Are You Focusing on the Obstacle or the Opportunity?

Many people fail at work and in life because they focus too much on the obstacle rather than the opportunity. I’m sure it’s often true in my own organization. Perhaps it is in yours.

“David Slaying Goliath” from the

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/GrayEgg

When something goes wrong, we spend hours dissecting it. We often refer to these sessions as post mortems—which literally means “after death.” Shouldn’t that be a clue that we are on the wrong track?

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I am not suggesting we should stick our heads in the sand. But I do think we should spend more of our time and other resources focused on what we want to create, where we have been successful, and how we can leverage our strengths.

The story of David and Goliath provides an excellent example of someone who focused on the opportunities rather than the obstacle.

Thousands of sermons have been preached about this story. Hundreds of books have been written. But as I was reading the story again this past weekend in 1 Samuel 17, I was struck by how useful it is in a business or leadership context.

Before David arrived on the battlefield, everyone was focused on the problem—Goliath. No wonder. This champion of the Philistines was nine feet, four inches tall (v. 4). It was difficult to ignore him.

Moreover, Goliath had a solid bronze helmet, a bronze coat of mail that weighed 125 pounds, and bronze shin guards. His size, coupled with his armor and a personal shield bearer, made him virtually invincible (vv. 5–6).

But in addition to being a one-man fortress, Goliath possessed a frightening offensive weapon. He had a bronze javelin that was “the size of a weaver’s beam” (think, mini-telephone pole) with a 15-pound iron spearhead (v. 7).

On top of that, he is hyper-confident and belligerent. He defied God, taunted the Israelites, and challenged them to a fight (vv. 8–11). The Israelites had endured his dramatic theater for forty days (v. 16).

In the midst of this, David arrives on the scene and sees Goliath for himself. Just as the Israelites begin (again) to run away, one of them mentioned to David that the king had offered a huge reward to anyone who could defeat Goliath. That caught David’s attention.

… it shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel” (v. 25).

To summarize, the king had offered three rewards to the man who could defeat Goliath:

  1. He would receive great riches.
  2. He would get to marry the king’s daughter.
  3. He would be granted a lifetime tax exemption.

David could hardly believe his ears. He asked another man standing nearby, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26).

Suddenly, the problem didn’t look so big. David began to shift his focus off Goliath and onto the opportunity.

Predictably, someone objects. (Someone always objects when you start tackling big problems they think are insurmountable.) Eliab, David’s oldest brother, was first in line (v. 28):

  1. He attacked David’s motive: “Why did you come down here?”
  2. He attacked David’s identity: “And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” He subtly reminds him he is a shepherd not a soldier.
  3. He even attacked his character: “I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”

But David ignored his brother and asked another Israelite about the opportunity: “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?” (v. 30).

Perhaps if it had been us, we would have spent more time focusing on the problem—analyzing Goliath, digging deeper into the problem, and trying to understand the various options before us. Not David.

Even King Saul, who had posted the reward—and didn’t have any other viable options—tried to talk David out of challenging the giant (v. 33). To add insult to injury, Goliath made fun of David, cursed him, and began running toward him (vv. 41–44). That must have been a frightening sight.

But David didn’t flinch. He declared His confidence the God who performs miracles (vv. 45–47). Rather than running away from the giant, the text says,

David hurried and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth.”

This made me reflect on my own approach to life. I wonder how much more successful I would be in tackling big problems if I would look past them and focus on the opportunities on the other side. How about you?

Question: Where is your focus, on the opportunity or on the obstacle? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • RAAckerman

    We all spend more time learning from failure than success- because we can’t figure out why we failed and don’t want to do it again. This is the flip side- focusing on the opportunities provides us with the psychic energy to tackle those “larger than life” obstacles, even if they turn out to be pebbles under our feet.
    Thanks for reminding us of this need.
    Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year to you and yours.

  • http://www.christopherscottblog.typepad.com/ Christopher Scott

    I’m always working hard to focus on the “opportunity” instead of the “problem.”

    But this is difficult because it is often easier to see the problem, as it is more obvious and “in your face” than the opporunity.

    Opportunities have to be looked for. Often, they are not seen on the surface, but it takes someone who is tough and resilient to look past the problem to find the opportunity.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on David’s perspective from 1 Samuel 17. 1 Samuel 17:45-47 is one of the first passages of scripture I have memorized as a new Christian. After reading those three verses, you can clearly see the amazing courage David displayed.

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    I’m a problem-solver, so I often focus on obstacles. Not always a good thing. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Johnbadair

    As a preacher, I have to admit that I have preached on David & Goliath, and many times on overcoming obstacles through the power of God. But so often I have been hypocritical. I have analized a situation to death and lost the opportunity: ergo, I failed. I have had many mini successes, but never any real giant-slaying successes. By God’s grace and power, from now on, I plan on thinking like David, instead of his brother, whom God passed over because of a bad heart. Thanks for the article.

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  • ReRe1908

    I am always amazed at the obstacles that I create for myself… Sometimes thinking that there were created only to talk myself out of it. My biggest obstacle is me… I have a complete manuscript saved on my pc… Edited to the point that if I edit anymore I will have blank pages. (LOL!!!).. Ok so now I’m fed-up and disgusted with my behavior and ready to make a move…But why does it have to take many sermons heard, many scriptures read, and reading this article to make me realize how long I’ve looked at the problem (of me) to see that I need to focus on the opportunity…. SMH (shakin’ my head)…..

