10-14 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.Philippians 4:10-14 (The Message)
I know many Christians who quote Philippians 4:13–generally in the King James or New King James versions: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens (strengtheneth) me.” It is a powerful verse, but taken out of context, it can become twisted and lead to unrealistic expectations. In context, Paul is not talking about achievement, but about endurance. “I can endure all things…” or “I can cope with all circumstances…” is a better understanding, which is why I chose to quote from The Message, instead of another translation. Many times, however, we co-opt this familiar verse to fill our calendar with busy plans for our own achievements, trusting in God to give us the strength to multi-task our way past exhaustion. We end up frustrated, disappointed, and even questioning our faith.
God never meant for any of us to do “all things..” In fact, He wants us to trust Him to direct our paths– even when He directs us away from achievement and into rest or even need. Paul was a doer. He loved to be on the road, preaching and teaching, building up churches, and making new converts. But the letter to the Philippian believers was written from a jail cell. Paul could not be there to minister to them, but they had ministered to him, instead! Paul was thanking his friends for the help they gave him, not because he was abandoned or starving, but because their gifts reminded him of their care for him, and of God’s care for all of us. God had given Paul a season of rest from the road– imposed rest, but rest that gave him time to reflect on God’s goodness in solitude.
When we set ourselves up to “do all things,” it usually means “all the things I think I can or ought to do,” or “all the things I am asked or expected to do as a volunteer or a friend or neighbor or parent…” God is more concerned with our “being” than our “doing.” He wants us to be seeking after righteousness, not self-righteousness. He wants us to be growing in our love for others– even if we can’t “do it all.” He wants us to follow Him, not impress Him!
I’m in a season of “can’t” right now. It’s not that I can’t do anything, but I can’t do “all things.” That’s not a result of my lacking faith or having a wrong view of God– God CAN do anything and “everything.” But I can’t. And God’s plan isn’t to empower me to be autonomous, self-sustaining, or self-righteous. I NEED others! And I NEED Him! What I CAN do, is trust in His timing and His resources to be sufficient for my daily needs. I can get “enough” done today, with God’s wisdom and strength. I can do “enough” to overcome anxiety or depression– with the help that God provides. That may mean allowing someone else to do simple tasks that I can’t do today. It may mean accepting medical help. It may mean changing my schedule or my expectations for today. But I can endure all the setbacks, and the moments of grief or weakness that keep me from “doing” what I had planned. I can weather it all in the power of Christ. And so can you! If you are finding yourself in a season of “can’t,” don’t skim over Philippians 4– study it. Claim it! Christ’s power isn’t for those who “can.” It’s for those who ask!
It’s a great thing to have a “can-do” attitude. But sometimes, we need a season of “can’t do” in order to step back and see what we “can BE” in the power of Christ!