I can do all things through him with strengthens me. – Phil 4:13 (ESV)
This familiar verse has been used on everything from greeting cards to wall signs to a rallying cry for sports team. People tend to like this verse because it inspires them to “be all that they can be.” Yet people generally forget to look at the preceding verses. Immediately before Paul writes about his reliance on Christ to do “all things” he writes about the fact that he has learned to be content in all circumstances (v. 11-12). The focus of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians wasn’t on his ability or capacity; instead he wanted to remind them that regardless of what situation they faced – whether they had plenty or were in need, whether they were weak or they were strong – they can be confident in Christ’s provision and could rely on Him to accomplish His purposes.
This is not an easy thing to do. Often times, it is easier to look at what we are capable of, conjure up our courage, and to try to overcome obstacles. And while all of these things may be needed, what is needed first is a reliance on Christ. Christ is the One at work; we are His instruments to accomplish His purposes. What we should mediate on when we think of this verse is the One who strengthens us, not the person that He is strengthening.
This should give us great hope. As we ponder our future, we can depend on God to give us all that we need to accomplish what He has called us to do. As we consider His purposes for our lives, we can delight in all He is able to do through hearts that are devoted to Him. And whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, we can be content in the One who is able to transform that circumstance for the purposes of His Kingdom.
Often times when I am teaching one of my greatest challenge is to have my students anticipate how what they are learning in class will be useful to them in their professional life. Terms and theories can seem so arbitrary and more than once I have had a student question why things can’t be more like the real world, only for me to try to convince them that what they are learning is what is needed for the real world. It’s hard for them to imagine life outside of the classroom walls. And this makes sense, the class is familiar to them; their career is not.
As much as I invest time in helping them prepare for their career, my students can tell you that I also invest considerable time in trying to prepare them for another future – that of their eternal destiny. As I often tell them, I want them to be successful in whatever profession God leads them to, but I want their success to be determined by God’s standards, not the world’s. I want them to make decisions, choose paths, and commit to actions based on what will be considered “profitable” from Heaven’s vantage point, and not merely from their contemporaries’ perspective. My hope is that they are constantly looking to eternity and it is that future reality that has the most impact on what they do each day.
The challenge is that just like it is hard for them to picture life in the “real world,” it is hard for them to really anticipate the joys of Heaven. I know this because they want to delay their experience of Heaven until they can achieve certain milestones on Earth. They want to have kids, or achieve a certain professional stature. They want to grow old or make sure that they have had a chance to fall in love. Whatever their particular ideal is they want to make sure that they get to experience that first, and then they’ll be “ready” for Heaven.
It is a temptation that is not limited to college students. There has probably been a time that each of us has secretly (or not-so-secretly) wished that we will get to experience something in this life before God calls us Home. This tendency, however, fails to consider that there is nothing in this world that can compare to the reality of being in God’s presence. There is no happiness here that is not superseded by the joy there. There is no success on this Earth that is not surpassed by the delight of being with Christ. There is no achievement or accolade of this world that is not eclipsed by the privilege of praising God in His presence.
We are tempted to think that we are “missing out” if we don’t get to a certain stage of this life, but in reality, we are currently missing out on the satisfaction of being with our Maker.
And perhaps if we gained a deeper appreciation for the majesty and delight of an eternity with God, we would find our contentment there and not in the things of this world.