|Breaking the Barriers of the Past
By Joel Osteen
Every four years, the world’s attention turns to the summer Olympic games. For a few days, men and women from around the globe gather to compete against the best. Watching the summer games nowadays, it is almost difficult to remember that only a few decades ago, track-and-field experts pompously declared that no runner could break the four-minute-mile barrier. Ostensibly, a human being couldn’t run that far, that fast, for that length of time. “Experts” conducted all sorts of profound studies to show it as impossible to beat the four-minute barrier. And for years, they were right. Nobody ever ran a mile in less than four minutes.
But one day a young man came along who didn’t believe the experts’ opinions. He didn’t dwell on the impossibilities. He refused to let all those negative words form a stronghold in his mind. He began to train, believing he was going to break that record. Sure enough, he went out one day and broke the four-minute-mile barrier. He did what the experts said couldn’t be done. His name was Roger Bannister, and he made sports history
Now, here is what I find so interesting about the Roger Bannister story. Within ten years after Roger Bannister broke that record, 336 other runners had broken the four-minute-mile record as well! Think about that. For hundreds of years, as far back as statisticians kept track-and-field records, nobody ran a mile in less than four minutes; then, within a decade, more than three hundred people from various geographic locations were able to do it. What happened?
Simple. The barrier to running a four-minute mile was in the athletes’ minds. For all those years, runners believed what the experts were saving. They were convinced that it was impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes.
The Battle in Your Mind
Here’s the key point: You will never go beyond the barriers in your own mind. If you think you can’t do something, then you never will. The battle is in your mind. If you are defeated in your mind, you’ve already lost the battle. If you don’t think your dreams will ever come to pass, they never will. If you don’t think you have what it takes to rise up and set that new standard, it’s not going to happen. The barrier is in your mind.
That’s what the Scripture calls a “stronghold.”’ It’s a wrong thinking pattern that keeps us imprisoned in defeat. And that’s why it is so important that we think positive thoughts of hope, faith, and victory
Perhaps somebody has spoken negative words into your life. Maybe some so-called experts have told you that you’re never going to be successful; you’re never going to rise to the top; you just don’t have what it takes to make it. Don’t listen to those lies. If God is for you, who dares to be against you? Break through those limitations of the past and let your mind dwell on fresh, positive attitudes of faith. Breaking those barriers will change your life and the lives of your children.
Today, it’s common for professional runners to break the four-minute-mile barrier. It’s no big deal. Roger Bannister set a new standard. He cleared the path. Similarly, if you’ll break through the barriers in your mind and start stepping out in faith, you will go beyond those old barriers, and the same thing will happen in your family. Your children, grandchildren, and future generations will continue to race past those barriers. They will continue to go further than people ever once thought possible. And it will be because you were willing to step out in faith, setting a new standard, paving the way for future generations.
If you fail to break through those barriers of the past, you run the risk of spinning your wheels, going around in circles. For instance, when God led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, where they had lived in slavery for four hundred years, they headed straight toward the Promised Land. It was an eleven-day journey, but it took them forty years to get there. Why? Why would they wander around in the wilderness, going around the same mountain, time after time, not making any progress?
After all, God had prepared the land flowing with milk and honey. It was a place of great abundance, a place of great freedom. But God’s people had been beaten down by their oppressors for so long mistreated, used, and taken advantage of—now, even though God wanted to do a new thing, they couldn’t conceive it. They couldn’t make room for it in their own thinking. Instead of moving forward with an attitude of faith, expecting good things, they insisted on going around with a poor, defeated mentality. Around and around they went, focusing on their problems, always complaining, fretting about the obstacles standing between them and their destiny
God finally jolted them out of their complacency. He said to them, “You have dwelt long enough on this mountain.” I believe God is saying something similar to us. You’ve been wallowing where you are long enough. It’s time to move on, to let go of past hurts, pains, or failures. It’s time to believe for bigger things. It’s time for increase, time for promotion, time for supernatural favor. But if that’s going to happen, you can’t keep going in circles, doing the same thing the same way year after year. The third key to developing a fresh vision for your life is breaking the barriers of the past.
