I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. — Philippians 4:12-13 (KJV)
American Christians have always loved this verse. In general, it has been interpreted to mean, “I can do anything I put my mind to because God will back me up.” What’s more, “You should stop whining, trust God, and get out there and make it all better. It’s up to you and your faith.” That’s the R. Kelly version.
It is a nice one-liner and a good verse for beginning memorizers. But it is a heavy burden to place on someone if they don’t know that Paul is under house arrest when he writes it and probably never leaves Rome again. His lesson is, “Even though I can’t fly and my mission ambitions are on hold, I’m OK. Even though I am dependent on others and am suffering in many ways, I have learned to let that be and let God strengthen me.”
I have a strong streak of “can do” in me. Lately, it has been running up against “can’t.” So I have been looking at my three basic relationships, in Christ, and needing to learn Paul’s lesson again.
Let God be the center.
My relationship with God is top priority. Everything around me changes, but God and I have a place where we live that is eternal. I need to let that be. Right now, I am kind of preoccupied with
- people moving,
- marriages beginning and trying not to end,
- children being born and growing,
- the next leaders, next pastors, next congregations,
- how our mission is to “greater Center City” that is now considered to be at Tasker,
- drones, income disparity, identity politics.
I’ve got to do something! I can. But not unless God gives me strength. And when I can’t, my despair could be overwhelming unless God gives me strength. I need to rest in that central place where God and I live, which I carry with me as I encounter a challenging world.
Let the body of Christ work.
My second main relationship is with others in the body of Christ. I am part of it. It is good to know that all I am called to do is not dependent on my one, limited body doing them all. Jesus has a body and it is all of us.
Rachel and I were excited about doing the Midsummer Night party that happened last night and about getting our new “living room” together as part of that. We were worried that no one was coming. We had to just let it be. The body is going to do what it decides to do. People have faith; they will express what they are given. I can encourage and catalyze that expression, but I can’t make it happen. It is a miracle that faith, hope and love happen at all! I need to appreciate what is, not feel responsible for what isn’t mine to do on my own.
Let God go before us.
It seems strange that I would try to butt in front of God and lead him around in my mission to the world. But I do that. I get excited about my relationships with the faithless and needy of the world and sometimes seem to think I am the Creator. I always need to remember that God is already present wherever I think to show up.
I think about showing up every day!
- I want to help create new businesses to create jobs.
- I want to have a bank to free us from financial predators.
- I want to connect with atomized people walking by in headphones.
- I want a peacemaking community to undermine the war machine.
- I want a thriving counseling center, new missionaries, further relief workers, school reformers, racial reconcilers.
There is a lot to do! And that is just the beginning. If I am in charge of all that, the gospel is in trouble. But God is obviously at work in so many ways! Good is done. Jesus is honored even in a society in which the elites have kicked God out of their prevailing philosophy.
In each of my three basic Christian relationships – with God, with the body of Christ and with the hungry world, I need to let God be the one who is and was and is to come. As a result, I can do all those things I am compelled to do, as who I am given to be, with the strength I have been given to act. I can do all I have been given through Christ, who strengthens me, as part of the body, as one who delights in seeing God going before me in every place I stick my toe into his ocean of grace.