“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). This is a verse we hear often in our Christian circles. I think it’s popular because it conveys a sense of victory. Who doesn’t want to overcome, to conquer, to win? I hear people reference this verse in the context of sporting events, difficult exercise routines, or any other situation that involves a perceived challenge or obstacle.
As we read God’s word, it’s important that we get to the heart of what He is communicating to us. In order to do this, we must learn to read carefully and get an accurate picture of what’s going on. While we can all look up the dictionary definition of words, we also know that words have meaning in context. We experience this on a daily basis. If you’ve ever overheard a small part of someone’s conversation, you know the dangers of not comprehending the whole picture. You may hear one thing – a word, a sentence, one side of a phone call – and from there, make some assumptions about what’s happening. Later, however, you may find out that you totally misunderstood the situation, acted on incomplete information, and made a mess along the way. You did not understand the other person’s statement in context, and that created the confusion.
The same principle applies when it comes to God’s word. We should never open our Bibles to a random page, point to a random verse, and assume that this is God’s message to us. We must seek to understand every statement in its context. As we read, our first task is to ask, “What does this verse mean?” and then we can ask, “What does this verse mean for me?” In order to do this well, we must pay attention to the whole picture.
Let’s see how this works out as we take another look at Philippians 4:13. The book of Philippians is actually a letter written by the apostle Paul to the followers of Jesus in the city of Philippi. We learn at the beginning of this letter that Paul is in prison. He is writing to his friends to strengthen and encourage them in their faith, and he shares about his difficult circumstances as well his confidence in the Lord. Near the end of the letter, we read this:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV)
Paul and the believers at Philippi care deeply for one another. Not only do they share an emotional bond, but the Philippians have contributed material support to Paul as well. They have been helping him as he travels proclaiming the good news of Jesus. In the midst of his difficult circumstances, he thanks them for their gift and makes it clear that he is not begging for more supplies. While he is grateful for their generosity, he describes his present attitude in the face of hardship. Currently, he has what he needs, and he is content. Furthermore, he has learned to be content in every situation. There are times when he has plenty, and there are times when his supplies are stretched thin. He has experienced what it is like to have enough and what is it like not to have enough. Yet, he is satisfied in all these situations. How? Christ gives him strength to endure and rejoice. Philippians 4:13 is not about winning basketball games, completing grueling work out routines, or climbing mountains. It is about contentment and satisfaction in difficult times.
What does that mean for you and me? The world has experienced a major disruption in the last few weeks. So much has happened in such a short period of time that it has been hard to keep up. With all that is taking place on such a large scale, we must be very intentional about taking time to monitor what is going on in our hearts. I know that many people around the world are truly experiencing hardship and suffering at this time, and I do not want to minimize that in any way. As I write these words, I simply want to share humbly with you about my minor inconveniences and discuss how God is coming to me in the midst of all this. Hopefully, it will encourage you in your journey as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected my family in several ways. All of the changes have resulted in an increased work load for my wife and me. Like everyone else, we have had to adapt to new routines, new methods of communication, and new safety measures. At home, we are now helping our first-grader with weekly school work, making extra trips to grocery stores to find supplies we need, and trying to keep up with all the normal tasks of managing a household. We can no longer follow our regular patterns of life and work, and if I’m honest, I find myself struggling with contentment. I don’t like this, and I just want things to go back to normal. I have experienced both restlessness and frustration. There are times when I feel rushed and hurried to make the necessary adjustments, and I get impatient about how long it takes for things to materialize. I had plans, and there were things that needed to be done. Now much of that is on hold.
Yet, in all of this, God is challenging me to find satisfaction in him. In times of abundance or in times of need, when things are easy or when things are hard, it is God who sustains me. He is the source of life, and He is reminding me that He is enough. Things may not be the way that I would prefer, but I can still be content. Like Paul, I can learn to be satisfied wherever I am and with whatever I have because God is with me. I have Him, and He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me. Even in times of suffering or sorrow, He will give me strength to endure and find joy.
So, I will leave you with the following questions: How is God shaping you during the time of this pandemic? What changes or disruptions have occurred in your life? Where do you find yourself on the scale of contentment? What might God be teaching you about finding satisfaction in him? How do you need God’s strength to help you endure this season?
May the Lord reveal himself to you as you contemplate His presence and rest in His love!
Grace and Peace