Today Is a New Day
No matter what you’ve gone through in the past, no matter how many setbacks you’ve suffered or who or what has tried to thwart your progress, today is a new day, and God wants to do a new thing in your life. He has great things in store for you. Don’t let your past determine your future.
Maybe you’ve lived in an abusive situation where somebody mistreated you, somebody walked out on you, somebody did you a great wrong. Please, don’t inhibit the great future God has for you by dwelling on the pains in your past.
The Bible promises that God will give us “a twofold recompense for our former shame.” That means if you’ll keep the right attitude, God will pay you back double for your trouble. He’ll add up all the injustice, all the hurt and pain that people have caused you, the abuse and embarrassment, and He’ll pay you back with twice as much joy, peace, and happiness. That is God’s desire for you. But you must do your part and start expecting good things. Keep your mind moving in the right direction. You can’t have a victim mentality and expect to live in victory. You can’t live in a perpetual pity party and then wonder why situations aren’t improving in your life.
God is just. He knows when people aren’t treating us right. He knows when we’re doing the right thing, yet the wrong thing keeps happening to us. He knows when we’re operating with integrity, and yet somebody comes a long and cheats us out of what should have been ours. God sees every time you’ve been taken advantage of. He sees every time you turn the other cheek and let an offense go by He sees every time you forgive, or attempt to restore a broken relationship, even though it wasn’t your fault. God sees all that; He’s keeping a good record. And He’s promised to take all the evil that’s come into your life, turn it around, and use it for your good.
But here’s the key question: Are you willing to change your thinking? Will you take the limits off what God can do in your life? Will you start believing Him for bigger and better things?
Change starts right here. If you will change your thinking, God can change your life. You can’t go around thinking thoughts of defeat and failure and expect God to fill you with joy, power, and victory. You can’t go around thinking thoughts of poverty and lack and expect God to fill you with abundance. The two concepts are incompatible. Surprisingly, many people have a narrow, limited mind-set. They think small, believe small, and expect small. And then they wonder why nothing big ever happens to them. It’s their own thinking that’s keeping them in defeat.
We often set our standards too low:
• “I’m not really happy in my marriage, but we get along okay; I guess this is the best we can expect.”
• “I’m not really healthy, but at least I can get out of bed in the morning.”
• “I don’t really have enough money, but with a little luck, I can pay a few of these bills.”
That is not the lifestyle God intends for you. God wants you to live an overcoming life of victory. He doesn’t want you to barely get by He’s called El Shaddai, “the God of more than enough.” He’s not “El Cheapo,” the God of barely enough!
Don’t let anybody convince you that God wants you to barely get by in life. The Bible says, “Enlarge the place of your tent. Let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out. Spare not. Lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes, for soon you will be bursting at the seams.” What a powerful picture of God’s desire for you! God is saying get ready for more. Make room for increase. Enlarge your tents. He’s saying expect more favor, more supernatural blessings. Don’t become satisfied with where you are.
One fellow told me, “Joel, if God wants to bless me, then He’ll bless me. After all, He’s God. I’m not going to be too pushy. I’m not going to expect too much.”
Unfortunately, that’s just the opposite of how God operates. God works by faith. You must believe first, and then you’ll receive. Maybe you’ve been waiting on God to make a move, but God is waiting on you to stretch your faith. Make room in your own thinking, and then you’ll start experiencing some of His supernatural increase.
Notice the words God uses. He says to “enlarge, lengthen, stretch out.” We ought always to be trusting God for more. You may have all you need, but don’t be selfish. Why not stretch your faith and believe God for more so you can help somebody else in need? God is saying, “If you’ll make room for more of My blessings, I won’t disappoint you. Soon you’ll be bursting at the seams.
If you have been going in circles long enough, dwelling long enough on that mountain, it’s time to get moving. Don’t be passive, sitting back and settling for a life of mediocrity. God wants you to be the one to rise up and put an end to that mind-set of defeat in your family. He wants you to be the one to set a new standard. Don’t pass down an attitude of failure and defeat to the next generation.
