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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Making the Impossible Possible – Clarity, Courage, and Committment

The rugged path between impossible and possible is navigated through clarity, courage and commitment. Each quality is essential!

Our hot water heater sprung a serious leak. Four days without hot water is a minor inconvenience. However, when outside temperature dips to -40°, a steaming hot bath before bedtime is a luxury I appreciated.

Representatives from two companies estimated the cost of replacing our near prehistoric heater. The first young man came, looked at the situation, and in less than one minute announced, “It can’t be done!” The second young men came, checked inside, outside, upside, downside, around the side, and over another side, before confirming, “Yea! No problem!” 

What made the difference? Both men were presented the same problem; both were experts in their trade. “Impossible” to one perhaps meant, “too much trouble!” “Possible” from the other displayed a willingness to overcome any obstacles.

Overcome

Challenge

A Chinese Proverb says, 

The person who says it cannot be done,
should not interrupt the person doing.”

Many vivid accounts of men and women who overcame impossible obstacles are written within the bible.

I think of Caleb one of 12 leaders Moses sent to spy out the promised land. “It can’t be done!” ten declared! Forty-five years later while the ten nay-sayers were cold in their desert graves, Caleb continued to believe, “With God’s help, I can“.

“So here I am today, eighty-five years old!
I am still as strong today
as the day Moses sent me out;
I’m just as vigorous to go out
to battle now as I was then.
Now give me this hill country
that the LORD promised me that day.”
Joshua 14:10-11

Caleb remained willing to face the challenge head-on! Ominous giants could not prevent him from possessing God’s promise.

Mountain

We all have “hill country”, an impossibility larger than personal ability. The nature of the obstacle is unimportant!

The way up!

A job promotion or demotion,
a dream delayed or one in the making,
managing financial abundance or
facing bankruptcy.

Problems can be polar opposites! Glass ceilings waiting to be broken, fragile mirages before omnipotent God! 

Sheri Fink reminded me recently clarity, courage and commitment are three essential ingredients necessary to accomplish victory. My past failures consistently resulted from a deficiency in at least one of these areas.

Nay-sayers and critics abound in every generation. “It can’t be done,” the noisy entourage gloats! Jeering relentlessly as the brave press against an impossible situation! Caleb’s resistance came from his own “tribe”. Our greatest detractors may be those who are the nearest to our hearts.  

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
Psalm 55:12-13

Mockers, with potential to stop us, ascend from the ranks of both friend and foe. 

Clarity

Clarity is “being certain or definite“. To an artist clarity means “sharpness to the image or sound”. Clarity for the Christian comes from knowing God’s intention, hearing His voice, and perceiving His direction. 

Impossible to possible

The wise ask, “What is God saying?”

It would be foolish for Caleb to face the military prowess of mighty mountain defenders without God’s direction.  

“I brought him back a report
according to my convictions
I followed the LORD my God
wholeheartedly.”
Joshua 14:7

There is a palpable difference between truth and conviction — between fact and faith! That veritable mountain we face is insurmountable without God!

Every person who stumbled in the bible, from Eve forward, doubted God. Each questioned and reasoned until faith dissolved into fragile unbelief before the very thing God meant them to overcome.

Clarity, genuine unshakeable clarity, is to know the presence, power and word of God for our specific situation.  Without clarity one will effortlessly fall into rhythm behind the fear mongers. Without clarity conquerors become quitters

The enemy’s devious voice still echoes, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1) 

Caleb set his face like flint!  His resolute conviction slapped the Deceiver up the side of the head! He knew,

“…Humanly speaking, it is impossible.
But with God everything is possible.”
Matthew 19:26

Everything is possible

Courage

Courage separated Caleb and the masses!

“But my fellow Israelites
who went up with me made the hearts
of the people melt in fear.” 
Joshua 14:8

A few fear-filled words turned believers into doubters, the brave into cowards! “Be careful little tongue what you say,” is more than a children’s chorus. Words carry the potential to destroy like wrecking balls or form building blocks!

“We can’t … they are too strongpowerful … cities are fortified and very large … Anakites, Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites”. Panic raced through the entire camp causing hearts to faint and knees to tremble.

Two brave men courageously stood in the gap,

“We should go up
and take possession of the land,
for we can certainly do it.”
Numbers 13:30

It takes courage to “go up!” Only the brave will “take possession!” Courage affirms, “we can!”

Such courage germinates in the knowledge of God’s abiding presence. It flourishes in the shadow of the One who promises to never leave nor forsake us.

Every overcomer rises above fear to “go up” in faith!

Commitment

I heard a story of a runner who intently prepared, conditioning body and mind, to run a marathon. He trained on a 26 mile course. After passing the 25 mile marker during his first marathon, he increased his pace pushing toward the finish line. The official length of a marathon is actually 26.2 miles. Miscalculating the distance, he started the sprint too soon and collapsed unconscious at the finish line. He was unprepared for the last .2 miles! 

Distance matters! It takes the tenacity of a marathon runner to face the impossible! It requires commitment to finish well!

“So on that day Moses swore to me,
‘the land on which your feet have walked
will be your inheritance
and that of your children forever,
because you have followed the LORD
my God wholeheartedly.'”
Joshua 14:9

Even though Caleb heard the clear word from God through Moses, it still took commitment to claim his promise. His entire generation died in the wilderness. Were there times of doubt in the desert?

Commitment

Caleb endured seemingly endless wandering in the wasteland, survived plagues, judgements and wars.  Yet, the promise echoed in his heart as clearly as the day it was spoken. 

Caleb refused to quit before he conquered! 

“Now then, just as the LORD promised,
he has kept me alive for forty-five years…”
Joshua 14:10

Forty five years of trusting, waiting, training, and persevering. Forty five years of commitment to God who is faithful. Caleb looked to the finish line; he ran the distance.

Take Your Mountain!

With Caleb as our example, let’s remember God is bigger, stronger, and greater than any mountain standing in our way! 

May we choose to fix our eyes on Jesus! Acknowledge that “great crowd of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) cheering us on! Seeking the clarity needed from the Word of God, may we each take courage in His Presence, with commitment to conquer.

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus.
Everything is possible
for one who believes.”
Mark 9:23

Whether the mountain is a difficult obstruction or a dream unfulfilled, let’s go for it! How many new songs will be song, books published, and missions accomplished if we do? God is ready to partner with you in your impossible, creating a place for Him to receive glory?

Don’t quit! Conquer! Turn the impossible into possible!

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Further Reading:

Second is Better Than First! When Second is Best!