Overcome Obstacles and Adversity

Both triumphs and trials teach us many spiritual lessons. With a teachable attitude, we can overcome the obstacles and adversity in our path. Whether it takes a lengthy process or it comes quickly, may we all grow stronger through the difficulties we face.

Every time I read this passage of Scripture, I seem to consider it carefully for several days.

“He (Jesus) saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”
Mark 6:48

I meet people daily who feel they have been “straining at the oars” to the point of exhaustion. Although they believe that God strengthens and guides them, they also believe He stands aloof, oblivious to their struggle and disinterested in helping. The winds of physical illness, financial lack, personal attacks, and a multitude of other things blow against them.

Can you relate?

God desires that we uncover key concepts through this passage that will assist us.

Following Jesus

Christians sometimes hold a misconception that if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior the rest of our lives will be heavenly bliss here, now, and forever. But the disciples of Jesus obeyed Him completely, yet the storm hit with fierce force.

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. ”
Mark 6:45

At first, I thought the disciples made a mistake by going “ahead” of Jesus. But out of full obedience, they followed and trusted His instruction.

“After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”
Mark 6:46

As day turned to night and darkness settled over the landscape, Jesus prayed. The disciples leaned into the oars and rowed. All night long, Jesus prayed and the disciples strained. Miles from shore and through thick darkness Jesus “saw” them “straining at the oars.”

The word straining comes from the Greek word meaning “to examine as by tortue or torment, buffet as of waves.” The darkness, the straining, and the wind presented a test — a means by which the character and convictions of the disciples would be examined.

Praying Jesus

Jesus didn’t cause the wind to blow against them. But while they were being tested, Jesus used the circumstances to reveal their hidden beliefs. So, He prayed.

During our obstacles and adversity, just like theirs, Jesus prays we will overcome. He intercedes with the Father on our behalf. He wants to see us rise to the challenge and learn strategic lessons to equip and prepare us. Our God never sleeps or slumbers.

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one, Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Romans 8:34

I remember watching my little children struggle as they learned how to feed and dress themselves. Often, the results were messy and the effort led to frustration. Eventually, however, they developed the necessary lifeskills.

Jesus could have spoken a word, stilled the storm, and stopped the wind. Instead, He watched and prayed. All during the night, however, the disciples missed what we often miss. Jesus knew something they still did not yet understand.

Coming Jesus

“. . . Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified . . .”
Mark 6:48-50

Why would Jesus come to them, but be prepared to walk right past them? Has this passage perplexed you as much as it has me?

Yesterday, my husband and I had lunch with a physician and his beautiful wife. He shared how, as a physician, he cannot help anyone without their permission. God works the same way! He will not impose Himself upon us, even when it is for our good.

Although I perceived my children needed help, they, too, often refused my assistance. They stubbornly tried to overcome obstacles on their own. Sometimes with success, other times stopping in defeat.

How often Jesus comes to us with the very help we need. Yet because He comes in a way we don’t expect, we would rather shrink in fear than give Him permission to enter our tottering “boats.”

I AM

Then Jesus spoke surprising words into their frustration and fatigue.

“. . . Don’t yield to fear. Have courage. It is really me. I AM.”
Mark 6:50 TPT

The same words God spoke to fearful, exhausted Moses, He spoke to twelve fearful, exhausted disciples. “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

“Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.”
Mark 6:51a

The wind tested the disciples ability to overcome not just this obstacle but every future adversity. They failed the test miserably,

“for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
Mark 6:52

What does the miracle of the loaves have to do with wind, waves, and straining at the oars?

Jesus Miracle

Every miracle contains a message.

The miracle of the loaves and fish occurred only a few hours before the storm. Jesus blessed and broke the bread and fish. Then He divided it, giving portions to each of his disciples (Mark 6:41-44). The disciples then broke the bread and fish as they divided it, giving portions to 5,000 men plus women and children.

Jesus possessed power and authority over natural elements. He empowered and authorized His disciples to do the same. They contained within themselves the power and authority of Christ to influence outcomes.

The disciples completely missed the message of the miracle! They saw Jesus divide and multiple, but they quickly forgot how they also had divided and multiplied. Because their “hearts were hardened (Strongs 4456 — like a stone, petrify, stupid, calloused, unresponsive, harden),” they missed the significance of what happened by Jesus through themselves.

