Additional "From Further Afield" Articles


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Published: 10/19/2012 3:44:08 PM


John of Salisbury wrote in 1159, "[...]we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” In large part, this quote has come to refer to scholars and educational ideas, but what if we could apply this to our Christian community as well? One of my dear friends and mentors always used to say with both spoken and written word that he often climbed on the shoulders of others to get a better view. I considered him to be a wise Christian man, and I still do to this day, but his comment puzzled me at first. I understood the metaphor of learning from others and then building on their knowledge to go further than they went: knowledge builds on knowledge. But I had a hard time thinking that faith builds on faith, until I realized that it’s not our faith that is based on another’s faith, it is rather that others lift us up "on their shoulders” and encourage us in our faith walks.

Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5, "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” While Timothy’s faith was not based on the faith of his grandmother and mother, it was these women who most likely taught him about God and read the Scriptures with him when he was young. I think we all have those people in our lives. People whose shoulders supported us in the times when we were just beginning to come to know exactly who Jesus is, what He did, and what believing in Him means for our lives. For me, these people are my parents. They supported me in my faith walk from the time I was a child. They taught me about Jesus, took me to church, read the Bible with me, taught me how to pray, and answered all my questions. They also witnessed to me through their actions, through the way that being a Christian played out in our family and in their interactions with other people. I hope and pray that you too have had these kind of "giants” in your life.

Hebrews 12:1 reads, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” That cloud of saints are more giants – both people who have left the earth and those who are still here – and they have allowed us to see further than we ever did before. These are the people who maybe challenged you, took the time to talk with you, gently reminded you to stay grounded in the Word and in prayer, or were just there to listen and offer godly advice. As I think back over my life, I realize how many giants I’ve had and still have. The list includes countless teachers, coaches, members of my congregation, authors, professors, and even classmates (giants don’t always have to be older than you). I remember one professor in particular, who encouraged me to come to Hungary the first time to be part of a short-term mission team that organized Bible/English camps for students. Through her gentle prodding to look beyond my corner of the world, I came to realize with more and more certainty that God can use us wherever we are - around the world and back again. I began to see the abilities that God gave me might enable me to serve Him well in a country other than America, and I continued to see further and further until I found myself serving as a missionary here in Hungary.

And then I had a hard time seeing much of anything. I lost contact with some of my giants, and it took me a long time to recognize the new giants that God had placed in my life. Once I did that, I saw more and more and realized something else seemingly miraculous – I too am a giant. At first I was taken aback by this. I thought, "What?! I’m not smart enough or good enough or old enough for people to stand on my shoulders .” Perhaps you now find yourself in the same situation: After years of being nurtured and guided and supported, you realize that you are the "spiritual giant” who others look to for support and guidance and vision. You might scream inside, "I’m not that great. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. God help me!” And then God tells us, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Not only will He strenghten us, but the Spirit of God living in us will help us use our words to say what needs to be said. We are not left to do it on our own. We can be living, breathing giants for others as so many were (and are) to us.

Eros vár a mi Istenünk (A mighty fortress is our God),

Sarah Berta-Somogyi

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