SUMMARY: On our path of discovering what it takes to become a spiritual champion we cannot ignore the challenges we will face. Therefore, in anticipations of issues, problems, and challenges we should understand how to navigate them. In this lesson, Vince Miller discusses four things we can learn from challenges.
On our path of discovering what it takes to become a spiritual champion, we cannot ignore the challenges we will face. Every athlete faces challenges during their sporting career. Perhaps one of the most common challenges faced by athletes is, believe it or not, depression. In a study of 465 athletes, researchers at Drexel University discovered that 1 in 4 shows some signs of depression. There were a lot of variables in this study, but I don’t think any college athlete would contest depression as one of the many challenges that collegian athletes face.
Like an athlete, we as spiritual champions will face challenges. Because gentlemen, I believe we are either going into, in or coming out of challenges. All the great spiritual men who have gone before us faced challenges in their life. Men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, and the Disciples as well, all faced challenges. Therefore, we cannot expect to have a challenge-free life. Therefore, in anticipations of issues, problems, and challenges we should understand how to navigate them. And we know most of these men would never choose the challenges that they faced, but they did face them, it was how they faced them that defined them as spiritual champions.
I believe there are only two responses to challenges:
1. Either we move away from God.
2. Or we move closer to God.
These are the only two choices.
I was meeting with a good friend this morning, and he shared about a challenging season in his marriage. He has been married for several years and is now discovering some places or disagreement in his marriage and he is navigating them with some difficulty. They are not big issues but since they are new to him, he is facing them with some frustration and apparent anger. What was interesting, is that he needed someone with perspective to help him see through the issues. I came to discover quickly that while he was frustrated and angry with his wife, the issue was much deeper. We came to discover that the issue was the fact that he is not feeling respected. The issue that catalyzed the argument (domestic chores, his mother-in-law, or the family financial issues) was not the core issue. The core issue was how the issue was handled and how this communicated failure and a lack of respect to him that he was personally hurt by. Yet, of course, it was only after deep digging that he came to discover this. And once we talked this out he realized that his selfish response to her may not have been helpful but only complicating the matter. I think we each, when faced with a challenge have a hard time seeing past our own selfishness that would give way to discovering the more critical battle might be coming to terms with understanding what we want and need in any given situation. Thus, our choice, either move away from God toward our selfishness or move closer to God which requires deep work within our heart.
So today I want to think about challenges in the life of the spiritual champion. To do this I am going to be looking to four verses today that make four points about challenges in the life of the spiritual champion.
FIRST, challenges reveal our character. Essentially they expose us. The real the essence of who we are. We cannot face a challenge that will not reveal our character strengths and weakness. That is because challenges expose our blind spots but they also reveal our gifts and talents. If we are open, they also give us an opportunity for us to become transparent and authentic.
This was true for every great patriarch who went before us. Joseph is one prime example. Faced with incredible challenges for decades this man of God lived under the shadow of his brothers’ jealousy, the oppression of slavery under foreign reign, and wrongly accused in prison under false pretense. Joseph during these challenges gives us no allusion that he ever falters in his faith in God. And then one day his opportunity comes, he lives out his gift of interpreting dreams before the Pharaoh and God redeem him from prison and slavery.
What is incredible about Joseph, is not the moment he is redeemed, that is all God, but rather all the years of faithfulness to God. He was in slavery for about 13 years. For me, this reveals he is a faithful, persistent, and committed man of God. While he could have given up on God, he did not, and his character is revealed. And at age 30 he becomes second only to the most powerful man in the world.
Let jump to another man in the Old Testament. The shepherd boy David who faced one of the most well-known challenges in the Bible.
1 Samuel 17:45 says, “Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.’”
For those of us who know this moment we know that this was a defining moment in Israel but it was also declarative of the character of David in sharp contrast to King Saul and every other man in the kingdom. The beauty of David’s character at this moment was profound, and we too often in challenges face our finest hour and finest moments one that defines us for who we are.
SECOND, challenges give us an opportunity for faith. Faith is only birthed when it is given opportunity. Christian faith is the mental acceptance of God combined with action centered in the object of God. So, faith only lives when there is an opportunity for it to exist.
For example, without Abraham’s “test” (the sacrifice of his son Isaac) there is no opportunity for faith. Therefore, we can say that without challenges, or a test, we would not have acts of faith. It was the opportunity that revealed Abraham’s mental process and behavioral response. So, this means that we should understand the challenges that God gives us an opportunity for faith. Without them, we can’t have faith.
Paul infers this as he writes to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 he says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Therefore, we can conclude that not only are challenges opportunities, but specifically opportunities with limits, that provide a way out, and for increased endurance. This leads to our next point.
THIRD, challenges help us to increase our endurance. They always build something in us. Hebrew 12 is clear about this. Challenges for the athlete help them to push to the next level. They help them to increase speed, build agility, fortify mental toughness, and expand awareness so that the next time they face the same challenge they can meet it differently. This principle is also true in for the spiritual champion. We each should be leveraging spiritual challenges as an opportunity to gain wisdom we did not have before so that the next time we face a temptation we battle with greater endurance. And each day we do this with increasing stamina. Challenges are like testosterone enhancers for the spiritual champion. Okay, maybe strike that comment.
But James takes a unique and almost startling viewpoint when it comes to challenges. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I think James has a valid point here. While this is not how we usually face challenges, the spiritual champion looks fo challenges in the face with joy. He welcomes them.
FOURTH, and finally, challenges give us stories of God’s faithfulness. There is not one person I know whose life does not have a story of God’s faithfulness through the challenges. In fact, all our spiritual stories have some moment of challenge that was redeemed in some way by God. Peter in says it this way in 1 Peter 5:10, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Men, God is always writing his faithfulness on our heart through our challenges. I would say this is good news, yet we don’t always like the process. But it is through a challenge that the story unfolds! And the men I know who have endured incredible situations in life through the power of God are men with great stories to tell. Because they have suffered, yet overcome, and God strengthens and restores them!
Challenges are a tool in the hand of God for our own personal growth. So, this week let’s smile in the face of the challenges and look at them with new insight. Welcome them as opportunities to reveal your character, opportunities for faith, increased endurance, and God’s faithfulness.