Failure Begets Failure
Ten years ago, we had only a dozen or so prisons in my home state of Texas. Today we have more than 140 prisons, with plans to build more. Each prison is filled with individuals who have had all sorts of defeat and failure passed down to them. Eighty-five percent of the inmates in Texas prisons have had either a parent or a close relative incarcerated at one time or another. Certainly, every person must accept the responsibility for his or her own actions, but we dare not ignore the fact that prisoners beget prisoners. Abused children often become abusive parents. Children of divorced parents are more likely to have a failed marriage. Failure begets failure.
A man recently came to my office seeking advice. He was contemplating his third divorce. After we talked for a while, I asked him, “Has anybody else in your family ever been divorced?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “My mom has been divorced four times, and my dad just ended his sixth marriage.” That spirit of divorce, defeat, and failure has been perpetuated in their family line, and keeps getting passed down from generation to generation. We prayed together, and the man decided, “It stops here. I will not allow my marriage to fall apart.” He went back home to his wife, determined to work on their relationship, and the couple stemmed the tide of divorce in their family
Maybe you are living with things that have been in your family line for two or three or more generations. Alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, depression, anger, low self-esteem, whatever the problem, the good news is that you have an opportunity to break the negative cycle. You can choose to rise up and say, “With God’s help, I’m turning the tide. I’m trusting God and taking responsibility for my own actions. I’m setting a new standard.”
God will help you break that curse in your family, but it will take perseverance and a willingness to change on your part. Beyond that, it’s not enough to say a trite little prayer one time. You must change your thinking and start believing God for better things. Your attitude should be: I don’t care how defeated this family has been in the past. This is a new day. I boldly declare we are more than conquerors. It doesn’t matter how broke we’ve been. I declare we’re going to lend and not borrow. I don’t care how big our obstacles are. I declare that no weapon formed against us is going to prosper. I don’t care how powerful our enemies are. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. We’re not victims anymore. We are the victors. We are blessed and we cannot be cursed.
Have some determination; ask God to put some fire in your spirit. Begin speaking in terms of victory rather than defeat. Your words have amazing power, so quit talking about what you can’t do, and start talking about what God can do. Keep your mind focused on God’s goodness. Stay in an attitude of faith and victory, and you will no longer live under the bondage that’s been passed down from previous generations. Take a stand and be the one to make a difference. Go beyond the old barriers of the past. Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.
You may say, “But nobody in my family has ever been successful. I don’t see how I can do it.”
Maybe nobody in your family ever really took God at His word. Break through those barriers of the past. This is a new day, and God wants to do a new thing. Enlarge your vision. Stretch your faith. You can be the first. You can be the one to “raise the bar.” If you believe, all things are possible.
Many times, we pray almost as though we are inconveniencing God. We say, “God, would You please give me a bit bigger apartment? I don’t want to bother You for too much.”
No, God wants to give you your own house. God has a big dream for your life.
“How could that ever happen to me?” you ask. “I don’t make enough money”
Perhaps not, but our God is well able. He’s not having financial difficulties. He owns it all. Why not believe Him for bigger things?
We sometimes pray, “God, would You please show my one lonesome relative how much You love him? I’m not asking for much, just this one person.
No, God wants to have a relationship with the entire household. It’s time to enlarge your vision.
We pray, God, would You please give me this one new account so I can make my commission this month, so I can make ends meet?”
No, God wants to do more than you can ask or think. Perhaps God wants you to lead your company in sales.
Friend, God is saying you’ve dwelt long enough on that mountain. It’s time to go to a new level. It’s time to get a fresh vision. Go beyond the barriers of the past. Tear down those strongholds in your mind. Remember, you’ve got to change your thinking. No matter what anybody in your family has or hasn’t done, don’t let that impose limitations on you. Make up your mind that you are going to be the one to set the new standard. Be the one to affect generations to come.