A few years ago, drivers on the eastern highways in India encountered an especially stubborn elephant that refused to let them pass until they offered up a little food. He's even been known to stick his trunk through an open window and sniff around for any hidden treasure! One local resident went so far as to call the actions an old-fashioned hold-up. (Associated Press, “Elephant Turns Highwayman in India,” www.news.sky.com, 5-30-07; www.PreachingToday.com)
Aren’t you glad you don’t have to deal with obstructions like that around here? There’s an occasional cow or two, maybe even a slow driver, but no elephant sticking his trunk in your car.
Even so, there are other kinds of obstacles, which impede your forward progress in life. It could be sickness, difficult people, or challenging circumstances which stop you cold in your tracks.
So what do you do in those times? How do you overcome the obstacles in life? How do you get past those impediments, which keep you from moving forward to accomplish what God has called you to do? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Joshua 3, Joshua 3, where we see how the Israelites handled the Jordan River in its flood stage, which kept them from the land God promised to them.
Joshua 3:1-3 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. (ESV)
They act as if the flooded Jordan River doesn’t exist. They’re making plans to proceed despite the raging river before them. The leaders instruct the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant, which represents the very presence of God Himself.
Joshua 3:4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” (ESV)
Even as they follow the Ark of the Covenant, the people are to remain 2,000 cubits (or 3,000 feet) behind it. Why? So all of them could see the Ark. If they crowded too close, then only a few would be able to see it. But if they kept their distance, then all would be able to see it and follow the Lord.
God Himself was going to lead His people. All they had to do was keep their eyes on Him so they could follow Him. My dear friends, that’s the only way to overcome the obstacles in your life.
CONCENTRATE ON THE LORD.
Keep your eyes on Him. Focus your attention on God so you can follow Him.
David Gibson from Idaho Falls, Idaho, talks about riding with his friend, who had just bought a 19-foot jet boat. The boat was made of steel and fitted with a V-8 engine. They put the boat in the North Fork of the Snake River, where the water was quite low because of a drought and heavy irrigation. Gibson’s friend eased the throttle up until they were going 35 miles per hour. They grinned at each other as they raced across the water's surface.
Then suddenly they hit a hidden sandbar, and the boat came to an abrupt stop. They stepped onto the sandbar, barely covered with one inch of water. Another boater came along, and after three hours of digging and pushing, they once again had the boat floating in the open channel. The boater who rescued them offered to lead them back to the landing since he knew the river well. He instructed them to follow exactly behind him, so they would avoid hidden sand and gravel bars.
Their rescuer pushed his boat up to 35 miles per hour. They fell in behind him, and once again they enjoyed the power of the machine as it skimmed over the water. After a couple of minutes, Gibson’s friend steered their boat just a few feet to the right of where the lead boat had gone. Within seconds, they hit a gravel bar, and Gibson was thrown into the windshield, getting injured and busting the windshield. When the lead boat came back, the driver reminded them, “I told you to follow me.” (David Gibson, Idaho Falls, Idaho; www.PreachingToday.com)
God says the same thing to you and me: “Follow me!” He says. He knows the way around (or through) the barriers. So if you don’t want to get hung up on them, keep your eyes on Him and stay in the path He lays out before you. If you want to overcome the obstacles in your life, concentrate on the Lord, so you can follow Him. Then…
CONSECRATE YOURSELF TO THE LORD.
Dedicate yourself completely to Him. Give yourself wholly over to God. That’s what Joshua tells the people to do.
Joshua 3:5-6 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. (ESV)
If they were going to follow the Lord, then they would have to give themselves completely over to Him. 40 years before this, the previous generation had consecrated themselves to the Lord at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). Then it involved washing their clothes and abstaining from sex for two nights. It was symbolic. God was teaching them to clean out the worldly influences in their lives and to give all their attention to Him.
And that’s exactly what God tells His people to do today. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you… brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). Clean out the worldly influences in your life, and give yourself completely to God as a “living sacrifice.”
Jesus Himself put it this way, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny hmself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). You have to be willing to lose your life for Christ’s sake if you are going to follow Him.
I like the way Tommy Hinson, a pastor in the Washington D.C. area, describes it. He says that he and his son, Riley, enjoy watching YouTube videos of Space Shuttle launches together. And at the end of each video, they often hear the phrase “negative return.”
According to NASA's official website, “negative return” occurs when the space shuttle "is flying too far downrange and too high to return to the launch site in the event of an engine failure.” It also means that, for the astronaut, they are now to the point where they are assured of making it into orbit – which is the whole point of the shuttle launch.
Jesus is saying, only by crossing the point of “negative return,” letting go of the option to turn back, can you actually do what you're meant to do. Whatever your landing site was – your identity, your sense of purpose – before you came to me, you need to leave all possibility of returning behind. (Tommy Hinson, sermon “Hard Sayings of Jesus: Hate Your Parents,” Church of the Advent, 9-8-14; www.PreachingToday.com)
Once you set out to follow the Lord, there can be no option of turning back to the old life. You must reach the point of “negative return.” You must give yourself completely to Him. Leave the old life behind, and let Him give you a new identity, a new purpose, and a new life.
In their book More than You and Me, Kevin and Karen Miller talk about a couple that lived in London during the latter part of the 19th Century: William and Catherine Booth.
Before they moved to London, William was in a quandary: What was God calling him to do?
Then his wife, Catherine, a skillful Bible teacher, was invited to preach in London. While they were there, William took a late-night walk through the slums of London's East End. Every fifth building was a pub. Most had steps at the counter so little children could climb up and order gin. That night he told Catherine, “I seemed to hear a voice sounding in my ears, ‘Where can you go and find… so great a need for your labors?’ Darling, I have found my destiny!”
