I Am Number 8

Overlooked and Undervalued, but Not Forgotten by God


By John W. Gray III

Foreword by Joel Osteen

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If God can take David — the invisible eighth son of a forgotten family — and turn him into a king, just imagine what magnificent plans He has for redeeming your life.

David was born a number 8 — a hidden gem, often overlooked and undervalued by everyone except for God. For David, being a number 8 seemed like a curse until the day God transformed him from the unknown eighth son of Jesse into the much-honored king of Israel. When God sends out an invitation to greatness, His directions don’t always make sense to us. You may feel like the most invisible, broken number 8 out there, but God sees your hidden value and is growing you for better things. David didn’t know it, but his time as a simple shepherd with a dull future did not go unnoticed by God. In David’s darkest moments, he was cultivating the kind of gifts, wisdom, and leadership he would need to become a king. Even when you’re an underdog in the eyes of the world, God is working behind the scenes to develop you into a king or queen.



It happened on a Friday night in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

When I think of revival, I rarely think of any city located in the northeast corridor of the United States. Don't close the book, northeasterners, let me explain! I can admit that in my shortsightedness at the time, I really could only imagine something like this happening in one of the southern states—mostly, the Bible Belt. Places where there is a history of these kinds of moments happening. In truth, nobody was looking for the Spirit of God to unify an entire generation in the middle of Rhode Island. Who really goes to Rhode Island to find destiny? And yet, I was so very wrong. Destiny is exactly what happened in Rhode Island. For the kids who attended that youth conference, and for me.

It was so chilly that day I could see my breath when I got out of the car. As I walked the short distance to the church, I could hear the sound of kids singing praise songs over a heavy bass-driven beat. I couldn't make out the exact song but I discerned the sound of passion. Kids don't fake passion these days. I know hunger when I hear it. These kids? These kids wanted more.

I was raised in church. My mom was a church pianist. Granny was too. My dad was a jazz organist. That's another story I'll get to later. My point is, I've been in church all my life. I'm also an observer. Those two things mean that I can clearly tell the difference between surface religious performance and authentic passion. The sound I heard on that cold day was the real thing. But even the sound could not have prepared me for the moment I would find myself in an hour later.

After the worship, I walked onto the platform. The kids were so excited, so passionate, the roar of the crowd was deafening. There were at least fifteen hundred youths and adults present, all staring up at me in anticipation of what God might do next. The atmosphere was amazing. As I began the message, I could hear the sound again, only this time, it was a rumbling. My words started flowing in a way they had never before. I was in a moment. As a communicator, as a preacher, you can tell when you're in a moment. There have been many times when I have preached and could feel that I was hitting up against something in the atmosphere—whether it was the audience's curiosity or their resistance to what I was sharing, based on whatever differences they brought with them (denominational perspectives and theology, etc.).

But these kids connected to me, and I connected to them. There was something more I needed to say. I started reading from 1 Samuel 16. I shared with them that the Old Testament prophet Samuel had gone into the city of Bethlehem and to the house of Jesse to anoint the future King of Israel. After seeing seven of Jesse's sons, Samuel asked the man, "Are all the young men here?" Jesse said, "Well, there is the youngest" (1 Sam. 16:11). There was someone, another son, that Jesse had forgotten.

From that moment in the sermon, there was a shift. I started sharing about a young man—David—relegated to the fields, hidden in his own home, reviled by his brothers, overlooked by his father, but still very much loved and seen by God. Samuel goes on to say in the passage, "Send for him; we won't sit down until he comes" (1 Sam. 16:11). Jesse calls David, who was doing what he was always doing, watching the sheep. He didn't realize that everything was about to change.

I shared this story with kids from hardscrabble neighborhoods and not-so-great circumstances. I shared it because I was convinced that God wanted to tell them that even though people may not see or acknowledge their gifts, that did not mean He didn't place those gifts in them. They were hidden for a reason and a season, but they were there, deep down inside, just beneath the surface.

I don't know if I was really prepared for how much this message would resonate. Kids leaned forward in their seats. Folks who were texting at the beginning, stopped. Before I knew it, I had everybody's attention. God was moving. With each beat, with each point, I could feel this passion welling up. I could feel this intensity, this hunger where I was connecting with a group of kids who, for any number of reasons, identified as the forgotten, the overlooked, and the undervalued.

I continued to talk about David, his life, how it seemed that he came out of nowhere, that nobody saw him. I later learned that this was true for many of the kids in that audience. They believed nobody saw them. Some of them came from broken homes; others had their dreams shattered, or innocence snatched. Yet in that moment, they found a collective hope. They realized that none of the negative things, none of the forgotten things, could stop God from choosing them.

