Dealing with Obstacles

June 9th, 2011

Back in March, while many of America’s sports fans were checking their brackets, the NCAA’s best wrestlers converged on Philadelphia for college wrestling’s national championship. Among them was Arizona State’s Anthony Robles, who completed a perfect 36-0 season at the 125-pound weight class by defeating defending national champion Matt McDonough of Iowa 7-1. Robles’ victory was especially impressive, not only because he beat a reigning national champion by such a large margin, but also because Robles has only one leg.

Robles was born without a right leg. At any early age, his parents had him fitted for a prosthetic, but at age 3 Robles took it off, preferring to move about on one leg. When he was 14, he gave wrestling a try and discovered that he had a knack for the sport. While having one leg put him at a disadvantage, it didn’t stop him from perfecting his craft.

Though he was a skilled wrestler in high school, he wrestled in the 103- and 112-pound weight classes. Since the lightest weight class in college wrestling is 125 pounds, his size kept him from getting a lot of scholarship offers. But Arizona State, not far from his home town of Mesa, offered Robles a partial scholarship, and he made an immediate impact as a freshman. Now he’s a national champion.

When God appeared to Moses in Midian and called him to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses focused first on his limitations: “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me” (Exodus 4:1). “O my LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (4:10). Gideon responded God’s call to deliver Israel from Midian by explaining why he would be a poor candidate for the job then by asking for proof that God was for real. When God called Jeremiah to be a “prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5), Jeremiah used his youth and inexperience as excuses.

How many of us are like Moses and Gideon and Jeremiah? How many of us dwell on what we can’t do or what obstacles we face instead of answering God’s call with faith and courage? How many of us, if we were in Anthony Robles’s situation, would have focused on our physical limitations and ignored the considerable physical gifts we could use to compensate for those limitations?

God has no qualms with asking people to do things that seem impossible on the surface, whether it is building schools in the most remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan, providing shelter, food, job training, and recovery programs to a city’s homeless population, or being a voice for Christ in the country that is widely regarded as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. When called to do such work (or to do any number of lesser tasks), it’s easy for us to say, “I’m not really the right person for this job,” or, “I’m sure there’s someone better suited for this task,” or to make excuses. But God isn’t really interested in our limitations or excuses. God knows what we are capable of, even if we don’t.

The good news is that we are surrounded by that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1): faithful people throughout history who have courageously answered the call despite having perfectly good excuses at their disposal. We can learn from the examples of Esther and Daniel and Mary and Paul. We can emulate the people in our churches who devote their time, energy, and resources to ministries of mercy and compassion. And we can learn a thing or two from Anthony Robles—not only about wrestling, but also about recognizing what we’re truly capable of.

Josh Tinley is a curriculum editor for Abingdon Press and the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter.

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