Every time we experience Jesus in our lives without it affecting our hearts, we become hardened toward Him. Every time we read the Word of God and our lives remain unchanged, we become petrified toward His voice.

The Passion Translation says, “their minds were dull, unwilling to learn.” Am I willing to learn from His message and His miracles?

Jesus Message

With grace, Jesus invited them, as He does us, “Stop fighting the wind! Stop straining at the oars! You speak to the wind! Allow courage rather than fear to motivate and control. Take hold of and release all that I have given you, and you will prevail. You possess the authority to overcome all obstacles and adversity. Soften your hearts to My voice, to My way, and to My will.”

Could it be that simple? Sometimes it is.

I have experienced futile, sleepless straining. Until prompted by Holy Spirit, I arose in Christ’s power and authority.

When we welcome Jesus into our “boats,” co-operating with Him, the wind either stills to a whisper, or God equips us to proceed unaffected by its raging.

Jesus knows every dark trial we face. He knows how we ache under the strain. He intercedes for us to lay hold of the same truth He gave His disciples.

“. . . All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go . . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

In times of struggle, they forgot that Jesus had already given them authority (Mark 3:15) over both the spiritual and the natural world (Luke 9:1). As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we possess that same authority. We are overcomers through Him. As long as we strain in our own strength, we won’t get far. But when we learn the message of the miracle, we will overcome all obstacles and adversity the enemy lays in our path.

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Mark 6:50

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The Wedding at Cana — Jesus Revealed His Glory

Today we look at Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana without becoming sidetracked by peripheral issues. Recently, we discussed this passage at a small home group meeting. They helped unlock some aspects of the miracle I had previously failed to notice. Hopefully, I now see a greater piece of God’s heart. Here at the wedding, Jesus revealed His glory through His first miracle.

We may easily become lost in the symbolic imagery of wedding feasts, motherly medling, water and wine. Cana means “reed,” and comes from the verb, to twist together. Even here we see symbolism of humanities fallen condition for which Jesus willingly came.

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee, Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”
John 2:1

Who doesn’t love a wedding? Families and friends gather to celebrate the beautiful remaking of two unique individuals into one covenant relationship. Weddings connect us with people we rarely see and help develop new relationships that otherwise would have had no opportunity to form. We leave tired, happy, stomachs full, cheeks aching from laughter, and hearts filled with thanksgiving.

A word-by-word study of the John 2:1-12 would benefit each of us, but today, rather than zoom in, we will take a panoramic view of the occasion.

New Wine

As a former alcoholic, I am all to familiar with the negative affects of liquor. When Jesus turned water into wine, He made new wine — a wine unlike any previous wine. No aging or fermentation went into this brand of wine.

Biblically, new wine prophetically speaks of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2:13, onlookers laughed and mocked.

“But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.'”
Acts 2:13 ESV

Inside and outside the church, people thirst for something more. They have tasted the old wine the world offers and have come away lacking. Jesus revealed His glory by offering everyone new wine — again prophetically pointing to the Holy Spirit.

Many prophets today are hearing God say, “A new era is here! This is the season of new wine. You are about to encounter Me as you never have before.”

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus revealed His glory. Through a supernatural sign, He showed the power of His worth, His weightiness, greatness, honor, and splendor. Yet few recognized Him. Most were too caught up in the events of the day to see or understand that the King of Glory came to celebrate with them, hang out among them, and bring them joy.

A Dream

Though the author of this dream remains anonymous, the dream carries a wonderful message.

Imagine you and the Lord Jesus were walking along the beach together. For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace. But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns. For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently. You and Jesus are walking as true friends!

This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens. Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus’ are now walking precisely in His steps. Inside His large footprints are your small ones; you and Jesus are becoming one.

This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger. Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints; they have become one. This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back.

Zigzags all over the place. Stops, starts, gashes in the sand. A veritable mess of prints. This time it seems even worse! You are amazed and shocked. Your dream ends. (Tim Sheet, Planting the Heavens, Destiny, pg 33)

The Meaning

You pray, “Lord, I understand the first scene with the zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian, and I was just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You.”