I pushed the sermon further. I talked about how God prepares the forgotten; how He equips the undervalued and sets them in high places for His purpose. This was true for all of them—the broken, the fatherless, the motherless, the ones who had never once heard they had inherent value. Tears flowed. Kids flocked to the altar all on their own. A sound entered the room I had never heard before, and that's when I knew that this was not just a sermon, it was a movement.

The idea that David, the 8th son of no one, was not just a historical figure from thousands of years ago who just so happened to be biblical legend, but his story, the story of a number 8, the number of new beginnings in biblical numerology, could resonate so deeply with thirteen-year-old kids from Rhode Island was amazing. The fact that this same story resonated with me, the then forty-one-year-old man preaching about it, was a revelation.

The sermon wasn't just for them. It was also for me. I needed to be reminded that the place where I stood in that moment was not because I deserved it or had worked to attain it. Rather I had been given that platform by a God who had spotted me deep in the recesses of a little, working-class neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, and declared that I had value. God declared that I had purpose, even though I did not have a father there to teach me that. My heavenly Father declared it and my mother made sure I knew it.

I wasn't just a kid that everybody laughed at because I had buck teeth and alopecia. I wasn't just a kid who couldn't get a date. I wasn't just the goofy virgin with acne. I was more than that. God hid me for a reason. God didn't keep me from things; he kept me for a thing. I wasn't just preaching to these kids about the number 8; I was a number 8. And so were many of them.

Maybe, just maybe, so are you.

You're looking for something.

What you've done before is not working.

What you're doing now is good, but you know you can live at a higher level. You're a youth and want to know that serving God will really help you in those tough alone places.

You're a talented young adult who believes you have a future, but you just can't see it—things just aren't working out the way you expected.

You have a family, but can't seem to see God in the details of every day. It's rough trying to keep it all together, right?

Maybe you are eighteen. Maybe you are eighty. Whatever your age, your life has purpose today. And yes, I realize that your real questions may have nothing to do with age. You want to know how to keep from feeling discouraged when you don't fit? You toy with the idea that no one would care if you just gave up. You wonder if you really do matter.

I want you to know that you are not alone. I know how you feel. We are number 8s. We are the ones with shaky knees and sweaty palms even when we are at the top of our game because we feel like an imposter. We are the ones who may not even be in the game; we're sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be invited in.

But here's another truth: We are also the ones who will not give up, who will not be overlooked, who will not let shame, guilt, and fear hold us back. David, the number 8 son, a lowly shepherd, was anointed by God and became king. I, being a man who has felt the pain of being an outsider, also used my pain for the purpose of serving God.

That chilly Friday in Rhode Island, I shared the story of David, a man after God's own heart, the eighth son, and how he was able to move from shepherd boy to king of a nation despite being rejected and marginalized. Much of the time, David was afraid—just like many of us. But fear doesn't change God's plan for us. David was a number 8. I am a number 8. And you just might be a number 8 too. If you are, then I can assure you that your release is near. Your story is in these pages. This book is for you.

Throughout this book, I will share with you my own personal journey. Being on a pastoral team that serves an average of forty-five thousand people each Sunday, speaking at global events, and being blessed with a loving wife and two children, I have come a long way from my experiences as a child. The initial chapters will examine David's life from his days in the field as a shepherd to his time as king when, like I have on many days, David said to God, "I can't believe I'm here. What did I do to deserve this honor?" David had not always been honest. He had cheated and lied and even murdered. But God kept his promise that David would be great. Being a number 8 means that you are not expected to be perfect, but simply to love God and live in your purpose.

I also want to highlight the value of preparation and training for number 8s. It's critical that we are ready when God does decide to remove us from isolation. God opened the door for David to be chosen by Saul as his armor bearer. David was not from a royal family nor was he famous, but he was chosen. God had already chosen him, and now King Saul had also selected David to play for him to relieve distress.

Another important point for number 8s to remember is that what looks like "suddenly" is the result of patience over time. Ever hear of the phrase "a twenty-year overnight success"? Exactly. I will explore in future chapters what it means to be patient and wait for God to open a door or opportunity. Whether you are retired by the time you "suddenly" achieve success or young, when time may seem to be moving way too slowly for your taste, patience is going to be necessary when it appears that your dreams have been deferred, delayed, blocked, and derailed.

It gets exhausting being a number 8—being turned down over and over, though you know you are ready for the fight. But when it's time to step up, it's critical that we do exactly that. Yes, there may be people who have been around longer, have more money, fame, or connections. David's brothers did not want David to fight the Philistine Goliath.

