Seeing Through the Obstacles

A lake retreat brings God’s lessons.

The house was beautiful. Decorated like those in a magazine with the latest touches from the Pinterest boards. Plenty of bedrooms, windows overlooking the lake, and a dock perfect for jumping off of into the refreshing waters. But my favorite part was the huge deck that stretched the length of the back of the house. And being a writer, my favorite place on that deck was at the charming wrought iron bistro table with my back to the windows, my Apple in front of me, and a panoramic view of the deep green waters. There, each day, I spread out God’s word and my journal and leisurely visited with my Abba.

Almost immediately there was a fly in my ointment so to speak. (But even those flies carry lessons!)

My table, appropriately located in a cozy nook beside the door and just outside the kitchen window, had one drawback. A large red oak had, years ago as a little acorn, made his home about 8 feet from me, directly in front of my favorite chair looking off the deck toward the lake. Now he was a big old boy, probably 2 feet in diameter, that blocked a large chunk of my lake view. With the door and porch railing hemming me in, there was really no place to move the table that would make a big difference. Adirondack chairs had their place on the other side of the door, so it was my opportunity to enjoy the blessing in spite of an imperfection.

As I sat watching my kids jumping off the pier that second afternoon, leaning this way and that to see them well around the tree as they floated off on tubes this way, or kayaked around that way, enlightenment came. God did what He so often does with me, He made a lesson out of the mundane and the annoying.

As I stood up and moved toward the railing to call to them for some reason, I realized a truth: the closer I was to that obstacle (the tree) the more of my view it blocked. And the antithesis of that: the further I drew away from the obstacle, the more clear my view was of the reality around me.

My spirit stirred. I suddenly was aware of the spiritual ramifications of this lesson from the physical world. We humans frequently have obstacles come into our lives. Whether it is the relatively minor getting a head cold the day you have a big presentation at work, a larger obstacle like having your taxes audited, or a really huge life issue such as a serious illness or tragedy. We tend to see these obstacles as material, physical world problems, but they greatly impact our spiritual walk.

As we face the larger obstacles, we become just like I was with my tree. We are consumed with the big thing in front of us, and not with the rest of God’s plan being carried out beyond that. We can sit in a ladies Bible study, so inwardly focused that we miss tuning in to God’s great plan going on around us. We can stay cooped up in our homes staring at that “tree” of grief in front of us and not be aware of the beauty of the “lake” just beyond us. We may verbally gripe so much about our current obstacle tree, that the only words that escape our lips are negative, bitter, sour words of disappointment and fear. And we may even hide behind our obstacle tree, because we are so used to that ongoing obstacle in our lives, it becomes easier just to live hidden behind it than to make the effort to reach out to the world beyond, despite our obstacle.

So what’s a girl to do? We all have problems.

First, get some distance on that tree whenever possible. When you are staring down that problem a foot away from you every day, it looms huge in your line of vision blocking the majority of what you see. Granted, we have huge obstacles crop up, but we don’t have to give them the central place in our lives and cozy up to them. Just as when I stepped back on the porch I could see more of the lake, when we step back from those obstructions we see more of the world beyond our difficult situation. A rebellious teen in the house? Accept the husband’s offer of a get-away. Finished that chemo and waiting on results of scans? A family celebration or second honeymoon trip might be a good choice. Your best friend is in financial crisis? Offer them your home free for the weekend for a romantic vacation while you are on that road trip to visit the in-laws. Find creative ways to give yourself (or others) a bit of distance from those besetting hindrances and the perspective and refreshment that come with distance.

Second, look beyond. God is carrying out a good plan all around us. If you can’t pull away for a while from troubling issues to get some perspective, then refocus your outlook, and start looking at the part of that view beyond that tree that you can see. The world is carrying on around you, and God has a role for you in that world as long as you are breathing – problems or not! Invest your life in God’s plans beyond your problem. When we invest in others, both are blessed.

Third, examine that tree. It’s just a tree. One with dead leaves and bark and ants crawling on it. It may be a 100 foot tall, 2 feet in diameter tree, but it’s still just a tree, a created thing. It’s just an obstacle. Nothing is impossible with God. Because of fear maybe, have we mentally made that obstacle more mighty than the Creator? He is still in control. He is not surprised by that tree being there; He saw that little acorn fall there and plant itself before we ever had an inkling we’d even be in the same neighborhood as that tree, maybe even before we were born. The good news: He has the axe necessary to get rid of that tree!

Fourth, move to one side. Look at your tree from a different angle. Could your parent’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be a blessing to draw you two to spend time together in their later years? Could your broken heart over that rebellious teen prepare you to minister to other broken hearts you encounter along the way? Could that car wreck bring a hidden blessing? Could this trial be drawing you back to prayer? Obstacles, in some way, have God’s hidden blessing and glory tucked behind them. He is active in your life. So get a different perspective on that tree and see what good God may be bringing along with it.

