My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During my last article, we looked at opportunities for growth through overcoming obstacles like our own old sinful nature, and how we grow through adversity. We looked at Paul the apostle as an example, although Old Testament heroes like Joseph and Job received more than their share of adversity. But they overcame and not just survived. They thrived. We also looked at the promises for overcomers in the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. Since then, we’ve been given an opportunity to put the overcomer lessons to good use. We had a lesson in this even before the covid pandemic hit. Our car broke down while trying to get to a friend’s wedding. We were towed home, and ever since, we were stuck at home with no transport and no way to fix the car for eight days. We could only choose each of these eight days to turn this situation over to God and make it an opportunity to overcome. Let’s learn more about how we can become overcomers.
Dudley Rutherford believes we can learn to overcome life’s obstacles through the story of the battle of Jericho. Some of these principles can be applied to any area of difficulty. The first principle is focus on God, rather than your circumstances. You’ve been looking too closely at your problem. It may seem huge because you’re looking at it too closely. Or, it may actually be something that is life-threatening. However, if we focus on God’s power rather than the size of the problem, it will seem to shrink. When you can trust God to help you overcome it, the problem can be surmounted one step at a time with God’s help. God is much larger than any obstacle we will ever face. When we focus on God’s greatness and faithfulness, you can begin to see the problem from the right perspective. God knows every detail of what we face, and he is right here along with us. So, choose to see your obstacle as an opportunity to cultivate your character. Increase your faith while you trust God to lead you through the process of overcoming it. [Dudley Rutherford’s new book Walls Fall Down: 7 Steps from the Battle of Jericho to Overcome Any Challenge (Thomas Nelson, 2014).]
The second principle is to trust in God’s plan even when it doesn’t make any sense. God’s plan for your life may seem strange, unconventional and mysterious from your own limited, human perspective. We only see one part of the picture; one piece of the puzzle at a time. When you decide to trust God and his plan, you can count on God to fulfill his promises to you. He will use whatever you are going through – even your toughest challenges – to accomplish good purposes. While the well-known Romans 8:28 verse is certainly relevant, instead, let’s think of how the ancient Hebrews thought of marching around the walls of Jericho singing and then blowing shofars. It didn’t make sense. But often God’s ways don’t. He often does things differently from how we attempt to do them. While he uses conventional means to get things done, he is creative and likes to do things ‘out of the box.’ It’s so we can say, “Hey! God did this!” So don’t try to solve your problems only in your limited strength. As God reveals his plan to you, follow it day by day. Be willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks you to do – even when it doesn’t make sense. If you do, you’ll make real progress overcoming your challenges.
Principle Three is to see supernatural grace in all situations and pursue holiness. Sometimes these are big “But God” moments, but many times they are smaller kindnesses of God. Ask Holy Spirit to help you recognize the extraordinary ways that God works to break through the ordinary situations in your life. Don’t miss God in the ordinary moments. He is there. Choose holiness and integrity in your everyday decisions. You will become stronger and better able to overcome difficulties. Place your relationship with God at the centre of your life. Invite God to empower you as you practise spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, and worshipping regularly both alone and in church groups like connect groups and larger Sunday gatherings. Approach your life each day with faithfulness and zeal to discover and fulfill the purposes God has for you. Be confident that God is with you every step of your journey.
Principle Four is to surround you with other believers who want the same goal. Other Christians who are honest and work to overcome their own challenges can help lift up your spirit. At times when you feel low, they can remind you of the truth, and cheer you on toward achieving your goal. Choose to be in a culture of people committed to what really matters eternally. Help each other set aside sin and disagreements. Instead, unite as pure people set apart for the plans God has for them. In Iris, we call these “laid down lovers,” because they set aside agendas for what God wants instead. Rather than pride, they choose to go as Heidi Baker says, “low and slow.”
