I Can Do All Things..

I know many Christians who cite Philippians 4:13 as their favorite verse: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” And while this is a powerful verse, and holds great promise, I think it has been misused and taken out of context too often in recent years.

The Apostle Paul wrote this– from a prison cell as he awaited trial and a likely sentence of death! And this thought is a summary statement. It follows a list of circumstances in which Paul had experienced needs, and questions, and setbacks, and lack of provision.

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In this season of “sheltering in place,” I have a new appreciation for Paul’s letter. I am not in jail, but there are many restrictions (temporary, but seemingly endless) on where I can go and what activities I can pursue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I cannot “do all things” in any normal sense. My family could not gather for Mother’s Day this year. We cannot have friends over for a meal, or take our grandchildren to the movies, or meet together for a traditional church service on Sundays. I cannot open my little shop to customers. I can’t go and get a haircut or hang out at the bakery or coffee shop.

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And there are others who are struggling, not just with restrictions, but with increased expectations. They cannot “do all things” to help a dying patient, or stop the spread of infection in their nursing home or hospital ward. They cannot answer frenzied questions about timelines and protocols. They cannot work effectively from home and still be available to their children as both parent and surrogate teacher. Or, they cannot meet the needs of their students without face-to-face interaction.

But Paul is not talking about the mere completion of a worldly task, or achieving a personal goal. Paul isn’t suggesting that he (or anyone else) can do anything and everything he might want to do or that others might wish him to do. He has just finished talking about times of lack, of wants and needs and facing uncertainties. Paul did not (even with Christ’s help) skip lightly around Asia Minor, making friends and influencing people.

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So what DID he do? What did he mean by “all things?”

Paul speaks often throughout his letter of “running a race.” Paul learned that in all circumstances, with whatever resources, whatever restrictions, and whatever obstacles, he could “run” his race. Under persecution or in times of great success; in times of plenty, or in times of hunger; in prison or on the road (or seas); in Jewish synagogues or Greek amphitheaters; alone or in crowds– Paul could worship God. He could proclaim the Gospel. He could spread the love and grace of Christ Jesus. If he couldn’t travel, he could still speak. If he couldn’t speak, he could write. If he couldn’t write, he could pray. He could do “all things” that were necessary to accomplish his one goal– to run the race; to finish strong; to live a life of purpose and worship.

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May we do the same today, through Christ, who gives us strength. I may not be able to gather with friends, but I have the blessing of being able to call, or e-mail, or IM, or send encouragement. I can still write this blog. I can still pray– in fact I have more time to do so! I can do “all things” that will fulfill my purpose and bring honor to God. And so can you. What a privilege–no matter where we are or what our circumstances!

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I Was There!

Disneyland!  Niagara Falls!  Tokyo!  Paris!  Dallas!  Machu Piccu! Sydney! Kilmanjaro! Stonehenge! NYC!  Souvenirs remind us, and declare to others, where we’ve been.  T-shirts, knickknacks, photos, post cards, and more call us to remember places we’ve visited, or even lived.  There are apps that allow you to tag, city by city, all the places you’ve ever been (if you can remember them all).  Metropolises to tiny hamlets, all can be recorded and seen by anyone else with the app.

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Most of the time, when we think of souvenirs, we think of pleasant memories and planned visits.  But there is another kind of souvenir–scars, traumas, sickness, crime– that can taint our memory of a place.  It’s one thing for my husband and I to visit battlefields from the American Revolution or the American Civil War– it is quite another for a veteran to visit a battlefield where he took a shell to the stomach and had to be carried out still under enemy fire, or for someone to return to a war-torn village they once called home.

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As humans, we can only be in one geographic location at any one time.  We can watch live footage of events around the world, but we cannot participate in  or experience them in the same way.  But there is one way we can “be there” from miles away, any time.  We can pray.  I can pray for people I’ve never met; I can pray for many people at once.  And I can feel the power of others’ prayers even when I am otherwise alone.

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More importantly, we can be reassured that God is ALWAYS there–He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He needs no jet or GPS, no visa or key, to reach us wherever we are.  And he needs no souvenirs to remind Him of His visits with us, or of the beauty (or disaster) in which we live.

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I love looking at souvenirs, but far more, I love the memories that can’t be captured by a keyring, or a T-shirt, or a small statuette.  I love the memories of smiles, and warm hugs, meals shared, and tears spilled.  And I love the stories that remind me that even if I’ve never set foot in a particular village or city, through prayer, I was There!

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Where will you go today?

 

What’s Your Destination?

