- In spite of limited educational opportunity Abraham Lincoln went on to be one of our greatest presidents.
- In spite of persecution, suffering, and twelve years of imprisonment John Bunyan produced the Christian classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
- In spite of a drunken father, poverty, limited family support, and deafness, Beethoven composed some of the world’s great masterpieces.
- In spite of being born the illegitimate son of a slave, George Washington Carver was among, if not, the greatest African American scientist to walk American soil.
- In spite of being a murderer, castaway, and slave Moses was used by God to deliver an entire nation from bondage.
Such examples are both inspiring and challenging. They are inspiring because they portray a person who has accomplished great things “in spite of their challenges.” They give us hope that we “too” can rise from the ashes to accomplish something significant in life.
They are challenging because we may feel dwarfed by the accomplishments of these “great” people. The temptation to feel insignificant by means of comparison is always present. No matter the stature of your accomplishments the animal of comparison always raises its ugly head. So, in spite of the danger of comparisons, what can we learn from the “in spite of” people.
The apostle Paul gives us a good example. In Philippians 1:12 we learn that Paul was in prison while writing the book of Philippians. That’s a pretty challenging situation! I think that earns him the right to be a spokesman. He says, “I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” In spite of imprisonment Paul saw good things coming from his situation.
When you serve in ministry you will have a long list of things that “happen to you.” Your list may include conflicts with people, organizational trials, vision difficulties, leadership challenges and other conflicts, and other issues. Many times you will feel like a victim. Things “happen to you.” So what can we learn from Paul?
Two things stand out as I examine Paul’s life. First, his commitment to his mission kept him focused. He said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” As we serve Jesus Christ our calling should always be at the forefront of our minds. I think it was Spurgeon who advised potential young ministers to do anything else if they could, and stay out of the ministry. However, he advised, if you have an undeniable call, you will be unable to escape that call. Paul had a life changing experience on the Damascus road and he could never deny that experience, in spite of the hardship he faced. As servants of Christ a foundational call will always be the beacon during difficult times.
The second aspect of Paul’s steadfast spirit is the power of Christ. A quick reading of Philippians reveals Paul’s unwavering dependence on the power of Christ. Many believers quote Phil. 4:13 by heart, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” There is no way a person can survive the challenges of ministry unless the power of Jesus Christ transforms the bitterness into sweetness, the disappointments into appointments, and the sadness into singing.
I pray that Jesus will help you succeed “in spite of” the challenges. I pray that he will help you survive and thrive for a long and prosperous journey.