In life, many obstacles can cross our path. There are various setbacks, and difficult decisions to make. We can suffer trauma and illness, experience loss or loneliness or rejection, know great concern or even fear over certain matters, or feel heavily burdened. Troubles can emerge in our relationships. We can be debilitated by a sense of failure, or addicted to the need for human approval. There can be feelings of inferiority and other negative thought patterns. We can feel at the end of our ability to cope. We can be tested to the depths of our soul – our situation can seem dire. Indeed, at times, life can be complicated. We can also become enslaved by bitterness and unforgiveness. And, there are the big obstacles of guilt and shame.
In any of these circumstances, how will we overcome? If we already follow Jesus, how can we keep believing and trusting?? If we don’t yet know Jesus, how can we find him through the maze of obstacles before us??? This is what I want to pursue!
This may not be us at the moment … we might not be affected by too many obstacles – but it could be someone near to us. How can we help? It may not be so much what advice we can give, but more so – what positive coping mechanisms we can model.
Sometimes we forget the most foundational truths of life – God’s great love for us, and the mercy that God so much wants to share with us. These should be part of our ‘core beliefs’! Instead we believe such lies … as … ‘we will never be good enough’, or, ‘life will never work out for us’ – lies that are planted in our minds, whispered behind our backs, or said straight to our face.
If we start to take such lies on board, we can start to think wrongly; and such lies can take over our psyche, and change our behaviour and decision-making … towards even more negative outcomes. We may want to consider for ourselves questions like: What lies do I believe? What self-destructive behaviours do I engage in? What am I enslaved to?
‘Core beliefs’ are about what we hold to be true. How we feel about ourselves (and others), and how we interpret the events around us, come out of these ‘core beliefs’. Our ‘core beliefs’ provide the filter through which we think. Therefore, to be healthy, a good decision-maker, and have the capacity to overcome obstacles, we need to have the love and mercy of God set foremost in our mind. This then brings the great reassurance of being valued, and the hope of forgiveness, acceptance and change.
Let’s not doubt God’s love. Life brings circumstances that may tend to confuse us, but we should NOT linger too long … in places removed from embracing the basic truth of God’s love. Indeed, God pursues us through any restlessness, receives us still in our sinfulness, holds us close in our brokenness. We ARE His concern. Sometimes we may doubt God’s closeness or that He really cares for us; but it’s just that often there are lessons to be learned (for our long-term benefit), that require a process involving patience and adjustment.
When the people of God, stuck in Egypt, were groaning under the weight of their slavery, they cried out to God for help. Then we read, “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them” (Exodus 2:24-5). We can be sure that we are never forgotten, and always in God’s view.
Yet the problems and challenges the ancient people of Israel faced, were never fully resolved without their participation in the solution, always involving obedience to the God that was continually loving them. They wandered in the desert, and such was the political situation in which they lived at times … they were taken into exile; yet they were never forgotten, and in the right time, were brought back into a good pasture.
The fact is … that we live in a fallen world, full of darkness caused by sin, where our physical bodies are susceptible to disease, and our very welfare is affected by how others choose to live within our connected social environment. And the Bible is a book full of people struggling with this reality. Yet, as one psalmist reminds us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). But ... we need to allow God space to work in our lives!
In our reading from 1 Peter 5, we notice … that if we want to be fully ‘lifted up’ in life, where the word used here (in vs 6) is “exalted” – meaning gaining the best possible outcome, we need to trust God completely, like a little child does with a loving parent. Such humility before God, and active trust, is needed, because of the anxieties, dangers and suffering in life. There is also opposition against us.
[Part of “humbling” ourselves, is also to note that we, personally, are NOT the only ones struggling – that there are others who are equally seeking God’s attention. We are not the only one suffering. Even though the type and level of suffering differs from person to person, people are suffering all around the world every day, often with tragic outcomes.]
We also see that this trust we place in God, far from being ‘false hope’ … is so well-placed. God cares for us (v 7b). And, through and beyond the suffering we encounter, God will recreate and rebuild us (gloriously expressed in verse 10). May well we worship God (v 11)!
Yet we should also notice some further action required of us in verse 8 – i.e. applying discipline and staying alert. Life should NEVER be lived glibly, but rather in full knowledge that the next test is likely not far away. We should be good observers of what is happening around us. And we should apply faith to all situations we find ourselves in, so that we can understand where God is … in the particular situation at hand, and work out how we can grow and mature through this particular experience.
We do NOT want to retreat back to the way those without faith may react to setbacks, as if God is not there. So, we need to be able to bow to God’s wisdom – even through the twists and turns, and ups and downs, and through those periods where we think we have been put at some sort of disadvantage.
This leads to some practical suggestions regarding overcoming obstacles.
Ways to Overcome Obstacles
- Receiving Grace
We need to accept the gift of forgiveness from the cross, where Jesus died to take away all the sin, guilt, shame and baggage … that had kept us separate from God. This is a simple act of release – giving up trying to make it by ourselves, be good enough, or to save ourselves. We lay this type of endeavour aside, and throw ourselves on the mercies of God – who doesn’t need to be convinced of anything – rather is just patiently waiting for our positive response to His glorious and free invitation.
Our salvation and our hope are NOT something we earned or created ourselves – these have come through God’s love and faithfulness to us. We therefore need to position ourselves completely and utterly “under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6). The process of being ‘lifted up’, that we then experience, as well as being thoroughly spiritual, will likely also be social, and may also be somewhat physical. We will surely be led into (new) avenues of service; and certainly move closer to God’s will for us.
