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MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) -- One of the most puzzling spiritual dilemmas is discerning the difference between a barrier and a blockade.
Sometimes, God allows difficulties to test our faith. He wants to build endurance in us and show his power through us. It's painful, but God shapes our character through these challenges. Let's label these circumstances "barriers" to be broken down, climbed over, or otherwise surmounted. We are better Christians when we triumph through these struggles.
Other times, God allows similar difficulties -- not to test us, but to stop us in our tracks. Let's call these circumstances "barricades." These are huge stop signs God erects to get us to freeze, reconsider our options, and go a different direction. Continuing to pound your head into an immovable, God-sized obstruction is painful and futile.
Discerning the difference between barriers and barricades is challenging. It's not easy to figure out what to do when you first run into resistance. Most Christians aren't quitters. We expect to swim upstream and paddle harder when the current intensifies. But is that always the best response? Initially, probably so! But when increased flow is a precursor to a coming tsunami of God-generated opposition, it's best to get out of that stream altogether.
When we planted our church in Gresham, Ore., a marketing consultant surveyed the community on our behalf and told us, "Get out while you can. This will be a very difficult place to start a church." We considered that counsel, rejected it, and plowed ahead. It was hard -- some days, very hard. But we persevered and a great church resulted. A barricade that was really a barrier!
When we wanted to add a staff person to the Northwest Convention staff, the need seemed genuine and a suitable candidate was willing to serve. But there was no money. We prayed and worked and asked and connived -- to no avail. God thwarted us at every turn. The opportunity passed and that position was never filled. A barrier that turned out to be barricade!
These are just two examples of how puzzling this dilemma can be. It continues to be a major discernment issue for me as a leader. My usual sources for direction in decision-making -- the Bible, the Spirit, past experiences, timely information, and wise counsel -- are helpful but, to be honest, it's still a struggle. My hunch is sorting out the differences between barricades and barriers are a struggle for a lot of you -- but also something some of you do better than me.
What have you learned about this process? I would like to hear your story at email@example.com.
Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco, and the author of "Live Like a Missionary." This column first appeared at his blog, JeffIorg.com.
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