And He spoke softly, “That is correct.”

“And when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps; I followed You very closely.”

And He answered, “Very good. You have understood everything so far.”

When the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like You in every way.”

He beamed, “Precisely.”

“So Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than before. Zigzags, gashes in the sand, turns every which way, circles.”

There is a pause as the Lord answers with a smile in His voice, “You didn’t know? That was when we danced!

The Dance

In the beginning when God made humanity, He came every day, without fail, to walk with them, talk with them, laugh with them. God loved to be with them, hanging out together. God and man dancing in relationship!

For thousands of years, the gap of sin separated God from His deepest longing — to be with us! Now He came disguised as a carpenter. He came to a wedding, bringing new wine in abundance! He sat among them, listening, laughing, playing, and enjoying their face-to-face company.

Tears flow as I catch but a glimmer of the Father’s heart to be with each one of us.

Jesus came with the new wine of the Holy Spirit — not just a little, but gallons upon gallons upon gallons. More than we need! More than we could ask or hope for!

“And do not get drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Ephesians 5:18 NLT

Greek scholars and Bible commentators point out that the Greek present imperative tense is used for “be filled.” It has the connotation of a continuous replenishment, an ongoing state of being filled.

“And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Acts 4:31

Always More

As they prayed, a continuous replenishing of the Holy Spirit poured into believers. As they prayed, Jesus revealed his glory through the Holy Spirit.

Are you thirsty? Do you long for new wine of the Spirit to be poured into your life? Is your heart stirred to dance with Jesus?

For this reason Jesus revealed His glory! So that those who were empty would be empty no longer! So that all who are thirtsty would be fully satisfied.

“O Jesus, we declare our love for You! May our lives become a messy swirl of swoopes and twirls, dancing with abandon in Your presence. May our times of sitting with You become supernaturally normal, encountering the wonder and greatness of who You are in ways we never have before. Lord, stir our hearts with fresh awareness of Your delight for us and longing to just hang out with us. You need no special occasion to celebrate Your pleasure in being with us. Today, we welcome You into our reedy, twisted ordinary. Fill us! Fill us again and again and again! Pour into us the overflow of Your joyous Presence through the Holy Spirit. Captivate our hearts again, Lord. Forgive us for losing the big picture of Your love within the miniscule mundane of the now. May we celebrate You as much as You celebrate us! Oh Lord, fill our hearts with Your new wine! Saturate us! May we encounter You in new ways in this new season, discovering Your glory.”

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Blinded! To See or Not to See

Blinded

Have you ever been blinded? The flash of a welder’s arc caused damage to our son’s eyes when he was still in high school. He was hospitalized with his eyes bandaged over for several days as a result. Afterward, he carefully avoided any similar incidents.

I have sometimes thought about which one of the five senses, I value the most? If I had to part with one, which one would I choose? Perhaps parting with the sense of taste might not be a half-bad idea — especially the taste of chocolate! Though hard-pressed to decide, the ability to see would definitely be at the top of my priorities to keep.

Perhaps that reason undergirds my compassion toward the blind who came to Jesus. We see them, like blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52, crying out, by-passing protocol, refusing to be permanently imprisoned in darkness by silence.

However, the gnawing awareness of my own “blindness,” resulting from the equally imposing confinement within the dark recesses of my heart, makes up the greatest reason. I cannot deny my inability to see as God sees.

Palm Trees Water

“Lord, have mercy.” I too cry out, “I want to see!”

A Blind Man

“They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.”
Mark 8:22

Bethsaida, a fishing village north of the Sea of Galilee, became one of the most frequently mentioned places in the New Testament. Here, Jesus performed many miracles. Peter, Andrew and Philip, with faith, all left Bethsaida and everything in it, to follow Jesus. Now they, with Jesus, returned.

Whether they were friends or family of the blind man we’re not sure, but they came looking for Jesus to help where no other help was found. “They . . . begged Jesus to touch him” — “parakaleo“-ing Him, “calling for His aid, beseeching with strong force, entreating and looking for comfort.”

I appreciate Mark’s short, to the point, action-packed, essentials-only writing style. Every detail significant. Every word precise. Painting clear visuals for our imaginations.

