Summary: In our own lives, as well as in the life of the church, there are barriers to advancement, but they are nowhere near as difficult as our spiritual hindrances.
When I entered junior high school, I was introduced to track and field games – to things like the 100-yard dash, relay races, and, most of all, the hurdles. As any red-blooded American boy would have done, I had done my share of running and climbing and bicycling and the like. But hurdles I had never seen, nor had I ever tried. I soon found out that there is quite an art to jumping hurdles. You have to pace yourself just right; you have to anticipate which foot you are going to lead with and get it up and over at just the right moment. Then you have to worry about that trailing foot and whether it is going to snag on the hurdle. All of that in a few seconds’ time, and just when you get one hurdle right, a few yards away there is another one. It’s tough. I never got it quite right. Those hurdles tripped me up every time. I just couldn’t coordinate eyes and feet and body. And that was the low hurdles; don’t even talk to me about the high hurdles. When I saw those I just quit trying. Too much!
But now do you know what my real problem was with the hurdles? Was it that I was not strong enough to jump? No, no problem with that. Was it that I was not fast enough? No, I can move fast without any problem. In fact, Rev. Wilson said the other day that she can always tell that it’s me coming down the office corridor, because I walk so fast. That’s not it. No, I could not jump the hurdles because I thought I could not jump the hurdles. My problem was not a physical one; it was a mental one. Because I believed I could not get over the barrier, I truly could not get over the barrier.
Life is like that for many of us. If the way is clear and there are no barriers, we are fine. If our health is good and our bills are paid, we can move. If we’re not in any conflict and not under unusual pressure, we can keep going. If our feet don’t hurt and three square meals are on the table, day by day, we stay calm and we move forward. As they used to say, back in eastern Kentucky where I once lived, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be there.”
But very, very few of us can really expect to live that way. Very, very few of us can expect to travel an open road, with no barriers. Almost none of us can expect to sail through life on flowery beds of ease, while others fight to win the prize and sail through bloody seas. No, we are going to sail through some bloody seas. We are going to encounter some barriers. We are not going to go forward without jumping some hurdles. It just won’t be. The issue is, then, not whether you can advance without barriers. The issue is whether you can advance without hindrance!
Let me say that again. The issue is not whether you can advance without barriers; the issue is whether you can advance without hindrance. And there is a difference. There is a distinction.
Barriers are things that are set up to challenge you. They prevent you from doing what you want to do easily. Like hurdles, they stand in the way of a quick run around the track. But they are part of the game. They are part of the way life is. As a junior high kid, I could have run around the barriers instead of jumping over them, and believe me, I tried that. But my physical education teacher, Mr. Miller, caught it every time. It was against the rules; it was not the way the game is played. Barriers challenge you, and they are just there; they have to be jumped. And no one is going to whisk through life without barriers. They just are.
But hindrances – now hindrances are different. Hindrances are the conditions of heart and spirit that make barriers insurmountable. Hindrances are the attitudes, the stuff inside you, that make the barriers difficult. My hindrance as a twelve-year-old was the belief that I could not jump those barriers, because I had never tried it before. Never before had I had to do this thing they put in front of me, so I just knew that I could not do it. And so, guess what? I could not. Because I believed in the hindrance. I had a mental problem with it. I could not advance over the barrier because I could not advance without hindrance, I could not advance without first dealing with my attitude of defeat.