Principle Five is to keep putting one step in front of the other consistently to make progress. Take every day as a challenge and test in a good way. Some people conquer mountains. We don’t have to go that far, but we can choose to take whatever steps the Holy Spirit leads you to take. Don’t compare your progress with others or get frustrated that every detail isn’t perfect. Our timing is not God’s. Be patient and persevere through each step. And while you’re there, find the joy in the moment.
Also ask Holy Spirit to help you avoid becoming distracted. That’s a big one for me. Sometimes other things get in the way, or I become discouraged and feel like quitting. But Heidi always reminded us in Harvest School never to give up. She said, “if you don’t give up, you win.” So try and keep small, consistent faithful steps towards victory. You will get there. I recently read the book Overcomer, which is based on the movie of the same name. The book features a girl named Hannah, who was shown at the beginning of the story to be a near-orphaned girl, who hardly saw her grandmother. She was always working. Hannah was a cross-country runner with asthma. Every time she tried to run, she would be hit with asthma, a certain bully, and her own fears of not making it. She also was a chronic but guilt-ridden thief. By the end of the book, through faith in Jesus, encouragement from her newly-found but sick dad, her coach and new friends, she learned endurance. Through endurance and keeping a regular schedule in running for endurance, she became more and more an overcomer. How? Part of it was in learning endurance. Yet, it was important to have a coach who believed in her. One of the book’s characters says, “Having a coach who believes [in you] is simply gold. For a runner, when you hit the wall, and in every race you will, you think you can’t run another step. You reach out and grab on to someone else’s hope, someone else’s belief. That can propel you in ways you’d never imagine. That’s the kind of hope you need to have and give your team.” P 147 [Alex Kendrick/Stephen Kendrick, Chris Fabry, Overcomer, Tyndale House Publishers, 2019]
Finally, she was coached through the state championship cross-country race through listening to one audio file on a tiny MP3 player. It was her father’s voice coaching her through all the sections of the race. This was something that was arranged between her coach and dad. These were two men who greatly believed in her. They helped get Hannah ready for a race over many weeks. The author shares after the big win, “Hannah burst into tears and leaned back in Amy’s arms. They were tears of joy, tears of victory. The emotion seemed the culmination of everything she had been through, the loneliness and fear, the hurdle of asthma, the guilt over things she had done. The girl who had been abandoned and had had great loss, who ran alone with no team. She overcame it all listening to her father’s voice.” P 345. P [Alex Kendrick/Stephen Kendrick, Chris Fabry, Overcomer, Tyndale House Publishers, 2019] She also didn’t give up because she was focused on direction from her father’s voice. This reminds me of Jesus, who was always listening and then doing what the Father was doing. He was encouraged through the Holy Spirit. We can also listen to OUR Father’s voice propelling us on. It’s the same for the great cloud of witnesses in scripture. They are like cheerleaders. We can’t hear them unless we have a revelation, but they do cheer us on. It’s our turn to run the race for Jesus. And he will help us run it well, if we let him help us do so, step by step.
Principle Six is to usher in blessings by obeying God’s instructions every step of the way. This is about diligence and obedience. Just like Hannah’s consistent running, we need to be faithful with every step. When we obey God in small ways, he leads us to greater levels of faith and responsibility. Then we grow and can have victory over the next challenges that come. This may be doing something that’s difficult, but right. For Hannah, she repented from stealing and gave back everything that she stole with sincere apologies. For us, it could be apologizing to someone whom you hurt, forgiving someone who hurt you, changing to a different job or beginning to tithe to your local church. When you do, blessings will come from the obedience.
Principle Seven is to prepare for a season of joy. Even during difficult times we can have joy, but when you’ve overcome these hurdles, you can do the victory dance! Then you’ll also be stronger for life’s other challenges.
