How to Overcome the Overwhelming Obstacles You Face

Over the last two decades, obstacle course races and events have grown exponentially in popularity.

Turn on the TV on a weeknight, and you might find American Ninja Warrior athletes—non-professional folks like you and me—climbing ladders, leaping over swinging obstacles, and climbing walls, all in front of a raucous, cheering crowd.

Races like the Tough Mudder and Spartan Races are now offered in every major city in the country. Ordinary women and men willingly subject themselves to running miles while also crawling under barbed wire, climbing monkey bars, and getting blasted with firehoses.

Or go to your local gym and you’ll likely find people training through CrossFit. Everyday folks flip tractor tires, carry sandbags and climb ropes (and they pay to do this).

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Obstacle Courses

Why do we love obstacle courses? I believe we love obstacle courses for two reasons:

  1. First, human beings are meant to live risky, bold lives of faith, attempting great things and “pouring out” our lives for the Kingdom. Whereas previous generations got these thrills through military training and combat, few in our generation are either living for Christ’s Kingdom or serving in the Army, Navy, or Marines. Instead, we need voluntary workouts like CrossFit, occasional obstacle races like Tough Mudder and Spartan, and TV shows like American Ninja Warrior.
  2. Second, we have been created for community—as relational beings made in the image of a triune God. So our thrill for adventure is incomplete if it is not shared with others with a shared interest and enthusiasm.

Adversity will always exist in this life but you are never alone. We have been created to overcome obstacles together.

Your Obstacles

In the Don’t Give Up Study Journal, a supplement to Kyle Idleman’s Don’t Give Up book, we ask God for true, heart-level encouragement for the long-distance race of faith and endurance. Overcome the Overwhelming Obstacles You Face

God is often answering us and leading us through his written Word. In the witness of the saints throughout his Story, we discover a deep well of life-giving inspiration. And this inspiration is not a blissful platitude, but a gritty, hard-won, blood-in-its-teeth inspiration. Men and women gave their lives for our encouragement.

Remember The Living Bible’s translation of Hebrews 12:1: Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands…

Who is this great cloud of witnesses? Envision your favorite sports team’s wild, face-painted, chanting and cheering enthusiasts shouting, “Let’s go! You’re almost there! Don’t give up!”

Why do we need this real-life, in-your-face encouragement? Because our journey of faith is not only a long-distance race, it’s an obstacle course.

Kyle Idleman writes in Don’t Give Up:

“The Bible doesn’t tell us to mark out our race just the way we like it and run—it’s been marked out for us, so we don’t choose its difficulty level, nor do we receive a map of the obstacles that lie ahead… As you study through Scripture, you’ll find that those who faithfully ran the race God marked out for them had to deal with one obstacle after another. The faith heroes faced significant and surprising obstacles.”

If anyone knows what it’s like to face overwhelming obstacles, it’s Nehemiah.

The Story of Nehemiah

The story of Nehemiah’s life is told in scripture throughout the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. He was an Israelite in a foreign land, working as a head servant within the pagan Persian Empire, about 500 years before Jesus’s birth. His job included regular access to the King of Persia, so he had a unique position of perspective and influence that not many would want to lose.

And yet, his hometown was in ruins.

Nehemiah had most likely never lived in Jerusalem, the city of God. It was more than 1,000 miles away and had been mostly abandoned for more than a century. But when Nehemiah heard a report that the Holy City had been attacked once again, its walls and gates burned down, and its people left vulnerable to additional attacks, he was overcome with sadness and grief.

Like Abraham, Moses, and many heroes of faith before him, Nehemiah could have remained in his position of safety and security and ignored the needs of his people. But God inspired him to act. Nehemiah knew he needed to enter the race marked out for him.

Common Obstacles to Faith

Reflecting upon Nehemiah’s life, we can see four common obstacles in our journeys of faith.


Nehemiah could have waited for someone else, someone closer to or with a better knowledge of Jerusalem, to step in and show Israel the way. He could have said, “It’s too late now,” or “I’m not the right guy for the job.”


Nehemiah had a unique position in Persia, but he no doubt was taking a risk by asking for a leave of absence to check on Jerusalem. Similarly, he had no resources of his own through which to restore Jerusalem. He could have said, “I don’t have what it takes.”

Slow Progress

Even when Nehemiah was given resources and began the work, it began slowly and without the immediate look of success. He could have said, “I gave it a shot—it just wasn’t meant to be.”


Lastly, while Nehemiah was working to rebuild Jerusalem, he faced constant opposition. Nehemiah’s enemies accused him of rebelling against the king. First, they mocked their desire to worship in Jerusalem and questioned the quality of his work. Then, they started a rumor that Nehemiah was setting himself up as the king. They even plotted to kill laborers while busy at work. Finally, they attempted to trap Nehemiah in the temple to kill him. Nehemiah could have said, “There’s too much working against me.”

Don't Give Up Overcoming the Obstacles

Keep Building

All of these threats and accusations were futile attempts to throw Nehemiah off course—to keep him from obeying the Lord and rebuilding the city. But so often, the threats and accusations of others live on as lies inside our own minds.

Nehemiah could have said all these things. He may have even thought them over and over. But he didn’t give in. He didn’t pack his bags and return to his royal position in the palaces of Persia.

So what did he do to keep going? What steps did he take to keep moving forward? Where did he find the confidence to accomplish the mission?

Nehemiah embraced the obstacles in his life. He took them to the Lord in prayer. And he kept building.

Just a few short months later, God’s people were back in the Holy City, the City of David, rebuilding the Temple and worshipping God together. Indeed, the whole project was completed in only 52 days!

This is the message of Nehemiah: Face your obstacles head-on. Don’t let the haters get you down. Keep building!

In other words, Don’t give up! 1

1 Adapted from Days 22-25 in the Don’t Give Up Study Journal.

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