Summary: Chase the Lion is a 3 part series from Mark Batterson, pastor at National Community Church in Washington, D.C. The sermon is based off of the book, Chase the Lion. You can download a sermon kit at ChaseTheLion.com/churches
Around the turn of the 20th century, psychologist Alfred Adler proposed the counterintuitive theory of compensation. Adler believed that what we think of as disadvantages often prove to be advantages because they force us to cultivate compensatory attitudes and abilities that probably would have lain dormant or gone undiscovered without them. And it’s often as we compensate for those disadvantages that we discover our greatest giftings. For example, 70 percent of the art students that Adler studied had optical anomalies. And some of history’s greatest composers—Mozart and Beethoven among them—had degenerative conditions in their ears.
A more recent study of small-business owners found that 35 percent of them were self-identified dyslexics. While none of us would wish dyslexia on our children because of the academic challenges that come with it, the disadvantage of dyslexia forced this group of entrepreneurs to cultivate different skill sets that set them up for success.
Long story short, perceived disadvantages such as birth defects, physical ailments, or even the environmental challenge of poverty can be springboards to success. And that success is not achieved in spite of those perceived disadvantages. It’s achieved because of them.
John Irving is a great example.
Irving is considered one of the great storytellers of his generation. His book The World According to Garp won a National Book Award. His screenplay The Cider House Rules won an Academy Award. But here’s the thing: Irving earned a C- in high school English. And it took him five years to graduate. His SAT verbal was 475 out of 800, which means two-thirds of us who took the SAT scored higher. But do you have a National Book Award? An Academy Award?
Irving’s teachers thought he was lazy, thought he was stupid. The reality is, he was dyslexic. But it’s that disadvantage that propelled him. Irving said, “If my classmates could read our history assignment in an hour, I allowed myself two or three.” Irving had to study longer and work harder. And it’s his study habits and work ethic that ultimately propelled him professionally. In Irving’s words, “To do anything well, you have to overextend yourself.”
I like Irving’s story for lots of reasons, but one of them is very personal. I took a career assessment when I was in graduate school that showed a below-average aptitude for writing. Writing is not a natural gifting for me, and I knew it. I also knew that I was called to write. So what did I do? I worked harder—I read 3,000 books before I wrote one.
That lack of natural ability is coupled with one of my other weaknesses. Early on in ministry, I could not speak extemporaneously. I had to script and rescript every single word of every single sermon every single time. I thought my inability to speak extemporaneously was a preaching disadvantage, but it proved to be a writing advantage. Those sermon manuscripts, after some adaptations and alterations, would become book manuscripts. Without that perceived disadvantage, I doubt I would have cultivated my writing gifts. Writing, for me, is a compensatory skill.
You have gifts and abilities that you aren’t even aware of, but they are often buried beneath perceived weaknesses. In those disadvantages, dreams are playing hide-and-seek.
What does that have to do with David and his mighty men?
Saul slept in the palace on silk sheets while David’s band of brothers camped out in cold caves. Saul’s army was well armed and well equipped. David’s mighty men? Not so much, as evidenced by the fact that Benaiah had to steal the Egyptian’s spear to use it against him. And while Saul’s army ate Fogo De Chão served on silver platters, David’s mighty men had to hunt and kill everything they ate. In other words, they had to work harder, grow stronger, get smarter.
I like random facts that you don’t need to know to live a long, happy life. Here’s one of them. The brains of wild animals are 15 to 30 percent larger than those of their domesticated counterparts. Why? Well, I don’t know about other pet owners, but we feed our dog, Mickey, by putting dog food in his bowl. It’s the greatest 60 seconds of his day. A wild animal, on the other hand, has to forage for its food, has to fight for its food. But that foraging and fighting require creativity and effort. It’s survival of the fittest in the wild. Those animals that survive get stronger and smarter simply because it’s harder for them to find food.
David’s mighty men seemed to be at a disadvantage, but that’s how God makes heroes. The perceived disadvantages actually developed skills in David’s mighty men that they didn’t know they had.
For Josheb, the disadvantage was 800-to-1 odds.
For Benaiah, it was a 500-pound lion.