- Committing Wholly to Jesus
As we have said, there are many unjust situations – but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. God does NOT abandon us. This was proved by Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth, and willingly encountering all the struggles here. Thus, Jesus is our greatest joy; he is always at our side, and will never let us down.
And, as we read in Hebrews, “Because [Jesus] himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (2:18). Jesus was intensively tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) by the devil – something that he may have been able to avoid, although in truly being human would naturally experience – especially as it could provide an encouraging example for us … of using the truth of God’s Word to defeat the negative voices.
What a promise there is for us (in vs 10) … that if we keep our head in the game, there is Jesus – who has suffered and understands suffering – who will ‘restore us, support us, strengthen us, and establish us’. We can be repaired! We can be ‘resettled’ to the best place. We will be able to be ‘good stewards’ of all God’s creation. This is what can happen … when ultimately living “under the mighty hand of God”! This is NOT about ‘try again’ or ‘try harder’, but rather about receiving the grace of God. God is always working toward our victory over our ‘demons’, as we follow Jesus wholly through life.
- Utilising Available Resources
When we are dealing with stuff, we shouldn’t just look inside (where there are limited resources – some, but not all we need). Rather, we also look outward – toward the support, encouragement and resources of others, and upward – to all the capacities of God to help us.
We need to fully utilise the resource of prayer. We read in Hebrews chapter 4, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). Grace and help is assuredly there when we most need it. Yet, we can conclude that this is among the easiest and hardest things to do. It demands a combination of human neediness … and personal confidence in Jesus. The words are honest, open, filled with questions; and they hold on, sometimes just barely, to Jesus, and what he has done. It can feel quite unnatural and difficult at first, but with the right amount of openness, the Spirit of God will give us words to speak.
We can also get into the good habit of thanking God in advance … for how He will help us work out any particular issue. Keeping a prayer journal brings a positive reminder that God is always active.
It could be that we have been unfairly criticised or bullied, and a certain vulnerability has been created, where we start to believe the ‘lie’ that we are less worthy than others – which can lead to a multitude of problems from over-performing to withdrawal, and attempts to inappropriately medicate pain away. However, we can find many Scriptures to remind us of how valuable we are to God, no matter what anybody else might say (e.g. Psalm 139:13-18 … where we read about the uniqueness of our creation, and also the parables of Luke 15).
Let us speak out loud … expressions of resolute trust … even in difficult circumstances. Let us share stories of how God has blessed us through our challenges. This will do us a lot of good – much more so than it does in simpler times! "Burdens are lifted at Calvary"! Let us worship and praise God with open heart and full voice. Let us sing louder! Let the words of the songs we sing … permeate our spirits, so that when the lean or challenging times come, we know well … the power and potential of the One we believe in.
- Maintaining Our Sense of Purpose
The apostle Paul, in attempting to engage with the mission of God across Asia and Europe, and plant churches far and wide, suffered extreme hardships: including, a debilitating physical ailment, opposition from friends and foes, beatings, imprisonment and shipwreck. Yet Paul kept going, staying on mission, chasing down how God was leading him, and embracing how God was growing him (toward maturity). In so doing, Paul learned (as well as taught), that God’s grace was sufficient for him, and that nothing (at all) could separate him from the love of God.
We all have a mission placed upon us that connects with the great commission of making disciples. We all have been called into a ‘body’ where we embrace that mission together, and express the particular gifts given by the Holy Spirit for the common good. Within this, and through our particular uniqueness, we also have certain purposes to live out. These may vary in different seasons – sometimes there are relationships we need to concentrate upon and build (or possibly repair), and at other times be involved in major projects.
We should note that in the pursuit of any God-given purpose, we will be given the necessary strength and skill through which to succeed. This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy – often there is a struggle involved. But it is creative struggling that produces growth! If struggle was removed, there would be no process that leads to maturity. As Dan Reiland writes, “The process toward spiritual maturity … requires that I face and handle real life tensions … that don’t have easy solutions”.
So even when we don’t understand (fully) what God is up to and why (why … we’re having to go through the valley we’re in), we should continue to serve Him and others, and do what we (very well) know needs doing as we wait (for that understanding). Yep … that’s harder to do than say, yet it still aids our process of overcoming obstacles and growing to maturity!
- Seeking & Accepting Support
Another good thing about God’s grace is that it leads us into a new community – a community of Kingdom living – the church of Jesus. Here we get to receive and give support. We should NOT try to go it alone. Trying to go it alone weakens the ‘body’, while giving and receiving support strengthens the whole ‘body’ – the strengthening of one aids the strengthening of all (in the face of every challenge and against any enemy). If we all are strengthened to the full extent of God’s capacity to do so, together we could be invincible!
When people trust each other and share experiences, difficulties and struggles, they each discover that they are NOT alone. More importantly, they discover that they don’t need to be! The struggles of those we love … will evoke our compassion. We will grieve with those who grieve, we weep we those who weep, we rejoice with those who rejoice; we will move closer to them, and they will move closer to us.
In Conclusion, for now ...
We should guard against seeing God as the One through which we can escape difficulties and challenges. If we thought this way, we would be easily disappointed with God. We know that we should NOT rebel against our trials. But we should also come to NOT resent our struggles, but rather to see the good places these may lead. As James 1:4 puts it, “… let endurance have its full effect … so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing”.
Also, it is in persevering, that we prove our faith. “What is called for [to overcome in life] is NO superficial or sentimental faith, but [rather] a faith that is strong and immovable like a great rock” (C E B Cranfield). And, even in the worst situations that come along, and they do come along - God waits for us, God wants to embrace us, God expects our call. Amen!