The Challenge by Tony Cooke

The Challenge Rev. Tony Cooke 

Someone once said, “There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet.”  Many of the extraordinary achievements and accomplishments in history have followed bold challenges that were issued by resolute leaders.

  • Addressing the vastly outnumbered defenders of the Alamo, Colonel William Barrett Travis drew a line in the dirt with his sword and said, “I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line.” 
  • In Winston Churchill’s first address as Prime Minister to the House of Commons, he spoke of the “ordeal of the most grievous kind” that was ahead of them, and said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  It was his courage and fortitude that set the benchmark to which the British people rose in their struggles in World War II.
  • In challenging the nation to put a man on the moon, President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade… not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
  • Martin Luther King Jr. challenged his country when he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
  • Joshua challenged Israel when he said (24:15), “…Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
  • And what could have been a greater challenge than the one issued by Jesus in Luke 9:23?  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

When some think about challenges, they primarily think about spiritual attacks from the adversary or the multitude of problems in the world.  God has called us to resist the enemy and to rise above the difficulties we face in life.  These are challenges to which the believer shouts a defiant “No!”

But there are other challenges that come to us in life, and those are the challenges that God gives us.  These are not attacks that come to steal, kill, and destroy, but these are opportunities that push us to new limits, stretch us, move us from our comfort zone, and invite us to become more than we’ve ever been before.  These are the challenges to which we must declare an emphatic “Yes!”

  • Noah was challenged when God told him to build an ark.
  • Abraham was challenged when God told him to leave his home country for an unknown destination.
  • Jonah was challenged when God told him to go preach to the people of Ninevah in Assyria, Israel’s great enemies.
  • Mary was challenged when God told her that she—as a virgin—would bear a Son who would be the Savior of the world.
  • Ananias was challenged when Jesus told him to go and pray for Saul of Tarsus, the greatest persecutor of the Church.
  • Peter was challenged when God told him to go into the home of Cornelius and share the gospel with a group of Gentiles.

All of these challenges not only resulted in obedience (for some, it was after initial reluctance), but also in creating a vehicle for blessing to come to others.  What are some of the challenges that God places before us today?

1.   God challenges us to go places we never thought He’d ask us to go.

The first thing that often comes to mind with the above statement has to do with missions and foreign countries.  However, most of us will never be asked by God to go to some remote part of the world.  We should, though, be willing to go wherever God says to go and to help those who are called to go to distant lands with the gospel.

Many think only of the “big things” that God asks a small percentage of people to do, and they overlook the seemingly “small things” that God asks of each one of us.  Where does God ask all of us to go?

  • Go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41).
  • Go and sin no more (John 8:11).
  • Go and be reconciled to your brother (Matthew 5:24).
  • Go in peace (Luke 7:50; 8:48).
  • Go home (Matthew 9:6; Mark 5:19).

Let’s talk for a moment about that last phrase: “Go home.”  Jesus made that same statement to a paralytic and to a demoniac who had both been healed.  While Jesus told His chosen apostles to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, He told others to simply go home.  Our relationship with God shouldn’t merely affect our life and work in the world, but it should profoundly affect who we are and how we act behind closed doors, around those closest to us.  Abraham Lincoln said, “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not better off for it.”           

2.   God challenges us to give in ways we never thought He’d ask us to give.    

The point here is not about money, but about the totality of our lives.  In reality, there are only two things that God asks for: everything we are and everything we have.  Once we’ve truly given those to Him, everything else is easy. 

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was asked the secret of his amazing Christian life.  Booth answered, “I told the Lord that he could have all that there is of William Booth.”  That’s the kind of consecration Jesus desires.  In Luke 14:33, He said, “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  

Whatever giving we do in life—financial and otherwise—needs to flow from a heart and life that is first given to the Lord.  That’s exactly what Paul indicated relative to the gift received from the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:5).  He said, “…they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.”

3.   God challenges us to grow in ways we never thought He’d ask us to grow.

This principle really builds upon the first two.  When we go to the places God wants us to go, and when we give in the ways God wants us to give, we end up growing in ways God wants us to grow.

Job is a tremendous example of someone who grew in ways he never thought he’d have to grow.  After all the horrific devastation Job faced in his life, God asked him to pray for the three men who had spoken so harshly and judgmentally against Him.  Job 42:10 says, “And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Some have focused on the fact that Job got his stuff back, but the greatest miracle isn’t that his wallet grew; the real miracle is that his heart grew.  Job overcame incredible anger and was able to pray for his friends.  That’s growth!

Gideon is remembered as the man who led Israel in overcoming the Midianites, and that’s true.  But prior to that, Gideon was a man who had to overcome his own fears, doubts, and inferiority.  He had to go (the angel said to him, “Go in this thy might.”), but before the going he had to grow.

If you go without growing, you’ll fail when you get there.  If you give without growing, your giving can be in vain.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

God doesn’t just want us going and giving, He wants us growing.  God challenges us to go places we never thought He’d ask us to go, to give in ways we never thought He’d ask us to give, and to grow in ways we never thought He’d ask us to grow.  The only way for us to find genuine fulfillment in our journey is to obey God wholeheartedly in these areas.