Maybe it was because they loved him, but maybe it was because they thought he might win and make them look bad. Regardless of why David's brothers wanted to stop him, David did not allow them to keep him from taking care of his business. He kept asking until the word got to Saul and he was granted permission to fight on behalf of their cause.

Just like David's faith in God's ability to bring victory against Goliath, through his meager weapons, I have always relied on God, even as a child. Many of the events that might have made me take an easier path were only overcome by the grace and strength of God. There were periods when people disappointed me and I had to fight my own "giants." However, you can overcome giants when you believe that you are not going into battle alone.

Recognize that we all have giants. We all face severe hardships, seemingly insurmountable obstacles and temptations. We all have problems. We all have temptations. While it is true we all have giants, it is also true that every giant can be defeated. After all, giants rarely start out that way.

Goliath was not always a giant. He was not always nine feet six inches tall. He was once a baby. And with the passing of time and the nurture he received from others, the baby became a child. And the child became a teenager. And the teenager became a man. And the man turned into a giant.

In the same way, giants often begin quite small. When we have a big sin in our lives, it started as a little sin that was allowed, nurtured, fed, and even encouraged, and then became a giant that taunts us. It started with a so-called Christian liberty that we proclaimed and is now getting the best of us. In time, little things become big things.

Another point I will explore: Prayer and praise—worshipping God—overcomes fear. Time and time again in Scripture, we see that Saul, the first king of Israel, appears to be afraid of David. Yes, this tall warrior was afraid of the young man David. The truth is, when you worship God and are in communion with God, you can make even strong kings and leaders afraid. Mostly, they are afraid because you are not. They see your unwavering trust in God and it makes them nervous. Isaiah 54:17 says that "no weapon formed against you shall prosper." Worship keeps you sane as you trust that this word from the Lord is true.

Your blind spots, those places of sin that you can't see or don't know about, can often lead you into the wilderness called failure. Ah, failure. The word no one wants to hear connected with their name. I hope to remind you in these pages of the value of failure. It's in this particular wilderness that number 8s pick up clues on how to lead, love, and serve in the worst of times. David finds himself in the wilderness a few times in Scripture. At one point, he is not even alone. He has four hundred men who have followed him into the wilderness. That can happen. In the wilderness, we need others to encourage, support, admonish, and defend us. David had a community in his life to point out his blind spots in love. Despite it being one of the worst times in David's life, God knew the wilderness was an opportunity for David to get himself together. To learn some new stuff. I have found myself in the failure wilderness, and so have you. Numbers 8s learn valuable lessons from failure because they know that even kings and queens fail. This is particularly true when it comes to relationships.

Whether it was his first wife, Michal, his failure with Bathsheba, or his lazy fathering, David was not able to navigate the land mines of personal relationships well. That's a common trait of number 8s though. I have to make a conscious decision daily to give attention to my personal relationships in the same way I give attention to the call on my life: the travels, the meetings, the preaching, the serving others. It certainly isn't easy.

There are challenges and victories in making a commitment to relationships and staying faithful to them. Which leads me to another critical point for you to remember as you read: Numbers 8s aren't always successful at getting it right. But they keep trying.

In the final chapters of the book, I wrestle with the pain of growing up without a father or father figure. David also missed something in his relationship with his father. Everything in David's life, good and bad, can be traced back to that relationship. In ancient Israel, it was the duty of the father to declare identity, and yet, David was anointed king of Israel in front of a father who seems to have never seen him.

My hope is that this book will offer some practical application to your everyday life. I hope that the illustrations and personal testimonies will run parallel to areas in your own life and challenge you to identify where you are when it comes to your calling. Too many times people think of a "calling" as something that happens only in the context of a preaching ministry. But I believe that nurses have a calling. Botanists have a calling. Bus drivers have a calling. I still remember my bus driver from ninth grade. He wore glasses and was bald on the top with hair on the sides. He was a kind man and always had a good word for me when I got on the bus. I looked forward to seeing him because he encouraged me. If he saw me running for the bus, he'd stop. He saw something in me very early on. This man was walking in his calling for that season of his life with a kind of excellence that pleased God. Without a doubt, being called to something is a supernatural thing, only not in the spooky way we often think of it. It simply means doing what we can in the natural, and trusting God for the "super."

So there's not too much difference between David and me. Or you and David. Or you and me. David was a shepherd in the field. I delivered pizza. You may have (fill in the blank). But when we realize we have the favor of God on our lives, we can go from being a shepherd boy to a deliverer of a nation; a delivery boy to shepherding thousands every week. From wherever you are today, to wherever God wants to take you tomorrow. From one number 8 to another, I want this book to challenge you to claim that destiny. David was born in Bethlehem. His family wasn't special. No one saw him coming. Yet by the time it was all said and done, the nation and the world would never be the same! A king had taken the throne! And so it goes with you. This is the ultimate power of a number 8. The glory that is produced in us is hidden until the exact moment it's needed.