Recently, my husband and I took a weekend trip.  We had a destination in mind, but had to decide on a route.  Looking it up on the computer, we were given an estimated distance and travel time based on a programmed route that was found to be the “fastest.”  However, this route was not necessarily the shortest, or the most scenic, or the safest.  Knowing our destination, my husband was able to reconfigure the program to map out a route that fit our needs.  It got us to the correct destination, and allowed us to travel safely, leisurely, and confidently.

After we reached our initial destination, we decided to take a side trip.  Since we hadn’t counted on taking the side trip, we didn’t have a route.  We relied on the same technology, but, not knowing our exact destination, we typed in a general location and followed the instructions we were given.  We missed an important exit and had to reconfigure…we changed our plans and had to reconfigure…we misspelled the name of the new destination and were sent miles out of our way before we realized what had happened…we ran into an unexpected detour which sent us more miles out of our way.

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Knowing your destination, and having a good map or set of directions can make a huge difference.  We still had an enjoyable trip, but we might have been able to do more if we had planned a little better–one of the places we decided to visit had just closed by the time our reconfigured driving directions got us there!   And we might have been able to cut several miles off of the detour route if we knew the local roads better (it didn’t help that our map application wasn’t working at the critical moment, either!)

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In life, there are many “programs” that offer advice, direction, and focus to get us to a destination.  There are weight-loss programs, “life coaches,” self-help books, universities, “mindfulness” seminars, even religions that promise to guide us along a particular path.  But if we don’t have a clear destination in mind, we can end up wandering down a detour or even a dead end.  What started out with such promise becomes a maze of questions, unmet expectations, and frustrating twists and turns.

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So what is my destination in pursuing prayer?  Where do I want to end up at day’s end?  In a year?  When I face the end of my life (if God chooses to let me see the end approaching)? I want to experience the kind of prayer life that honors God, deepens my relationship with Him, and has an impact.  There are many “paths” of prayer– but they have different destinations.  Meditation, recitation, fasting and praying, praying corporately or in isolation–I need to map out a course that will get me to the goal.  And I need to rely on the guidance provided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and godly counselors and teachers.

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Passport Prayers

I get to travel every day.  I journal my prayers in a daily notebook.  Prayer Journal  (click here to get ideas or learn more)  Each day has a heading and four sections– one for birthdays or other “memory days”; one for thematic prayers (generalized themes like “family”, “community”, “global concerns”, “culture”, etc.); one for urgent requests, and one for a region of the world–nations, major cities, local communities.  On busy days, I send a short prayer and try to remember what I know, or imagine what I’d like to know, about that area.  Some days, I have the luxury of time to look up information or history about that area– what is the language, capital city, literacy rate, average age, major religion, geography, economy, etc.

Our world is full of wonder, variety, crisis, and opportunity–I want to add all of this to my pursuit of prayer. It reminds me of several things:

  • I am not the center of the universe– my issues and problems are not unique or exceptional.
  • God has placed me here to interact with others–I can’t reach out and connect with 6 billion others, but I can become more aware of their needs and way of life.
  • The world is a big place–seeing it on the screen via the internet sometimes causes me to forget that.  And as I see how big the world is, I also need to remember that God is even bigger!
  • The world is full of variety.  Not everyone lives or thinks or worships as I do.  Not everyone faces the same circumstances, the same temptations, the same struggles.  Yet God sees and hears each one who calls on him.  He doesn’t have trouble understanding languages and dialects– he doesn’t get culture shock.  He is not an American Jesus, or a Brazilian Jesus, or a Korean Jesus.  He’s not an urban Jesus or a remote mountain village Jesus, or a gated community Jesus.  When we enter eternity, we will share it with amazing brothers and sisters from every corner of creation.  He’s got the whole world in his hands!

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  • Many millions of people around the globe have never heard the Gospel– or they’ve heard lies and misrepresentations.  Millions of other believers are being persecuted for believing in Jesus or for sharing the good news of Salvation in His Name. People in every nation, every community, are suffering.
  • We are commanded, as Christians, to “go into all the world” and preach the gospel.  I may not be able to travel to “all the world”, but I can “go” in prayer, sharing on-line, and  learning about needs, as well as in sending out and praying for those who can travel.
  • I am grateful for the opportunities God has given me– to learn about him and worship him in freedom; to travel and participate on short-term mission opportunities; to meet and share with missionaries, travelers, students, foreign workers, and others who share their culture and knowledge and perspectives; and for the global work of the Savior, and my privilege to share in it.

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Time to pack my bags– I’m heading to Germany tomorrow!

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