How to react to unexpected obstacles

I had so been looking forward to today. I’ve worked 7 days in a row, and they’ve each been busier and more stressful than the last. I’d planned to lie-in, have a slow morning, head to church then return early. Have an early night, ready to return to work tomorrow morning.

But inspiration struck me, as I went back to my car after a really powerful service. The only exit to the car park was blocked by a fallen tree. I’m not talking a branch, or something you could easily get round or over… a massive tree. People were clambering over it, crawling under it, others just stopped and stared at it.

I figured I was faced with 3 options: do nothing, call for help and wait for someone else to fix it, or work out an alternative route out of the car park.

When something comes crashing down into your path unexpectedly, it’s really easy to do nothing. To freeze like a rabbit caught in headlights is a natural first reaction to something you don’t see coming falls across your path. It’s easy to stay frozen though – you don’t make a decision, you don’t step out, you just… stop.

It can feel really safe not moving. You don’t have to pick a path to take, you don’t have to think through consequences of choices, you can stick your head in the sand and allow the storm to pass you, allow other people to make the decisions to move your obstacle, or just sit behind it and accept that your life doesn’t go any further. There’s no more growth or development for you, you become stagnant, but safe.

The bible tells of a man named Jonathan in 1 Samuel, who was faced with similar circumstances. His obstruction was an army of Philistines. The rest of his army had run “for cover, hiding in caves and pits, ravines and brambles and cisterns – wherever. They retreated across the Jordan River, refugees fleeing to the country of Gad and Gilead.” (1 Samuel 13:6-7 MSG)

In this mess, their leader, Saul, decided to pray. He stopped, he burnt offerings and made sacrifices (as was typical at the time) asking God for his help. He stopped. He panicked.

Jonathan saw Saul had frozen, and decided to take action. He said to his armour bearer “Come on now, let’s go across to these uncircumcised pagans. Maybe God will work for us. There’s no rule that says God can only deliver by using a big army. No one can stop God from saving when he sets his mind to it.” (1 Samuel 14:6 MSG)

When Jonathan moved, God moved. As Jonathan says, God doesn’t just use big armies – He will use someone who is willing to step up and step forward.

Not sure what to do in my predicament, I called the police non-emergency line in the hope they would know what to do. They advised me to hang tight – they notified the highway patrol agency, and someone would come by to have a look.

The bible has a lot to say about calling out for help. There are verses that commend calling on friends, honouring your parents, and spend time with people who will sharpen you. However, the bible does also warn you against only focusing on reaching out and leaning on people who are only of the world. We are called to look higher than the sun, and we were created to love our Creator like He loves us.

“Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans, who thinks he can make it on muscle alone and sets God aside as dead weight. He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie, out of touch with the good earth. He lives rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows. But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers – never worry through the hottest of summer, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8 MSG)

There’s not much more to say – I think those verses speak for themselves! The difference between someone rooted firm in God’s word, reaching up and praising God throughout life’s trials and someone who think they can make it on their own, on their own strength and power, is stark, and it’s clear which is the more lucrative and appealing choice.

A taxi driver pulled up next to me and said he’d driven out up a footpath. It’s not a real exit, but wide enough to fit a car through. I had the choice: wait for the authorities to eventually turn up and work on chopping up the tree (it’s getting late on a Sunday, who knows how long it might be), or I could take action, like Jonathan, not be frozen like Saul, take advice from someone wise who has gone before and found a path out.

I decided to move, take action, trusting that God was with me whatever I chose to do, knowing that where I moved, God moved with me. I got through the gap and headed home, thinking about what happened, and relieved to be back on track for my day off, with a story to tell.

I don’t know what caused that tree to fall today. It was a real mystery. But that’s what happens in life. Not everything is predictable, you can’t see every calamity coming. But trusting that God will be with you any direction you choose to travel, or even if you decide (or instinctively) freeze up, knowing that God is beside you – you will undoubtedly feel the serenity and calmness that is referred to in Jeremiah.

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