The race we run is filled with hills and valleys. It is not a straight or flat road, but one that is filled with obstacles. Romans 8:37 tells us that “we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus”. But sometimes, when we face overwhelming odds, we struggle to embrace this “more than conquering designation” and we wonder if we can live the victorious life that Jesus died to give us.
How do we overcome the obstacles we face?
The apostle Paul was a great example of someone who faced many obstacles as he advanced the gospel of Christ. Initially, He was a persecutor of the Church. After his Damascus road conversion experience and the subsequent beginning of his preaching ministry, there was an all out attempt to force him to abort his mission.
How was Paul able to run an excellent race and finish with distinction despite the numerous obstacles? I think the key is discovered in his letter from his jail cell to the Philippian church. In the midst of all his struggles, his being misjudged and misunderstood, Paul pens the following words in Philippians 4 in the Message Bible translation:
“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean really revel in Him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything working together for good will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do your best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you have learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies”.
Four Lessons from Paul’s Life on how to successfully overcome obstacles:
1. Celebrate! – Paul tells us that in the midst of difficulties, it’s time for a celebration! He says when things seem their worst it’s time to sing, it’s time to dance, it’s time to throw a party, because we know that “He who calls us is able to keep us from falling and present us blameless and unharmed before God on the day of salvation.” So instead of complaining, celebrate! It’s a conscious choice that we have to make. We can choose to look at the circumstances and give the obvious response of complaining, nitpicking, worrying, and being afraid, or we can choose to look unto Jesus who is “the author and finisher of our faith,” and celebrate because we are fully convinced that all will be well, and by faith all is well. We recognize that Jesus started this work in us and He is the One who will bring it to completion. Paul recognized this truth. He knew Jesus had him covered, so he chose to stand on the promises of God and celebrate!
2. Pray and Praise instead of worry! – Paul gives us the cure for worry, which is praying (letting God Know our concerns) and praising (celebrating Him in advance for how He is going to take care of our concerns). Paul was in jail and didn’t know how things would turn out, but he know Who was watching over him, so he prayed about it and praised God in spite of what he saw and left it in the hands of the God who could do anything but fail. Again, there is a choice to make: will we worry or will we pray and praise? If we worry, then worry is at the center of our lives. If we pray and praise God, during trials, it shows that Christ is in His rightful place at the center of our lives. Who is at the center of your life today, is it worry or is it Christ? The answer to that question will determine if you will overcome what you’re facing and move to the next level or go round and round the mulberry bush and remain stagnant in the race.
3. Meditate on the good and not the bad! – Paul tells us that we have to reprogram our minds. Too often, we place the focus of our thought life on the negative thing we see, instead on the good that God intends to bring out of the bad. It’s time to look beyond the circumstances and see God’s purpose, what He intends to accomplish through the pain. In chapter 1 of Philippians, Paul says, “I want to report to you. Friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here and everyone else too, found out that I’m in jail because of the Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learnt all about Him. Not only that, but most of the Christians here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah”. There was purpose in Paul’s pain, and instead of focusing on the prison he focused on the purpose being fulfilled as a result.
I believe that as Paul was encouraging the Philippian church, he was encouraging himself. He was preaching to himself as much as he was to them, so that he could keep on running his race and fight to the finish. In Philippians 1:18-20 he says “And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything He wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” What a remarkable statement of faith and trust in God and a revelation that could have only come from the throne room of God as Paul sat in that jail cell. This happened all because he chose to meditate on the good and not the bad! He saw through his spiritual eyes how it was going to work out. He knew that he had a work to fulfill and that this imprisonment was just a roadblock that he had to get pass so that he could continue to run his race. Suppose Paul chose to only see the negative and gave up? We may not have had two-thirds of the New Testament.
1. Be content no matter what! – Paul further encourages the Philippian church and by extension us, to be content and at peace in whatever situations we find ourselves in verses 11-13. He says “Actually. I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve have learnt by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I have found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (In other words, I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me).” There will be times when we have plenty and times when we have not as much, but this does not change our position in Christ. Therefore, we should not become uneasy when our circumstances change and shift the focus off of our race, because we can accomplish all things through Christ. It has nothing to do with what we have or where we are, but everything to do with who we are in Him! He is more than enough!
As we face trials we have to recognize that it is not about us personally, but it is because of God’s purpose on the inside of us that we have been destined to fulfill. This purpose is so important that the enemy of our souls will try to derail us at every turn. That is why Peter tells us “to be sober and vigilant, because our adversary, the devil, walketh around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” He can’t devour everyone. If you are under Blood of Jesus, he can’t devour you, but you must always be on guard. Things may get bad sometimes, but you can keep on running, because you know that ultimate victory is yours through Jesus Christ. Peter further states at the end of this chapter, “Keep your guard up. You’re not the only one plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! – will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word, yes, he does.”
That’s why we can fight to the finish, because we know God has the final say. Let’s not focus on what’s happening to us, but rather on what’s happening in us during our trials – the growth, the character being shaped, and the strengthening of our spiritual muscles. Overcoming obstacles does not come without a fight, a mental determination to press coupled with God’s supernatural enabling power (His Grace) to defeat the giants that we face.
Let’s determine to fight to the finish because people out there are dying and their deliverance is wrapped up in our purpose.
Let’s not give up. Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “so we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
Tiffany C. Edgecombe is the bestselling author of A Time to Heal: Restoration from the Ravages of Rape, Overcoming Obstacles: A Fight to the Finish, and Overcoming Obstacles Small Group Study Guide. Tiffany’s purpose is to convince people, everywhere, that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome by those who choose to make God the Navigator of their lives.