. The body that keeps breaking down. The haters who keep hating. The tongues that keep wagging. And most of all, the destructive decisions we keep on making, even though we should have learned our lesson years ago.

What’s a person to do?
What did David do?

It’s not so much what David did, but what he acknowledged he could not do. Read his psalms. There is the scroll of David’s soul, inked with tears and frustration and lament and confession. Over and over, David tells God, in so many words, “I can’t do this. I can’t handle this. I am at my end. You, dear God, you alone can help me and rescue me.”

- “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).

- “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive” (Ps. 124:1-3).

- “For God alone my soul waits…He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress...For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Ps. 62:1-5).

Did you hear David? “You alone.” “If it had not been the Lord…” “For God alone.”

David did not pray, “O Power, O Universe, boost my self-confidence, enhance my self-esteem, help me to believe in myself so that I may stand on my own two feet to conquer every obstacle and thus feel an empowered and independent person whom nothing and no one can stop.”

No, such talk reeks of the divinization of self that is the rotten, maggot-infested idol lying on the stage of the American ego-drama.

Rather, again and again, David prays for mercy. As do we. Mercy is at the heart of the psalms for mercy is at the heart of God. Cut the divine heart and out will bleed mercy.

Mercy is our only hope. And I do mean “only.” It is not one of many options. It is The Option. Mercy protected David on the battlefield. Mercy shielded David from the verbal arrows of his “Judas Iscariots.” Mercy saved David when he wrecked his life, his family’s life, and the lives of many others. And mercy—the mercy of our Father in Jesus Christ—that alone saves us.

If our lives are an ocean, the only ship sailing that sea is christened Mercy.

So we climb aboard. Or, rather, while we’re sinking and our lungs are filling with water and we’re so dumb that we are swimming downward (!), Jesus dives into the deep, pulls us up, and drags us into the boat. He gets us there. He keeps us there. Indeed, he is the boat for he is mercy incarnate.

Our most dangerous moments are not while we’re facing an obvious enemy on a clear battlefield, but while we’re navigating this shadowy world, full of half-lies and smooth-talking serpents and—worst of all—our own penchant for evil.

So, with David and with all the saints, we pray, “Lord have mercy.”

And he does. He always does.

Even when we forget we need it.