If you find yourself discouraged with the world today, we want to inspire you with the stories of overcomers in the Bible. You may think that you don’t have much in common with middle easterners from millennia ago. But there is one important thing that unites us – the anchor of our souls. God is giving us strength today, just like He did to His prophets, kings and disciples, to overcome this world.
Who are the Overcomers?
They are the ones who kept the faith and finished the race. The Messiah warned us, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
These are hopeful words, but how do we apply them in our lives? How do we “take heart” and not only endure in the race, but overcome the obstacles set before us?
At a time when many of us feel tired and hard-pressed, we should take note of John’s words in one of his letters: “this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).
Read on to find out who the Overcomers in the Bible are and what we can learn from their stories.
Overcoming Poverty, Hatred and Violence
Joseph, son of Jacob, was as far as we know a happy boy, favored by his father. This favor, however, did not impress his brothers. The jealousy led them to tragic actions. First, they decided to kill him and leave him for dead. One of the brothers, Reuben, convinced them not to kill him but leave him in a pit.
While Reuben was away, the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery. After that, other misfortunes kept dropping like dominos. Joseph was sold into Potiphar’s house. After refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife, he was then jailed. And while he was in jail, he was forgotten.
We know the story doesn’t end there – with a series of miracles, Joseph’s life was restored. He was remembered by a former fellow prisoner who opened the doors for him to speak to Pharaoh. Joseph was once again favored.
He became a key leader in Pharaoh’s administration. Then, he married an Egyptian woman and had two healthy sons. Eventually, he was reunited with his brothers and his father. It seems to tie neatly into a “happily ever after” when all was said and done.
Joseph the Overcomer
And it was in a sense. Joseph told his brothers to not grieve, because God sent him ahead to preserve them in the famine. But we must remember.
When Joseph was left in the pit for dead, when he was in the slave trader’s caravan, awaiting an uncertain future at best… When he was betrayed by the wife of his command, when he was in jail hoping someone would remember him…
Joseph didn’t know the full story. He couldn’t see the ending.
God doesn’t throw his hands up and go, “well I didn’t see that coming. I guess I could use it for good…” God knows. He sees it all. He feels our pain and is fully sovereign over our lives. And though others intend to hurt us, or our circumstances overwhelm us, God intends to make His power known.
God will take us through these circumstances and have us come out on the other side as an overcomer.
Overcoming Depression and Racial Division
You want to hear a story of someone who came from a place of a disadvantage almost in every way? Meet Naomi and Ruth.
Naomi lost her husband and her two sons in a foreign land. She was left with two daughters-in-law, now widows also. One of them, Orpah, decided to stay in her native land of Moab. But the other, Ruth, refused to leave Naomi’s side. Together, they decided to go back to Judah.
Have you ever had to return home after things didn’t work out the way you planned? Even though you have a place to return to, you can almost hear the “I told you so” from miles away.
The Hebrew name Naomi comes from the word for pleasant. But at this stage in her life, Naomi was so distraught that she no longer wanted to be called by her name anymore. She asked those around her to call her Mara, meaning “bitterness.”
Meanwhile Ruth was thrown into the complete unknown. She was a foreigner, feeling out of place, which onlookers readily commented on. But Ruth carried on with what Naomi told her to do each day, even if it wasn’t much. And God favored her.
The Example of Ruth
God put Ruth in Boaz’s field, where she caught the owner’s attention. With time, his kindness turned into affection, and resulted in loving pursuit. He lovingly chose to care for both Ruth and Naomi. In the end, Boaz married Ruth and their son, Oved, became the grandfather to King David.
Ruth felt different and excluded. But through her example, God teaches us to carry about your business and not be quick to anger. Knowing that the Lord is with you, hold your head high and seek His favor.
And Naomi? She had every reason to be depressed. She was still grieving when she arrived in Judah, but she didn’t give up on life. Naomi did more than survive – she found a place to live and became a mentor to Ruth.
Sometimes our best years seem to be a memory and our days seems uncertain. But what if we took life one day at a time? These brave women focused on each day’s concerns while entrusting their future to God.
Overcoming Spiritual Blindness
We all have that one friend or family member that seems completely unresponsive to the Gospel. We’ve tried to speak to them, oh how we’ve tried, but they are just not having it. They are not only indifferent – they mock our faith. If you are a first generation believer in Israel, this may be true of a whole community of people!
Can you think of someone who is against you because of your faith?
