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Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Five Stones" (Shane Stanford and R. Brad Martin)

TITLE: Five Stones: Conquering Your Giants
AUTHOR: Shane Stanford and R. Brad Martin
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013, (192 pages).

Do you know that the word 'miseri' is literally "Egypt" in the Swahili language? Ever wonder why God chose a short and unfancied shepherd boy like David to defeat a large size fearsome Philistine like Goliath? What about moments of tough challenges in our lives? Do we take flight or do we fight? Maybe there are some giants in our lives that we have the potential to overcome, but for some reason we have failed to stand up against them. The authors begin by sharing the reminiscences of their own past, where they see how giants of life are slain by the most ordinary people with extraordinary hearts. Like Shane Stanford's grand uncle, whose bravery in WWII Normandy is often hidden as he wanted to avoid the pain of reliving the horrors of the war. The act of remembering is a way in which one can overcome the fear of pain with the reality of victory gained. Or the story of how a girl from Kenya became a symbol of hope, that as she battles the plight of being an orphan, she unconsciously helps others battle their own "emotional orphanages." Or the stories of Citizen Kane vs the victorious comeback coach in Hoosiers. Over and over, the authors reiterate that all of us can slay the giants of our lives, through the adopting of two attitudes and and using of five stones. The first attitude is interdependence, and to learn to fight battles together with others, not alone. The second is remembering that many others have conquered their own giants, and have paved the way for us to conquer our own giants.

The First Stone: A Picture

The key to fighting a victorious battle is to be clear in our minds what we are fighting. It is one thing to be gifted and skilled in a certain way. It is yet another to channel these skills toward a clear battle strategy. Like the famous golfer Jack Nicklaus who understands that the key to putting the ball is to visualize and "imagine the shot." Similarly, one needs to build a clear picture by recognizing fact from fiction; by visualizing the big picture; and by setting achievable goals. Before one flexes the muscles and throws the stone, one needs to reflect and recognize the actual challenge and the big picture of the target.

The Second Stone: Your Tools

Tools that are blunt will not give us the cutting edge. Not only that, tools that are unused will also go bad, just like Paganini's violin that became worm-eaten when kept unused in its case. The unused tool is also a metaphor of missing and avoiding opportunities when they present themselves. Three principles are put forth for the reader to sharpen, to use, and to excel in the tools we have. We first decide what is at stake. Then we take an inventory of what we have. Finally, we share our burdens and the battle we take. It reminds me of how easy it is for the stone that David threw to just embed itself fatally into Goliath's forehead. It must have been sharp to do just that!

The Third Stone: A Plan

Like the old adage, if one fails to plan, one plans to fail. How did David defeat Goliath? It is not enough just to have a big picture or powerful tools. One needs a plan in order to maximize both of them. being prepared is one core requirement of any successful battle. The authors also present three principles for planning. First, it needs to be solid but flexible. Solid in its comprehensiveness, and flexible in its implementation. Second, we learn from the Bible that seeking godly and wise counsel is critical in any battle plan or strategy. Having good mentors is a critical part. Third, keep the plan simple so that it can be easily communicated and effectively implemented.

The Fourth Stone: Your Training

We do not simply train for training's sake. We train with a purpose. We train on the basis of knowing ourselves. We train in a manner that knows what we need, what to build upon, and when to stop. Through five ways, we learn to adopt a targeted cultivating of skills. We learn when to put our skills into overload in order to strengthen. We learn to take a rest for recovery when needed. We learn to adapt. We learn to remain consistent.With the principles of sacrifice, obedience, and effort, our training will not be in vain.

The Fifth Stone: Your Nerve

One of the biggest challenges in any battle is on the inside. Whether it is psychological, emotional, or somewhat hidden, we need to cultivate boldness that is not easily given in to fear. It would have been easy for David to retreat back into the safety of his shepherding work, or the ordinary lifestyle of a normal Jewish boy. Yet, he built up nerves of steel to come face to face to battle with the Philistine. Living boldly is an act of faith. How do we do that? The authors suggest two principles. The first is to be prepared. The second is to be committed. Together, the preparation and the commitment will help build boldness in fighting our giants.

So What?

The authors then share their real life stories of their battles with all kinds of giants in their own lives. Like Martin's recovery from a bitter divorce. It took a lot of work before he is ready to try again in another marriage. Training, planning, and committing are core ingredients. Toward the end of the book, there are many exercises to help readers develop and build upon these five stones for overcoming any giant.
It is very practical and easy to follow. It will be easy for readers to just say that this book is another of those spiritual motivation books that provides the adrenaline for a while. Lest readers miss it, note that the book is written out of the ashes of brokenness and humbled lives. The authors themselves are not just writing theories. They have personally experience the humiliation by giants in their lives. Honestly and humbly, they have given us a manual soaked with their experience and learning, that we too can be encouraged to battle our own giants, and hopefully, avoid potholes along the way.

I am encouraged indeed, to know that we can use the five stones to defeat any giant. Let me add in a cautionary note. We must always remember that when we face any giant, we come against them not in our own five-stones effort, but in the name of the Lord. Choose our battles wisely. As disciples and soldiers of the Lord, we cannot simply get involved with every battle. Sometimes, we need to discern with the Spirit of God, whether to advance or to retreat, whether to reinforce or to just let go. Distinguish between winning battles or winning wars. We may win short term battles and still lose the eventual war. Do not fight unnecessary battles foolishly. Beware of red herrings. The wisdom and counsel of the Lord must always be sought first. If the book has given readers the idea that they can do it with their own strength and their own five stones, then readers will be doing themselves a disfavour for that is not what the authors have intended.

The battle always belongs to the Lord. Even when we fail to use the five stones properly, or even when we fail despite our best efforts, God is faithful and just, and will win the battles in His Name, according to His time, for His ultimate Glory. That must be the reason for our boldness and our commitment. Glory must go to God, and only God!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Abingdon Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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