Megan Bailey also shares strategies of overcoming obstacles. Number one is to replace fear with God’s love. Often obstacles we face are full of different fears. If we can replace these fears with God’s love, we can focus through prayer, meditation and daily devotions. For example, after a bad breakup, you can focus on God’s love for you and that he is with you. You are not abandoned. [paraphrase, Megan Bailey, https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/7-strategies-to-overcome-obstacles-with-god.aspx]
Number two is to focus on God’s power. “No matter how big your problem may feel, or impossible it may seem, […] we know that nothing is too difficult for God to handle.” Jeremiah 32:27 says, “I am the Lord, the God of all; Is anything too hard for me?” Instead of focusing on how big the problem is, look up at God. He is much more powerful than any obstacle you will face. This helps you shift your perspective to remind you that you are in God’s hands. Just think of the children’s song “Great big God.” God is bigger than the universe, deeper than the ocean, higher than the highest mountain. Yet he will help YOU.
Number three is to trust in God’s plan for you. It can be frustrating at first to give up control of your life. But you never really were in control anyway. We need fully to believe that God is in control and has a plan. That plan may seem confusing, and even mysterious, especially if you can’t see much of it, other than the impossible piece you are looking at. But you can always count on God to support you. Be willing to say yes to that plan and the one who holds the key.
Number four is to remember who you are. You have a God-given identity. You are a child of God. The enemy of our souls does not want you to realize this in our heart of hearts. Don’t be afraid to stand up the obstacles and say, ‘God is here with me. I can overcome this through him. This will not dampen my faith nor take me away from knowing him.’ Now, breathe. You’re building faith as you stand.
Number five is to surround yourself with other Christians. Don’t do life alone. Don’t get isolated. Spend time at church, and in small groups together. Have people pray over you and with you. You aren’t alone. My Anglican pastor always tells his congregation that you cannot live the Christian life alone. It takes your community. You are stronger together, and grow together. They can pray, advise and cheer you on. They can also speak life-giving words to you when you least expect it.
Number six is to read the Bible. The Word is incredibly powerful. It holds the key to many of our problems. Listen to Hebrews 4:12: “His word is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, able to pierce to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and even able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.” There are also many examples of how God helped others overcome. One such person was Sarah, who couldn’t conceive. In God’s time, she gave birth to Isaac, one of the great patriarchs.
Number seven is to pray often. Prayer is the way to communicate one-on-one with God. Then we are never alone. We can pour out our pain onto him. He listens, and as we hear from him, our trust in him grows. There is no right way to pray, just begin to speak with God, as with a special trusted friend. Write down your requests and see how they are answered over time. You’ll be surprised how many are answered!
Pastor Gary Stump has his own overcomer list. [Pastor Gary Stump, Onward Church, pastoral letter February 23, 2019, https://onwardchurch.org/2019/02/23/7-steps-to-become-an-overcomer/] Number one: Start over new. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been defeated. Don’t look back. You’ll not experience victory going over the past again and again. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13: “one thing I do, [I] forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead.” While you can learn from your mistakes, getting stuck in them is not beneficial. Press forward.
Number two: Decide to make a change. To truly overcome, you must be serious and committed. You can’t give a half-hearted effort. Remember this verse from Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” To fulfil this commitment you must be specific in your goal so you can overcome, identify triggers and temptations, create a boundary of protection when tempted, and get others to help and encourage you.
Number three: Hide God’s Word in your heart. Memorize scriptures. Sing them, put them on paper and paste them around the house. Read them over and over until they become part of you. Psalm 119:11 talks about the power of the Word to restrain you from sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Specific scriptures will come to mind just when you need them. Meditating on scripture also helps renew your mind by re-programming it, in a good way.
Number four: Use the power of the Holy Spirit. We often can’t solve problems on our own. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. When we give him control, he gives us the peace, joy and other spiritual fruit that come as a by-product. Also everything seems a lot more fun!
Number five: Overcome one day at a time. My counselling professor Brian Cunnington often told us that fear often tries to take over when we try to do too much. It looks like too much because it IS. Break down the tasks to day by day, little by little. He called this “chunking it down.” I call it making the tasks bite-sized. Jesus reminded us not to worry about tomorrow, or the next task in Matthew 6:34. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Stay focused on having victory for TODAY. Don’t think too far into the future. I am a visionary and sometimes get glimpses of something God has for me a year or two in the future. I find this exciting rather than scary, but then there are the pesky details. I might ask “How, Lord?” when I don’t have all the info on hand. Back in 2014, I was given an impression I would be teaching African children about art. I got excited, and said, “OK” without knowing the details. I would have no idea that I would be offered a position at MasterPeace Academy teaching art. I’ve done this for two years now. Did I know that then? No. Sometimes you just need to trust and not worry, since we don’t have all the puzzle pieces yet.