Blinded

Jesus’ methods of healing changed with each encounter, because He did only what He saw the Father do (John 5:19-20). Here . . .

“He took the bind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hand on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ “
Mark 8:23

I wouldn’t recommend this healing scenario as a prayer model! Can you imagine the shocked expressions, air-gasping, and indiscreet murmuring of onlookers?

Sunlight through Trees

With the exception of the ten lepers who were healed as they went (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus healed diseases and infirmities instantly. This time, He sensed an invisible block to this man’s complete restoration. He asks, “Do you see anything,” moving the blind man from passive by-stander to active participant in his own healing.

“He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Mark 8:24

At one time, he saw people and trees. Before being blinded, he saw both. Now he recognized the difference.

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
Mark 8:25

See Clearly

Jesus touched my eyes when He touched my heart and claimed me for His own. I gave Him my resolute, “Yes!” to follow Him wherever He may lead, and yield to Him whatever He asks. He touched the eyes of my heart to see. Once was good but not enough!

Again, He moves me from by-stander to active participant in my healing as He asks, “Do you see?” How often I’ve come begging Him for clearer vision — for Him to touch me “once more!”

Honestly, most of the time, I see people who “look like trees walking around.” My heart is still blinded to truth, warping my perception of others.

Brilliant sky

Some I see as palm trees of rest and refreshing. Others I see as thorn bushes, cutting deeply, drawing unnecessary blood when I get close. Still others resemble junipers, sapping strength, resources and life with each encounter. Many appear fickle — green and growing one season, barren and dead the next. A precious few become shelters of prayer with their spreading canopy protecting me from the enemy’s onslaughts. Still others stand menacingly tall in high positions, with deadly accuracy striking like lightning in a prairie storm.

I need to be honest before God, myself and you as I write with genuine tears. I’m blinded to His perception of all those He loves and has given His life for. I’m unable to see clearly His reflection in their faces.

The root of this man’s blindness remains hidden — the cause undisclosed. The source for my own inability to see hides concealed in the recesses of both my past and present. Whether I’m blinded by cynicism or criticism, unforgiveness or judgement, self-protection or ignorance, Jesus offers the only “parakaleo.” He alone provides both help and comfort.

Although miracles validated Jesus’ ministry, His intension went far beyond easing temporary pain. The miracles He performed were supposed to stir repentance, build faith and bring glory to God. That primary purpose remains unchanged!

Once More

Once more, I need Jesus to miraculously touch my blinded eyes and soften my hardened heart. Paul, someone else formerly blinded to truth, exhorted his spiritual son, Timothy,

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people . . . this is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:1-4

Sunrise Trees

Paul “urges” (parakalo,” the same word as “parakaleo” in Mark). He calls for Timothy’s aid — “beseeching with strong force, entreating and looking for comfort,” for everyone based on the cross.

“Touch my heart again and again, Lord. Spit upon my spiritual eyes that I would see people as you do — valued, significant, worthy of love, honor, and dignity. Like the blind man, may my eyes be open and my sight restored. May I clearly see each one as You do.”

Go Home

Mark ends the account with,

“Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t even go into the village.’ ”
Mark 8:26

I’m not exactly sure why Jesus gave such specific instruction not to go into Bethsaida. Jesus, who led him by the hand out, warned him not to go back. Was something about this village the source of his blindness? Or was Jesus protecting him from falling under a soon-to-be-proclaimed curse?

Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago . . .” Luke 10:13

God graciously offers seasons of visitation and repentance to us — turn around moments, fresh starts and God encounters. When Jesus comes, He longs to do far more than physical miracles. He desires our hearts, wanting us to see with clear vision.

Road Home

Miracle moments often incite overconfidence or pride, causing us to think we can handle situations we’re ill prepared for. Jesus knows when it’s essential to establish a distance between us and the things, people or places that blind. So He takes us by the hand and leads us.

Those who responded to Him, headed straight home. No detours or distractions! Like Peter, Andrew and Philip, they followed Jesus, not blindly, but with fresh faith and sight.

Perhaps with His once-more touch upon my heart, I too will see and follow Him the same way.

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