Obstacle Course - The Warrior's Journey®
Selfless Service

Obstacle Course

Author: Brendon O'Dowd, USAF (Ret.)

091209-M-7747B-003. Photo by Marines is licensed under CC By 2.0

Why does basic training have an obstacle course?  It would be easier for all involved to watch a video and hand out lollipops.  No pain, no sweat, no problems.  But basic training, especially the obstacle course, is not about easy.

Its design and purpose pushes us to levels of pain that make us uncomfortable.  The cuts, bruises, and sore muscles are evidence that we pushed ourselves to the limit.  The obstacle course also introduces us to the feeling of power (or accomplishment) as we climb a high wall, or low crawl under barb wire.

We learn to overcome by digging deep within ourselves while trusting the members of our unit.  It’s a painful journey, but it is essential to becoming a warrior.

Life has its own obstacle courses.  Basic training’s obstacle course lasts only a few minutes but the obstacles in life can last for years, as in the case of a difficult marriage, troubled children, or chronic pain.  Instead of sore muscles and bruises, we suffer injury on the inside.  How do we overcome?

We overcome by understanding our heart and the true purpose of power and pain in our lives.


“Your Heart” Diagram



Let’s start with power.  In relationships, our desire for power reveals itself in how we relate by way of dominating others or becoming a people-pleaser.  When we dominate others, we dictate to them what we think needs to happen for there to be peace and stability.  We set the rules and enforce them with anger.

On the other hand, when we focus on pleasing people, we use our strength and energy to ensure others are happy, which we believe results in peace and stability.  When things become unbalanced, we double up on our effort or become passive-aggressive with our frustration.  Dominating others and people-pleasing are fragile ends of a spectrum because they depend on other people complying with our rules or being happy.  Neither of which are guaranteed.

Jesus gave us a different way, the way of serving.  The most powerful man in the universe set the example by living a life of service (Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:3-8).  His teaching, healing, and acts of service (like foot-washing) allowed him to accomplish God’s main objective, to redeem us by changing us from the inside out.

True power, then, is found in freely serving God and others resulting in joy, peace, and a meaningful life.


Pain can be defined as any stimulus that has physical, emotional, and spiritual components and leads to a loss of ability.  For example, when my foot hurts, I feel it on many levels as it hinders my ability to run or walk.

We can deal wrongly with pain in two ways.  We can avoid it by turning to other things like alcohol, drugs, sex, electronics, or any other distraction.  On the other hand, others may deal with pain by pursuing it, whether that is cutting, anorexia/bulimia, or even with intense workouts.  There is another way to deal with pain, the way of submitting to it.

Christ did this very thing as it says in Hebrews 5:8, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”  Did Christ really need to learn obedience and do it by suffering?  This may be hard to comprehend, but imagine a person watching a video of an obstacle course.  That person would know all about what is required, but until that person submitted to the course, he or she would never really understand (or learn) what it is like.

Christ made a choice to experience the obstacles and pain of this life and He did it with perfect obedience to God.  He set the example for us to follow.  “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Pain, then, is an opportunity to follow God and it also results in joy, peace, and a meaningful life.


If you are in the middle of an obstacle course, what is it revealing about your heart?  What is it teaching you about your use of power over others?  What is it teaching you about how you deal with pain?  Let it draw you close to the One who has faced every type of obstacle for us.

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