Early one morning the Lord woke me, saying: "Treat obstacles not as occasions for worry but as opportunities in the Spirit." It was an encouraging word He wanted me to share with a friend who was about to experience several days of new obstacles. I shared the word, thinking it was a catchy little phrase! Not long after that, though, He showed me a picture of the rapids.
The image of a river is powerful in Scripture; Psalm 46:4 speaks of a river "whose streams make glad the city of God," and Ezekiel prophesies about a river in God's temple whose waters will increase until they become too deep to cross. It is a picture of the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly, a popular expression in the Charismatic renewal of the 1990's was: "Jump in the river!" (Meaning, jump into the flow of the Spirit!).
But rivers, especially the rapids, contain obstacles. Some are small and easily floated over. Some are so deep they are virtually unseen. It is the larger ones that tend to cause us difficulties in our faith-walk. The ones that seem to block our way or hold us back from going to where we want to be. The ones that are too big for us to move.
We are not meant to get stuck behind obstacles, but to continue flowing in the river of the Spirit as we journey along. In order to do this, we must know what kind of obstacle we are bumping into. It is here that the wisdom of God is indispensable.
Two Types of Obstacles
Here's what I felt the Lord was saying. Obstacles along the side of a river - usually rocks, soil, or branches - comprise the boundaries of the river. They are there as protection, as an obvious division for us between the Spirit and the flesh. If we are bumping into these it often means we have drifted to the edges of the movement of God in our lives. Staying here can mean stagnancy, like being caught in the circular undulations of an eddy. We haven't abandoned God or gotten out of the river to walk on our own, but we may not be making any progress. Fear of the rapids may have caused us to return to safer ground. We may be fascinated with those outside of the river, who seem to skip along so cheerfully in the greener grass. Perhaps we are snagged on a painful outcropping that just won't seem to let us go.
Whatever the reason, we recognize that our pace has slowed, but with a little effort, we can return to the flow of the river. God has not abandoned us, and our momentary collision with the banks of the river only teaches us to run more consistently down the central channels of His grace.
Rocks or boulders inside the river, however, pose a different challenge. In most cases, these obstacles are meant to redirect us as we flow in the Spirit. These are obstacles whose roots are so deep or whose surface so great that we cannot float over them. They must be recognized for what they are and confronted with God's strategy so that we can move beyond them. What is that strategy?
Water flows over and around the rocks in a river. Rarely are rocks are dislodged to make water's passage easier! God might choose sometimes to supernaturally remove a boulder that is blocking us, but more often than not, God expects His river to flow around and beyond the things that would try to block the water's flow. We are not meant to hold on to these obstacles or become stuck when they arise.
In short, too often, our prayers focus on asking God to remove things that are meant to redirect us. We are never called to grow stagnant in the Spirit, whining and complaining about the impassable boulders we face. Life in the Holy Spirit is a life of constant movement and change, just like the life of a river. A better prayer might be, "Lord, help me to see this obstacle for what it is and to navigate around it so that it doesn't stop me from going on with You."
Returning to my time with the Lord early that morning, I realized: the key to navigating obstacles of any kind was right there in the word He gave me initially: obstacles are nothing more than opportunities for us to stay in the Spirit.
Let the Source of the river set your direction. Let the flow of the river keep you within His boundaries. And let the strength of His current propel you over and around every obstacle you might encounter.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2015
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others connect with God.
She writes about Knowing God and Hearing His Voice at
His Inscriptions.com. Follow her on Twitter@DeborahSPerkins,
or Facebook as HisInscriptions.
Free Link to the Subscriber Resource Library when you join His Inscriptions!
A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.