When I set out to share this word, I often wondered how many others have felt overlooked and forgotten. I don't have the exact statistics, but here's what I know for sure: If you are someone who has felt like your life carries no intrinsic, inherent value, this book is for you. In truth, this book is for all of us. This book is for me. Again, I am number 8 and so are you. God's about to reveal to you a purpose so necessary, so critical, so essential that he had to hide it behind pain, grief, and misunderstanding in order to protect it until this very moment.


Who Is a Number 8?

I wasn't the coolest kid in school. I didn't have the best clothes all the time. Instead of taking me to a barbershop, my mom would cut my hair to save money. And I was terribly awkward when it came to speaking to girls. Guys made fun of me because of my discount store clothes, lack of a cool haircut, and buckteeth. Add to all of this a diagnosis of alopecia and you have the perfect recipe for long-term virginity. I was always picked last to play sports on the playground. Seriously! Didn't matter what sport it was—basketball, football, or baseball—nobody wanted me on their team. I threw like a girl. Wait, scratch that! There are some amazing women softball players. I threw like someone who had no clue where the ball was actually supposed to go. It wasn't until I had failed repeatedly to make the baseball team that I found out why I threw this way. I was left-handed but my mom had bought me a right-hand glove. Thanks, Mom!

I maybe had two "fights" in my whole school career—and I lost them both. A younger kid named Myron threw rocks at my bike once and I told him to stop. He didn't, so I walked over to him across the brown mounds of dirt on the baseball field like I was really going to do something about it. He hit me right in the eye. I immediately said, "I quit."

It might be a little funny now but I also remember the feelings of isolation that came from this constant ridicule. Not to mention that I was always at church. My mother kept me in the choir, Boy Scouts, and probably every church play ever written. So, in sum, I was the corny, virginal, bucktoothed church boy. I can't even count how many times, when everyone else was out partying, I was at home with my mama. She said I couldn't do what everyone else did. She said I had a calling on my life. It didn't always feel that way though. When I was younger, I hated this calling Mama said I had. It made my life so lonely.

I was a number 8.

Called by God: A Game Changer

Do you remember the moment that was the game changer for you? You know, when that person or event showed you that things would not be the same? Maybe after years of losing, you finally won the big game—exactly at the moment when people who could offer you a college education or a professional contract were watching.

Maybe after struggling with your voice forever, you finally sang a solo and nailed it in front of the entire school. Or maybe after a million and one false starts, you finally launched your new business. It could be that you have been sick for a long time and, at last, you receive a new diagnosis that you are now "cancer-free."

These are all game changers! Moments that turn the tide for you and help you believe something entirely different about yourself. It is when you know you are stronger than you thought, more brave than you knew, and that you have a bigger purpose than you believed.

These moments don't necessarily mean you will look different or that other people won't see the same person and continue to ignore, dismiss, or try to keep you down. But what is important is that something has changed in you. You know that—in spite of appearances—your heart has changed. You know that you are in the will of God and nothing can stop you from having your dream.

Our David had a game-changing moment. Remember, in the early part of his life, he'd spent hours in the fields watching sheep. His typical day was: Wake up while it was still dark, get the sheep from where they slept (the sheepfold); walk and walk and walk until he found water for the sheep; sit while the sheep ate and slept; guard the sheep against bears, lions, and humans that might harm them; gather the sheep from where they wandered around—they didn't know where they were going—and then walk the sheep back to the sheepfold. And that was a good day. Not exactly a party.

Take a minute and imagine living the life of a shepherd: You smell that? Chasing sheep in a field means that your feet would likely be covered in the fetid remnants of the day's grazing. And how about that Middle Eastern heat? Can you imagine the sweat pouring off your face? It would certainly sting your eyes. Feel the rays of the sun beating down on you like you're the only person in the world. Your only respite is an occasional breeze. But those fleeting moments of relief give way to the inescapable reality that this is your life. A life relegated to the shadows.


On Sale
Mar 27, 2018
Page Count
224 pages

John W. Gray III

About the Author

JOHN W. GRAY III is the Senior Pastor of Relentless Church in Greenville, SC (formerly Redemption Church) and continues to serve as an associate pastor of America’s largest single venue church, Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas. He preaches primarily at Lakewood’s midweek service where thousands converge each week. John was named to Oprah’s Super Soul 100, a collection of 100 awakened leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity. His show, The Book of John Gray, airs on The Oprah Winfrey Network. John resides in Greenville, SC with his wife, Aventer, their children, John W. Gray IV and Theory Aspyn-Sky Gray.

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