Number six: Begin a winning streak. Write down your little victories in your prayer journal. There will be a time when you can soon say, “By God’s help, I really AM overcoming!” The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:14: “I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Number seven: Celebrate your victory! Don’t forget to give God thanks for the victory you’re experiencing. Paul says through 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thanksgiving for the victory will also be an encouragement to you on your journey.
Our last source of overcoming strength comes from Shawn Shoemaker. His strategy to overcome is through worship, relationship with God, respecting and loving the Bible, and getting priorities straight. Worship is essential to lay a groundwork of building something new – it dedicates your life over to him yet again. It reminds you of who he really is. He is Lord, and he is faithful. But in this case, Shoemaker learns from the example of Job. When everything was taken away from him, he didn’t complain. He worshipped God! Listen to Job 1:21 He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord! “Job had a made up mind that He would not allow his circumstances to dictate his worship. This is the first characteristic of an overcomer.” [Shawn Shoemaker “4 Characteristics of an Overcomer” March 2015 https://www.apostoliclife.org/4-characteristics-of-an-overcomer/]
You must also have a relationship with God and a revelation of who he is. Job shared in Job 19:25: “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.” Job trusted God, and knew who he was. He knew God would overcome. He may even have had a revelation of Jesus Christ. You must also respect and love God’s word (the Bible). Job 23:12 says, “I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food.” Jesus also treasured the Bible’s words more than food when he was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4. We must also have right priorities. Job was generous with the poor, fed those who were hungry, clothed those who needed clothes. He didn’t put his hope in gold, or rejoice in his wealth. He rejoiced in God and shared his wealth while he had it. And when he lost it, he remembered that he still had God. And in time, all was not only restored, but more was returned. Job overcame. Job had endurance and great patience as he trusted the Lord. And he was not let down, because the Lord is faithful.
I pray that we will overcome through all these principles we have learned. We will win the victory through focusing on God rather than circumstances, remembering his power and love for us, trusting him even though it doesn’t make sense, keep going consistently and being obedient to current instruction. Also we are to worship, replace fear with love, prepare for a season of joy, remember who you are in Christ, pray often, read and memorize scripture, recognize and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, begin a winning streak (and take notes on God’s victories) and get your priorities straight. These are trustworthy instructions. All of these are Biblical and I pray they speak into your lives as they continue to do into mine.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are a master overcomer. You overcame all for us. We cannot imagine how hard that was, but you did this willingly. We love you. Please help us on our own journey to overcome. Thank you that you journey with us along the way. You don’t forget us in a single moment. Please give your peace and strength to those who are listening. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu). Click here: (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #67! If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!
Updates: For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork). Just this month, I had a follow-up mammogram, ultrasounds and x-rays. The radiology doctor told me that I still look as if I’m cancer-free!
Otherwise, I still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada. At the moment, our passports are still in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas. We would like to return in September 2021, after preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent. Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places). Both of us have had our first covid jab, and wait the second one. (Although it is the right thing for us to have the jab, we don’t impose that on those who refuse it out of conscience).
After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad. Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa. We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail. Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We are seeing if these can in fact wait until our return to Canada, or if Tony’s eye surgery will have to be done in Cape Town. It would be R90,000 (or $8,000) done in Cape Town. We aren’t sure if how much it would cost in Canada (if done there).
Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey. Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html. We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.” It would really bless us! If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.
L-A’s colouring book: If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape. You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson). Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:
The Colouring with Jesus 2 is about to be printed!!! They will be available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops. They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica Fourie. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French. Bless you and thank you for your support!