There are certain passages of the Bible that, for whatever reason, have been snagged by the vast religious bumper sticker industry and abbreviated into pithy little statements of fact with little or no context. Over time, the bumper interretation becomes the accepted understanding of the passage, and Bumper Sticker Theology grows in stature, one bumper at a time…
Reading Philippians 4, I ran across one of those jewels. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” At the risk of sounding theologically unsound (and fully knowing that I’m quoting The Princess bride), “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”
For some whacked reason, we’ve twisted that scripture into a shot of adrenalin to help us achieve our goals. “I can be the best salesperson on the force, I can ace my SAT’s, I can run a four minute mile…”. We ignore the reality that for the hundred people claiming that promise, only one can be the best salesperson, most don’t ace the SAT, and my Volvo has days when it barely does a four minute mile. So what on earth was Paul thinking? Where was his head when he wrote that? Seems like a cruel trick to me. Especially if you don’t read it in context.
“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, where well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Paul is not talking as much about heroic shows of faith as he is endurance. He’s been beaten. He’s been broken. He’s been imprisoned. Yet with resolve, he scrawls “I can do anything.”
About 9 years ago, Kelsey and I faced the most horrific time in our lives. My father had passed away four years earlier – that in itself was awful – but suddenly we lost both of her parents to cancer in one hundred days. They had been the picture of health when her father got ill…we took him into our home and watching him decline rapidly. He lived with us until 3 days before his death at the VA center in Cincinnati.
The weekend of her father’s funeral, Kelsey’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. She immediately moved into our home and quickly was bedridden. Before long, it was clear that the end was near. We were up all hours of the night caring for her – all the while watching her decline.
It all happened so quickly that we were pretty shell shocked….caring for 2 boys (Zion wasn’t born yet and Zoe was barely a thought….), planting a church, and watching her mom die immediatly on the heals of her father could have caused us to shut down permanently, but the spirit of God gave us what seems in retrosprect to be superhuman physical strength. I remember crawling into bed one night about 2 AM and telling my wife through tears “If this doesn’t kill us, we’re going to be tough as nails.”
Take note. We’re still standing.
To me, that’s what the “I can do all things” verse means. In prayer, I can endure. With prayer, I can rise above. I can, through Jesus, carry all that death, hell and the grave throw and me and by His strength, I’ll be standing at the end of the day. There are periods in our life when enduring is victory and prayer facilitates that endurance.
I can do all things. Go honk if you love Jesus.