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How Do You Perceive Obstacles?

  • Cliff Young Contributing Writer
  • Updated Oct 23, 2007
How Do You Perceive Obstacles?

Do what you know and perception is converted into character.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome.  All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them
—Woodrow Wilson

In college, I took an elective class called “Psychology of Stress.”  I thought it would be an interesting subject, one that I could relate to as I worked to finish up my double major before the student loans ran out.  The main premise of the class was to determine what the basis of stress is, recognize those “activators” of stress, acknowledge how it affected us, and train ourselves in how to overcome it.  We learned how every situation we encounter could be perceived as stressful or as non-stressful.  A situation perceived as a threat, a danger or a rejection may produce stress and anxiety.  A situation perceived to be a challenge or exciting, could create exhilaration.

According to Merriam-Webster, perception means “a mental image” and perceives means “to regard as being such.”

If we perceive something in our life to be an obstacle, we “regard it being such” and our perception or mental image will be negative.  But if we perceive something in our life to be a challenge or a passage to something better, our mental image will be positive.

I have always heard that “perception is everything,” and I have come to believe this for myself.  If you watch any “Court TV” or “Entertainment” style television show, or even the news, you’ll no doubt see judgment being thrust upon another person.  Most of the judgment is negative and based upon a perception of the person’s character with a limited number of facts.


Job’s life is a great example of perception and obstacles.  Throughout his struggle of losing his children, his wealth, his standing in the community, and his health, his wife and friends perceived his circumstances as being God’s judgment for a past sin.

  • “Your children obviously sinned against him, so their punishment was well deserved.”  (Job 8:4)
  • “Get rid of your sins and leave all iniquity behind you.”  (Job 12:14)
  • “Will you continue on the old paths where evil people have walked?”  (Job 22:15)

But, according to Job 1:1, we learn that Job was “blameless, a man of complete integrity.  He feared God and stayed away from evil.”

Despite the scrutiny from his wife, friends, and from his own agony, Job showed that a believer doesn’t need to renounce God.  He can question God along the way, but never deny Him or demand answers from Him.  For the most part, Job perceived his situation as part of God’s plan, to which he acknowledges in Job 42:2-3.

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

David, with the spirit of the Lord upon him, saw obstacles in his life as opportunities “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46).  He believed that every battle was not his own, but rather the Lord’s.  When he heard about the giant Goliath defying the armies of the living God, challenging any Israelite to combat, instead of running away in fear as many of those in the army did before him, he told King Saul, “Don’t worry about a thing; I’ll go fight this Philistine!” (1 Samuel 17:32).
David, a youth at the time, had no obligation to be there on the battlefield.  He was a shepherd and part-time musician for the King.  His older brother, Eliab, questioned David’s real purpose for being there, accusing him of being prideful and dishonest.  Saul told David that he was “not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him.”  Regardless of what others thought, David went into the battle confident of his Lord, “Today the Lord will conquer you” (1 Samuel 17:46)

  • How often do we invite ourselves and insist upon going into the battlefield?
  • How many of us see a danger, a challenge, a formidable enemy and run toward it wanting to face it?
  • Instead, how many of us have delayed facing a challenge, hoping that it would go away?
  • Have we missed an opportunity to show that “there is a God”?

David approached impossibilities as opportunities because he perceived the obstacles as opportunities to glorify the Lord.

Alleged ‘impossibilities’ are opportunities for our capacities to be stretched
—Charles R. Swindoll

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego perceived no obstacle at all when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon summoned for them.

“When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?  I will give you one more chance.  If you bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments, all will be well.  But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace.  What god will be able to rescue you from my power then?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.”  (Daniel 3:14-17)

I love their answer.  They didn’t think twice about the consequences of not following the orders of the king, and they responded in such a calm, pleasant and honorable way.  Many faced with this same situation may have been tempted to go along with the King to avoid possible death.  But their belief in the mightiness and the power of their God, and their focus on Him, gave them courage to rely upon God alone.

Speaking of focus … have you ever watched the running of the 110-meter high hurdles?  The runners seem to just glide over the 42” hurdles like they don’t exist.  When I tried it years ago, I focused my attention on each hurdle and seemed to always clip the hurdle with my trailing foot.  Rarely did I hurdle it cleanly, and more than a couple of times I ended up on my face.  What I learned (besides that I wasn’t meant to be a hurdler) was that I needed to set my sights on the finish line and take the hurdle “in stride” rather than making it bigger than it was.

To run the race that God has set before us, there will be hurdles along the way that you will have to get over.  We often “perceive” an obstacle in our life as a blockade, trying to avoid it, rather than working our way over it and through it.  Many of us end up concentrating so much on the hurdle itself that we miss what God has for us on the other side. 

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I d  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God  has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 5:13-14)

How do you perceive “obstacles” in your own life, a consequence of sin or an opportunity for the Lord to work? 

Nothing is an obstacle unless you say it is.
—Wally Amos, founder of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (ARose Books).  An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback?  Send your comments and questions to