This certainly isn’t easy to deal with, but there is hope. We have assurance that the work of salvation is completely finished. When we share the love of Messiah with others, we fulfill our calling to share the gospel. To the Jew First and then to the Greek, leaving the outcome in God’s hands.
The Apostle Paul could have had the best evangelists try to win him over, but it was the Lord himself who pursued him. Jesus literally blinded Paul’s physical eyes to open his spiritual ones. Ultimately, it is only God who can remove the spiritual blindness from our hearts.
We can have hope for our family and friends in that the Messiah is gracious and loves us when we are yet sinners. He has more grace, kindness, mercy and patience than we ourselves can ever muster. And we can trust Him to continue working on the hearts of those who hate us.
As you continue to pray for your enemies, consider the story of Paul. He was the worst persecutor of Jesus’ followers. I’m sure the disciples never dreamt that one day this religious fanatic, who caused them so much pain, would one day preach the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah!
This does not mean that we should endure abuse. We should absolutely remove ourselves from relationships and situations that are harmful. But we trust that God can do the impossible and salvation is in His power.
“Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5)
Overcoming Apathy and Doubt
Can you imagine spending time with the Messiah in person, daily, and then denying that you even knew Him? Imagine walking beside Him on earth for years, and then disappoint Him by denying Him not once, but three times?
I would be so horribly embarrassed and ashamed that I would want to crawl into a hole and never come out! I am sure that is exactly how Peter felt.
Peter’s denial, and the dreadful realization what he had done after the rooster crowed, was a moment of truth for him. He was not this big, great disciple who he had thought he was. Jesus had to reveal his weaknesses and pride to him, so that He, His teacher and redeemer, could restore Peter back to Himself.
Just Like Peter
The beautiful part of this story is that Jesus always knew what was going to happen. It wasn’t a surprise to Him. And it was a moment of grace for Peter. Had he not denied the Messiah and realized what he had done, he would never get the chance to face reality.
And the reality was that he was weak. And he needed to repent to be restored. We all have areas in our character that need healing and growth. Whether you have been saved for 50 years or five days, there is something lacking that may cause shame.
We can always just “try harder” but how often does that really work? Facing our weaknesses and shortcomings is an opportunity to come out of hiding. Jesus invites us into the light of truth. Jesus offers us Himself, as an answer to our weakness.
After Peter was restored, he was finally able to walk in his true calling. He walked in freedom, without guilt or shame. That’s what Messiah does – He enables us to overcome our own limitations.
Jesus cast out seven demons out of a woman in the Galilee. Being troubled by demons is no small matter. This woman was disturbed by things that were outside of her control, but the society often ignores such facts. She would have still been ostracized and isolated.
Her name was Mary Magdalene and Jesus saved her life.
Jesus gave Mary Magdalene healing and restoration. Consequently, she traveled with Jesus and served Him with the disciples (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9). This courageous woman overcame the stigma of her past with grace. She was not ashamed of her past, even if it was painful, because God gave her a future.
Mary Magdalene walked dignified in her calling and did not seek the attention of others. She just stayed close to Jesus. Later, she also witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and burial; she was among the first to see the empty tomb. And finally, she was the very first person the resurrected Jesus spoke to, telling her what to tell the other disciples.
Learning from Mary Magdalene
Who are the people in your life who are troubled emotionally or spiritually? Or maybe you struggle to feel included? You don’t have to have seven demons to be bullied or discriminated against. But like Mary Magdalene, you can find comfort in the love of Jesus. His was the only opinion and regard she cared for.
In these days of social media clout chasing and the false promise of instant popularity, social exclusion feels like a criminal punishment. It is difficult to walk with Jesus alone, if all our friends want to go in a different direction. But again, think of Mary Magdalene.
“You are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 ESV)
Friends come and go, but Jesus is the friend that sticks closer than a brother. His path is the dignified one. In Him is perfect love, security and self-esteem. Jesus offers you a lifetime of purpose and an eternity of fulfillment.
You are an Overcomer!
I hope you feel encouraged to run your race with endurance, looking to Jesus all the way. Many have gone before you and now surround you as a great cloud of witnesses. No matter how difficult life may become, Jesus will carry you through every storm.
“…Run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him, endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Our victory lies in our testimony – the story that points to Jesus. God will finish to completion the work He has started within us. We know who has the final say in our story, no matter what happens. Christ has already overcome – and because of that, we overcome!
“And they overcame… by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:11)
This article originally appeared on FIRM, November 10, 2021, and reposted with permission.