  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    Michael…are you sure you weren’t called to preach? ;) Great post. Our focus determines our attitude. Our attitude determines our outlook. And our outlook determines our outcome.

    Joshua Hood
    2020visiononline.org

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  • rbodenstab

    Much need word today!  I will focus on the opportunities that God gives to me, even in the most difficult of situations. 

  • http://www.proverbsandbiz.wordpress.com/ Brandon Helderop

    One thing I love about this story is not only is it someone striving for opportunities instead of focusing on obstacles and hinderances, it’s a story of the underdog coming out on top. I’m reminded of Romans 8:31 which says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”. Also, verse 37 of that same chapter which says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. That’s the truth. If God is for us (and with us) then those obstacles don’t look so big anymore.

    Great insight from a great Bible story Michael. Thanks!

    Brandon

  • Leah

    Wow, the convenience of this post in my life right now is astonishing! 

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  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com/ Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    For those BIG problems (or just opportunities I’m just deathly afraid of) I HAVE TO look at the rewards or I’m down for the count…the potential and the hope and the what-could-be absolutely motivates me to keep going day in and day out.  I have no idea how anyone gets anything done or faces any of their giants without the reward in sight.  I could probably do better at visualizing, mapping and planning out rewards as much as it is within my power to do so.  For example, with money management, I could do a better job with this….and money almost always feels like a giant out to get me, that is hard to face and even ever harder to wrestle into my will. Anyway, great post. thanks, Mikey! =)

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  • ChasHall

    If I spent all the time I normally take to analyze my problems and obstacles on positive movement, I would eliminate most of my problems and obstacles.

  • Munk

    Thank you for this reminder to run toward the challenges rather than from them…it is only as we run toward them that we will fully appreciate the success once we have overcome each obstacle…

  • Ilene Saidel

    I am now running TOWARD the “enemy,” toward the giant, toward the obstacle, toward the opportunity… This was an “on time” message for me. Many thanks and blessings.

  • Kevin Ivey

    Good stuff. Last night wife and I were discussing ‘WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO??’ The problems are legion-the opportunities appeared small at first…UNTIL we began to methodically dissect them. As we talked, the Opportunities grew and our problems began to shrink in size. Thanks for the blog

  • Pam Taylor

    I can gratefully and truthfully say I am more and more focusing on the opportunities rather than obstacles. YAY!

  • B blue

    Thank you for the article Micheal, few months ago I used to focus more on the problem than in the solutions but like David did, I always remind myself who is the God that I serve. when I face a situation, I repeat in my heart:

    “God is able, He is the Alpha, Omega, The Beginning ad the End, the First and the Last, the Creator of the Universe, The King of all kings. if He created the world he can surely deal you my little situation.

  • Sunil Raheja

    Thank you for such a helpful and illuminating application to a timeless story. It is so easy to be focussed on the obstacles rather than the opportunity.

  • Roger Whitney

    I am blessed to be opportunity focused. Unlike David though I struggle in executing them in a big way. David didn’t just test the waters against Goliath. He charged forward confident in God.

  • Rick Conklin

    Michael,
    I have enjoyed your posts for quite a long time.  However I must disagree regarding David’s motivation when he defeated Goliath.  It is clearly not the motivational / incentive package offered by Saul.

    The key to 1&2 Samuel are the bookends of (a) Hannah’s prayer in 1 Sam 2 and (b) David’s song in 2Sam 22. Notice how Hannah contrasts those who oppose The Lord vs those he exalts.   (see below).

    1Sam. 2:7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 
    1Sam. 2:9-10 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” 

    David vs Goliath is meant to show how worthless a leader Saul had become and demonstrate the success of a man after Gods own heart.

    Look at the rewards. They are no surprise considering it was Saul who offered them.  They are self centered, not God centered.  At the core they are the same as we have today – money, sex, and power.  The leap from the pasture to Sauls palace by marrying his daughter is a powerful move. 

    Did the rewards get David’s attention? Sure, he’s human. 

    But, David rejected everything offered by Saul.  He rejected the “motivational package”, Sauls advice to David to avoid the battle, and even Sauls armor.  Saul would get zero credit for David’s victory and that included the incentives.

    What was David’s motivation?  He saw cocky Philistines who scoffed are the existence of a powerful God.  He saw his own King and army demoralized.  

    David had two goals that drove him. (a) The name of the living God Almighty struck no fear in his enemies. (b) And worse, his own countrymen had lost faith that this same God cared anymore or was still able to deliver them.

    The army of Israel didn’t need the worlds incentives.  The army of Israel needed a leader who was a man after Gods own heart.  We see David address the issue in these verses.

    1Sam. 17:46-47 This day the LORD will hand you over to me…  and the whole WORLD WILL KNOW that there IS a God in Israel. All those gathered HERE will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and HE WILL give all of you into our hands.” 

    The destiny of the nation turned right here.  David NEVER lost a military battle to anyone.  The Lord exalts those who exalt Him.  David didn’t say, the battle goes to those who demand the biggest incentives.  No, he had something much bigger in mind and God honored that.

    sincerely, 
    Rick Conklin