The difference between challenges and challengers

Challenges can come our way on a daily basis. It is part of life. Some are small and can be managed quickly and efficiently and others are more significant and take a long period of time to overcome.

The Bible is quite clear that the Christian life is not one that is free from challenges. Romans 5: 3-4 lets us know that we should take glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. James 1:2 asks us to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds because we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, it goes on to say let perseverance finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The Bible is very clear about trials, suffering and challenges. Ultimately as we overcome these things we are changed for the better. The challenge gets dealt with, the suffering may of may not cease but ultimately it is we who are changed and that change is for our benefit.

So these are the challenges. The things that come our way. The blockages keeping us from success or slowing the progress of our vision or purpose in life. As Christians we are called to be overcomers. We are more than conquerors.

So if challenges are ‘things’ then what are ‘challengers’? I remember watching the show Gladiators. Each week a set of new challengers would come up against the gladiators in a series of obstacle courses that would ultimately lead to the two contestants in some sort of physical challenge. The umpire would always start each challenge with the line “Gladiator Ready? Challenger Ready”. It was very clear that the challenge was the physical feat and the challenger was a person. An actual human being.

Lately I have been thinking about the challenges I am facing. If I close my eyes and think I can almost always put a face to the challenge. But I realise that is not fair. We live in a community with other people. We do life together, so our frustrations can often be linked to a person, a challenger.

Often when we have someone come in and have a look at our situation, a friend or colleague for example, they see a relatively small issue and wonder why it became such a huge problem. My hypothesis is that we are viewing and treating the challengers as the challenges, and our intention is to overcome or conquer them.

However, the Bible is also quite clear about how we should treat others:

Matthew 5: 43 – 45

“You have heard it said, love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven.”

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they don’t listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

The key here is addressing the issue early. With a loving approach, talk to the other person about the challenge rather than focussing on them as a challenger. Taking the complaint to the other person is not the only action or responsibility mentioned in this scripture. For success in this interaction listening is the key. The way Stephen Covey, author of’ Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ puts it, ‘seek first to understand then to be understood’.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an email battle? As Principal when I read through page after page of one of these emails going back and forth I have visions in my head of the referee saying “Gladiator ready? Challenger ready?” and then step back and watch the carnage. Most of these things started off as a really small challenge and they end up being really big ‘challenger vs challenger’ conflicts.

Let me try to tabulate the difference between Challenges and Challengers and how we should respond to both.


  Challenges Challenger
Our mindset towards …. Treat them as pure joy as they will ultimately bring a change about in us (ie our character, resilience etc)These are not people, they are situations, procedures, miscommunications, lack of resources, expenses, inefficiencies, many things, but not people. Love you neighbour as yourself (see them as you would like others to see you, treat them as you would like others to treat you)·  These are people. They might bring a challenge to you but they themselves are not the challenge.
Overcome? Yes (we are overcomers through Christ. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation…..) No (we are to love our enemy)
Prayer Yes.  Pray that you will overcome the challenge·   You can pray the challenge will be taken away, but remember God can allow us to face challenges as a means to grow us.Pray that God talks to you through the challenge.Pray that the Holy Spirit will be with you to guide you through the challenge. Pray for those who persecute you·  Pray that God helps you to listen to them, to have an open mind and to understand their point of view.
Approach towards…. Identify the challenge·Name itPut a plan in place to overcome

Work with others and rely on God

Seek first to understand, then to be understood·Talk to them early when the issue is the issue and the person is not.Listen or offer to meet (Don’t write emails. You can not listen to an email).

You can see through this that no matter if you are dealing with a challenge or a challenger all we can control is ourselves and the only thing that gets changed through the process is ourselves. So the best way to approach challenges or challengers when they come your way is not to say ‘God please change them, get rid of them, make this go away’ but rather ‘God what are you trying to address in me through this situation.’

You can not change others so we are much better off trying to change the one person we have the power to. Ourselves.