Yesterday, I shared a major obstacle that I faced in my career. At the time, I thought it was insurmountable. I couldn’t see a way out. But then, amazingly, everything turned, and the situation worked to my advantage.
So often, this has been my experience. I could share with you one story after another. You probably could, too. The problem is that we forget that obstacles are a necessary part of achieving our vision.
In my experience, vision consists of five components:
- Visualization—an internal, visual representation of a different future.
- Articulation—a verbal expression of that future for the purpose of enrolling yourself and others in it.
- Implementation—the active execution of the steps necessary to move you toward your envisioned future.
- Opposition—active resistance to your envisioned future.
- Realization—the attainment of the vision, which often exceeds what you originally envisioned.
This pattern is repeated over and over again in life. It is also the a pattern set forth in Scripture. (I don’t have time to cover it in this post, but if you want extra credit, you can study it on your own. Consider how this plays out in the lives of Moses, David, Daniel, Nehemiah, or even Jesus Himself.)
The main point I want to focus on is the fourth: Every vision ultimately encounters opposition. If it doesn’t, it probably means the vision isn’t big enough.
We could debate all day whether God sends this opposition or merely allows it. (And some readers did in response to my first post.) This is important in an ultimate sense, of course, because we need to hold fast to two truths about God: He is both sovereign (see Isaiah 45:6–7) and yet not the author of evil (see James 1:13). This is a great mystery and jettisoning one truth for the sake of logical consistency inevitably leads to error.
Regardless, in a practical sense, we need to learn from the Patriarch Joseph’s example. Late in his life, when he finally confronted his brothers who had sold him into slavery, resulting in decades of personal suffering, he said to them:
Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis: 50:19–21 NKJV)
Joseph would never have fulfilled God’s purpose for his life without the tempering brought about by this suffering. Whether God sent it or merely allowed it is beside the point. The bottom line is that God used it to shape Joseph’s character and to put him in a place of enormous responsibility, so that God could achieve His purposes for His people Israel.
As the Apostle Paul affirmed:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NKJV).
But in all of this, you and I have a choice. We can resent these obstacles and let them discourage us or we can embrace them and allow God to use them to shape us and accomplish His purposes through us.
The Apostles James talks about this exact thing when he says,
When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.” (James 1:2–4, J. B. Phillips translation)
Imagine what would happen if we followed James’ advice and welcomed the obstacles we encounter rather than resented them:
- It would transform our relationship with God. We would see that God is for us not against us. He has a purpose in everything, including the trials and temptations we face. In fact, it is in the midst of these things that our faith grows and we have the opportunity to go deeper in our relationship with the Lord.
- It would transform our trajectory at work. Obstacles are an opportunity to get ahead at work. Companies are looking for people with a positive, can-do attitude who don’t get discouraged or resentful in the face of adversity. As I noted in Part 1 of this post, obstacles are an opportunity for you to demonstrate leadership.
- It would transform our role in our industry. Typically, we are not alone in the challenges we face. Our competitors face these challenges, too. But if we embrace them, while they resist them, it provides a competitive advantage than we can exploit for the good of our own organizations.
- It would transform our leadership within our own family. The ability to embrace obstacles is a legacy for your family—particularly your children. How do you want your children to grow up? Do you want them to become discouraged and bitter when they face obstacles (as they inevitably will). Or do you want them to see these as necessary and helpful—something that God allows for their development and something they will need later to accomplish even greater things.
- It would transform our impact on the world. Let’s face it: most people do resist and even resent obstacles. They get discouraged and want to quit. By embracing these same obstacles, we demonstrate that something else—or Someone else—is giving us perspective that enables us to get through the tough times. It provides inspiration to others.
In summary, the greatest obstacle you face could be your greatest opportunity. It really comes down to your response to it.