When the twelve spies returned from their foray into the Promised Land, all of them gave testimony to seeing the same things. They all saw a fertile land that flowed with milk and honey and they saw the fruit that the land produced such as the grapes of Eshcol. All of them also observed the obstacles to possessing the land for themselves. It was hard to miss:
- the large pagan population
- the walled cities
- the giants
The difference between the two groups of spies was that ten magnified the obstacles and two majored on the opportunities. Two saw the half full glass and ten saw that glass as at least half empty.
Whether we like to admit it or not, there is an affliction that can attach itself to the hearts of believers. Even though we serve the Almighty God, we live with the attitude that real victory cannot come to our life and our ministry. Too often our fear of the obstacles that lie before us becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though the obstacles can be overcome with the help of God, they are not overcome because we do not trust God to work through us. We give up trying to accomplish anything for the Lord before we even really try.
In the words of Dr. Bob Jones Sr., “The character of a person is measured not by what he attempts, but what it takes to stop him.”
The work of God is a great work, but it is not an obstacle free work. It is a work that requires sacrifice, diligence, and faith. God is able and desires to do great things through our churches, schools, and most importantly, through us! Notice what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 3:20–21, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
Notice three critical words in those verses:
- Able is the word dunamai and it means, “to be possible,” according to Strong’s Concordance.
- Power is the word dunamis. It is the same root word as able. The important concept is to see where this power or possibility resides.
- Worketh is the word energeo. It is the same word translated “effectual fervent” in James 5. God’s power and possibility are already working in us, waiting to be unleashed as we serve Him.
Just as the Israelites were well able to possess the Promised Land by the power of God, we can see Him work through us in our ministries. We are able to balance family, work, and church. We are able to see adults change and young people learn and grow. Every day that we arrive at our place of ministry there is an opportunity. What God can do is only limited by our:
- Perspective—seeing His work in the light of our ability
- Attitude—unbelief that God can do great things through us
Let me share four ways from Numbers chapter thirteen that we can help ourselves allow God to turn obstacles into opportunities for victory.
1. We Must Realize that Our Ministry Is God’s Work
In Numbers 13:1–2, it is very evident that the work of the spies was directed by God. They were commissioned and sent by the Lord for the purpose of giving a report on the greatness of the land God was going to give them. They were not commissioned of God to determine whether they could actually do what God was commanding; God had already promised to give them the land. As ministers we must realize that the people we work alongside of, the young people we teach, the parents with whom we partner are here by God’s design. God is sovereign. He has them and us here on purpose. It is not up to us to decide if a person is worth our effort or can be helped; it is our mission to see how God is at work in their lives and then co-labor with the Lord in that work. Let us never be numbered with those who decide that what God wants done cannot be done.
2. We Must Remind Ourselves that We Have Been Chosen by the Lord to Serve Him Where He Has Placed Us
Sometimes we read over verses like Numbers 13:3–16 and give them little thought. These men listed were called to serve in this matter by “the commandment of the Lord.” We are the men and women that have been called of the Lord to do His work in the place He has chosen for our lives. We must never be light about our responsibility or our possibilities. God has called us and placed us. We must never just “mail it in.” Every time we stand in a pulpit or in a classroom, we should have a sense of the unbelievable opportunity we have to impact the hearts and minds of people that God loves and has a plan for. We should arrive everyday believing that God is able!
3. We Must See Both the Opportunities and the Obstacles
Numbers 13:17–25 records that Caleb and Joshua saw the same problems that the other ten spies saw. It is not that they saw the world through rose colored glasses. They saw and acknowledged reality, however, they trusted God. In verse 30, Caleb was not full of arrogance; he was full of faith. We must have Caleb’s attitude—with God’s help “we are well able to overcome it.”
4. We Must Resist the Temptation to Heed Complaining, Defeated Voices
Unfortunately, the ten spies who did not believe God captured the hearts of Israel. Focusing on the obstacles, they took the heart right out of the people. Defeat and discouragement are contagious. I do not think we must always avoid discussing problems, but it should always be in the context of faith. There are times when we look at a situation and legitimately decide that God would not have us go that way. However, when God tells us it is His will and He gives us the opportunity, it is sin to refuse to trust Him. There is always someone who tells us it cannot be done, but if it is God’s will, it can be done.
Great things are done when people refuse to be defeated and trust God for the victory. Winston Churchill faced incredible obstacles, but led his people to victory. Listen to his advice: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Never, never, never, never give up.”
Anne Sullivan was charged with teaching a blind and deaf girl named Helen Keller. At nineteen months Helen had contracted a very serious fever and both her optic and auditory nerves were destroyed. She would live the rest of her life blind and deaf. Seeking to provide a way for her to communicate with the world outside her own mind Helen’s parents employed Miss Sullivan to teach her some kind of language.
Miss Sullivan persevered through Helen’s tantrums and depression until finally, after a multitude of attempts, she was able to teach Helen a touch alphabet. It opened Helen’s life to great purpose and she became an inspiration to world. What was thought to be impossible was not. Helen Keller left us many thoughts, but let me share just two:
“It is for us to pray, not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks.”
“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision.”
With God’s help nothing in our lives or ministries is impossible. That glass really is half full!