Later that year, in 1865, the couple opened the “Christian Mission” in London's slums to reach the “down and outers” that other Christians ignored. That little mission grew into the Salvation Army, which now ministers through 3 million members in 91 countries. (Editors of Leadership, Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, Baker; www.PreachingToday.com)
When American Evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman made a trip England, he sat down and talked with William Booth, who at that time was near the end of his life. Chapman asked Booth why he had been able to accomplish so much for God’s kingdom. Booth replied, “I will tell you the secret. God has had all there was of me to have. There have been men with greater opportunities; but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do, I made up my mind that God would have all there was of William Booth. And if there is anything of power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.” (Dr. Paul Chappell, “All the Adoration of My Heart”, Daily in the Word, July 23, 2018; www. dailyintheword.org/rooted/“all-the-adoration-of-my-heart”)
Does God have all of you? It’s the only way you can get to the place God wants you to be. If you want to overcome the obstacles to fulfill God’s calling on your life, you must 1st, concentrate on the Lord; 2nd, consecrate yourself to the Lord; and 3rd…
COUNT ON HIS WORD.
Depend on God’s promises. Listen to what He has to say and believe it!
God speaks to Joshua and assures him with a promise.
Joshua 3:7-8 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” (ESV)
God assures Joshua of His presence, and God gives Joshua instructions for the priests.
Then Joshua turns around and assures God’s people with God’s Word.
Joshua 3:9-13 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” (ESV)
The sign that God will give them the land is that God will stop the Jordan river from flowing as soon as the priests carrying the Ark step into the water. God assures Joshua with a promise. And Joshua assures God’s people with that same promise. It’s the only way they’re going to cross the Jordan River and conquer the land.
They have to believe God, and so must you if you want to overcome the obstacles in your life.
In June of 1992, Jim Davidson and Mike Price climbed Mt. Ranier. On the way down from the summit, the two climbers fell 80 feet through a snow bridge into a glacial crevasse, a pitch-black, ice-walled crack in the massive glaciers that cover Mt. Ranier. Mike Price died.
In his book The Ledge, Jim Davidson tells the story of his miraculous survival and courageous climb out of the crevasse. Throughout the book, Jim talks about his relationship with his father growing up.
His father always showed what Jim calls “an almost reckless confidence” in his son. Jim worked for his father painting high, steep-pitched roofs and electrical towers as early as age 12. The work terrified his mother, but Jim's father kept telling him that he could accomplish great things if he pressed through the adversity and kept going.
As Jim stood, bloodied and bruised, on the two-foot wide snow-ledge next to the body of his climbing partner, his father’s words washed over him with encouragement.
With minimal gear and no experience in ice climbing at that level, Jim spent the next five hours climbing out, battling fatigue and the crumbling ice and snow that threatened to bury him. Throughout his ordeal, Jim kept recalling the words of his father. And five grueling hours later, thanks to his father's words, Jim climbed out of the crevasse to safety. (Jim Davidson, The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier, Random House Publishing, 2011; www.PreachingToday.com)
Your Heavenly Father has some great words of encouragement for you, as well. They’re found right here in this book, the Bible. All you need to do is open it every once in a while, and take it to heart.
If you want to overcome the obstacles in your life, 1st, concentrate on the Lord; 2nd, consecrate yourself to Him; 3rd, count on His Word. And then just…
CROSS THE WATER.
Move on with confidence in the Lord. Take that step in the direction God wants you to go. That’s what the people of Israel did.
Joshua 3:14-16 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (ESV)
God stopped the water 16 miles north of where they were!
Joshua 3:17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. (ESV)
The priests got their feet wet with their first steps; but now, they stand firmly on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan River while the whole nation crosses over. However, they had to take their first steps before God stopped the river.
And that’s what you must do if you want to see God remove the obstacles before you. Take those first steps in the direction God is leading. Don’t wait until all the obstacles are gone. Don’t wait until you have all the answers. Just step out in faith and trust God to make a way for you.
On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges, who had just turned six two months before, became the first person of color in the United States to attend an all-white school in the highly segregated city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Ruby and five other black children were chosen because of their high intelligence, but only Ruby had the courage and faith to actually walk into that school.
The night before, her mother tried to reassure her, saying, “You know Jesus faced the mob too, baby. Just like you. You know what he did? He prayed for them. Because the Bible says, ‘Bless them that persecute you. Bless and curse not.’”
Take a look as she makes her way to the school… (show video: Ruby Bridges)
The next day an angry crowd in front of the school waved Confederate flags and hollered, “Go on home!” Even so, Ruby stepped out of the car with four federal agents surrounding her. As they walked through the crowd, one woman spit on the ground. Another yelled that she was going to hang the little girl. A thrown tomato exploded on a post by the front door, and they walked through under the icy stares of the school staff. (Ruby Bridges, Disney, 1998, written by Toni Ann Johnson, directed by Euzhan Palcy; www.PreachingToday.com)
Ruby, bolstered by her Christian faith, took those first steps, which stemmed the tide of racism in our own country. And that’s exactly what you must do if you want to overcome the obstacles to God’s calling on your life. Don’t wait until all the obstacles are out of the way. Don’t wait until no one opposes you anymore. Don’t wait for a better day. Just take those first steps in the way God is leading you and don’t look back!
If you want to overcome the obstacles in your life, 1st, concentrate on the Lord; 2nd, consecrate yourself to Him; 3rd, count on His Word; and then 4th, just cross the water. Take those first steps in obedience to the Lord, and He will make a way for you!