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Perseverance: Faced with Obstacles

Perseverance has been a hot topic in my house lately—particularly with one of my sons.  He doesn’t mind doing stuff that comes easily to him, but if a task is remotely difficult or confusing he starts to withdraw and give up before even trying to proceed.  At times it seems he would rather sulk and complain than attempt to keep making progress.  Thus, many conversations about perseverance have been had…

As the mom, it is frustrating to give the same advice over and over again, hoping this time it will stick.  However, I know that I often need things repeated to me many times before I truly take them to heart.  I do see progress with his attitude and efforts, it’s just not progressing as quickly as I’d prefer.  So I do my best to persevere in my roles of mom, teacher, and life coach…

Meanwhile…I also have several friends going through very challenging seasons right now.  I do my best to encourage them, but ultimately their result is completely out of my hands.  I am continually amazed at their perseverant faith despite their situations.

Yet with all of these examples of perseverance that I’m witnessing, I’m left with more questions about it than answers.

The biggest question on my mind right now: how do I determine if something is a closed door or a test of perseverance?

We all encounter obstacles now and then.  They can be big, life-altering events.  Or they can be small things—like a disappointment that impacts our attitude for the day.  But big or small, I think we can approach them a similar way in order to interpret the impact they should have on us.

I’ve been mulling this concept over for weeks now—attempting to figure out a way to discern these obstacles.  When do we stop and when do we press on?  It’s such a tough thing to figure out even with just a specific problem—let alone try to find a formula to apply to everything!  I wanted to find a way to categorize obstacles and therefore the approach to them would become obvious.  However, with such a limited perspective while in the present, that is impossible.  How do I know, in this moment, that this obstacle is really to keep me safe in a future moment?  How do I know, in this season, that I’m building spiritual muscles that will be critical in a future season?  How do I know, today, that the closed door I face is because there will be a better door opening tomorrow?

So again there lies the dilemma—how do we discern how to approach the obstacles we face with the limited knowledge we have?  Do we keep pushing through in an attempted perseverance, or is it foolish to try to keep moving north when we should start moving east?

My answer remains that I don’t have an answer.  Rather, I have questions that I can ask myself to come to an answer in a specific moment. 

  1. The first and foremost thing to do when faced with an obstacle is to pray for wisdom.  Lord, why am I experiencing this?  What should I be doing?  Sometimes the answer will be given to us divinely and specifically, but sometimes He leads us to information we already have.
  2. Is there something unresolved in my life that is preventing forward progress?  Was there something I was convicted to do that I’ve left undone?  It’s possible that God is allowing obstacles to prevent you from moving forward because you have not addressed something that will be critical in the next chapter of your life.
  3. Am I pursuing this at the expense of something else I’m supposed to be doing?  I know that I often have a VERY long list of things I’d like to be doing or trying to be doing.  However, there is always a hierarchy of priorities.  Sometimes I experience obstacles, not because what I’m trying to do is bad, but because it conflicts with my current priorities.  So the obstacle can be a reminder to reevaluate the timing of what I’m pursuing.
  4. Sometimes it’s not about us.  If obstacles have led you somewhere unexpected or undesired, look around—am I here to minister to someone around me?  I know I’ve had situations where I’m frustrated at perceived roadblocks, but then I realize that someone next to me needs a friend.  Sometimes we are delayed in order to encourage someone else!
  5. What am I ultimately trying to achieve right now?  What is the heart of my objective?  Maybe your goal is a new job—but is the ultimate goal provision, more freedom, less stress, etc.?
  6. Once your ultimate goal is defined, and you still feel called to press on towards it: Is there a different step I CAN be making towards this goal right now?  Maybe you have correctly heard God’s calling for your life—the obstacles can definitely be frustrating and cause doubt.  However, instead of mourning what appears to be a closed door, look for the next step that is available.  I think sometimes we get caught on that “no” and give up too quickly.  But when we reevaluate, we see that there is still an approach open for us to take.  It just may be bigger, smaller, or different than the one we were hoping for. 

It is in item #6 that is where our need for perseverance really kicks in.  We recognize that our goal is godly, and we are determined to press on despite the obstacles. 

Before I wrote this article, when it was still just an idea being birthed while I showered, I thought that obstacles would ultimately be defined as Redirecting (the stereotypical closed door when we are going the wrong way), or Refining (the test of perseverance when we are going the right way).  I am seeing now that all obstacles are actually both.  Even closed doors that will eventually open still redirect us in the moment.  And God can use all obstacles we face to refine our character and faith. 

So next time you face an obstacle, big or small, I encourage you to redirect your focus back to God and to allow Him to refine you further, regardless of which direction you are called to next.

James 1:2-5 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

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