Fifth, pray in faith for God to chop it down. There’s never harm in asking God to remove obstacles from our lives. Jesus did that the night before He was crucified; ” ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV) That last statement gets us! Are we willing to live with that obstacle always there if God chooses NOT to remove it? He’s got a good plan for us. And He’s got the axe… remember?

IMG_5875And last, see the good in that tree. Count your blessings. My tree has a cheerful little squirrel who chatted with me every day of my vacation and a gorgeous green canopy that shaded me from the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s massive presence reminded me of the strength and stability of the Father, and it’s leaves offered pleasant whispers in the breeze. Your obstacle has hidden blessings too. Maybe it restores a broken relationship, brings a new friend into your life, humbles you, makes you sit still and enjoy the moments more, changes the direction of your child’s life, or causes you to listen and understand new life lessons. God is using it in your life.

So let us not grow so focused on the negative. Yes, bad things happen, but like a diamond, they are many faceted, and may have hidden treasures bound up with them. Are we embracing the spiritual lessons that come our way through the pain? Are we consumed with the Father, or are we consumed with the fear, dread, confusion, doubts, and what ifs of this obstacle? Are we angry or tender-hearted? Let us look with spiritual eyes to really see – to look beyond that obstacle!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

The “Will” of God

In my bathroom there is a very special window. It’s not particularly beautiful. It’s actually quite ordinary. It’s not the window itself that makes it a treasure. It’s the precious gift God left me on that window.

I don’t know about you, but as a momma of four children, the bathroom is my place of refuge. It’s my getaway, my sanctuary, and my prayer closet. When my kids were younger it was the place I could steal away for a few sacred minutes to breathe and eat chocolate (no judging, every momma of littles should have a chocolate stash in the bathroom). As my kids got older, it became the one quiet room in the house. I spent many hours crying out to God in that bathroom. Wrestling with my sin and my weakness, begging God for wisdom, and asking God to remind my scattered, distracted heart that His love for me is real and constant and intimate and personal.

A few years ago after a particularly difficult day of parenting, I was spent. I wondered aloud, asking God if He could hear me and if He knew how much I needed Him. I was angry and frustrated with myself and wondered how God could love such a messed up sinner woman. I took a long shower and poured out my heart to my King. It was late and I was so weary. I ended up wrapped in my towel on my knees weeping before God. I made my way to grab some tissue and looked out the window to admire the stillness and quiet of the trees in our backyard and I noticed something odd. As the foggy steam from the shower began to clear I saw something on that window that left me in a big ol’ puddle of tears. The message on my window said simply, “I WILL LOVE YOU.” I recognized the writing as the handiwork of my youngest son—a pudgy finger squeakily writing a love note on my window pane. A love note that God knew would reach down and wreck my heart and be the perfect reminder of my Abba’s love.

I Will Window

While the note was just what I needed, it was the construction that started me pondering. I’m a lover of words and grammar is especially meaningful—a true word nerd. “I will love you” is an odd choice for an eight-year-old, but as I thought about it, I realized my personal, intimate God knew this particular phrasing wouldn’t go unnoticed.

I WILL is the future perfect progressive verb tense. This means it is an action that is ongoing. It is a promise. If you make an “I WILL” statement, you are stating not what might happen, but what is certain to happen. It is a statement with the promise of fulfillment. In this case, a promise not just for a specific time, but a promise that will continue. Now every time I look at that window I’m reminded that God’s love is not just something I experienced in the past, not just something I am experiencing in the present, but will continue to be given. Because God’s love is not based on my performance. It is based on the love of God in Christ. God WILL love me because of Jesus.

After my window encounter, I started thinking more about the many I WILL promises God left for us to discover in His Word. They are powerful reminders of who God was, who He is, and who HE WILL be for those who love Him. I began looking through and underlining all the I WILL’s I could find. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Just as I was with Moses, I WILL BE with you. I WILL NOT leave your nor forsake you.” Joshua 1:5

I WILL go before you and will make the crooked places straight.” Isaiah 45:2 (KJV)

“So you will be my people and I WILL be your God.” Jeremiah 30:22

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I WILL give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I WILL listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11 (a sweet promise for mommas of littles)

“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I WILL strengthen you, I WILL help you, I WILL uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“And the Lord WILL guide you continually.” Isaiah 58:11

“I am the Lord, and I WILL bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I WILL deliver you from slavery to them, and I WILL redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I WILL take you to be my people, and I WILL be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Exodus 6: 6-7

Take some time today and walk through the Word focused on God’s “wills.” Whatever you may be facing, He has provided a promise of His presence, His provision, His protection, His grace, His mercy.

As I thought more about the I will’s of God, I recognized something even more incredible. The most beautiful, most powerful thing about the I WILL’s of God is the reality that the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The I WILL has become the I AM of Jesus.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘YES’ in Christ!” 2 Corinthians 1:20

Today choose to rejoice in the promises and praise the Promise Keeper. He loved you yesterday. He loves you today. And He WILL love you forever.

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Jesus will love you forever!