As a coach for decades, I was in the business of teaching and training athletes to overcome every obstacle that stood in the way of peak performance. This is a wise approach to training athletes. However, this is not always God’s approach in training us, and only wisdom makes us sensitive to understanding this truth.
Now if you are a regular reader of the Good News, you are probably familiar with Paul’s “thorn” or obstacle that he prayed for God to take away three times, and God did not remove it. But this month, I want to share a lesser known story regarding today’s truth found in Numbers 22, under the heading of Balaam and his donkey.
“Now the king of Moab sent his messengers to summon the pagan prophet Balaam to come and pronounce a curse on the Israelites for the usual fee for divination. But when Balaam inquired of the Lord he was told not to go. The king then sent more distinguished messengers to summon Balaam offering an even greater reward for his services. This time the Lord told Balaam he could go with them under the strict conditions of doing only what the Lord instructed him to do.
“Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road” (Numbers 22:21-23)
Three times Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road to stop them and refused to go forward. And three times Balaam beat her as he was unaware of the Lord’s angel blocking his path. It’s ironic that the donkey had greater insight than the diviner and then proceeds to tell him so.
A strange messenger
“Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’ Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’ The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’ ‘No,’ he said” (Numbers 22:28-30)
Clearly God knew Balaam’s heart and therefore stopped his progress in pronouncing a curse on the Israelites.
“Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the LORD asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.’ Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, ‘I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back’” (Numbers 22:31-34).
By the end of the story, God causes Balaam to do exactly the opposite of what the king of Moab wanted him to do. Instead of cursing God’s people, he pronounces a blessing upon them three times. The prophetic curse was reserved for Moab and the surrounding nations.
God ordains some obstacles
There is much to be gleaned from this story, but one thing that stands out is this: God has ordained that some obstacles are not meant to be overcome.
The reasons, of course, are many. At times, we are heading in the wrong direction. At other times, we are heading in the right direction, but at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Regardless of the reason for the “obstacle not meant to be overcome” ultimately it is God’s divine protection in our lives because God’s plan for our lives is better than our plan. Every obstacle put in our way has not been put there by the devil trying to disrupt our forward progress.
Keys to understanding
There are a few keys to help unlock the door leading to understanding when obstacles are not meant to be overcome. First, we need to saturate every situation in prayer. Second, we need to marinate in the Word of God, which functions as a light to our path. Finally, we need to seek godly counsel from many who just may be that “divine donkey” sent by the Lord to deliver us.
In looking back on my life I can identify a number of obstacles that were not meant to be overcome because God was moving me in the direction He wanted me to go. God will not always give to us what we want. But He will always give to us what we need, to do all He has called us to do.
This is the gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that…Amen!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.