“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength ….”. Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
Philippians 4:13 is a great verse to toss around in the Faith & Fitness arena. It’s motivating, inspiring & grounding … and it reminds us of why and for Whom we do what we do.
But have you ever been at a point in your journey when you are not sure you can go on. Have you ever been in places or circumstances that are so oppressive that you aren’t sure you have the strength to continue?
I was serving with my kids the other day at Feed My Staring Children — an amazing non-profit that feeds the innumerable kids who are otherwise starving to death around the world. And on the wall was a Philippians 4:13 sign made by the hands of some of these children. And I wondered: can I do all things through Christ & His power? Can I really? Could I really … if I were one of these children?
The past year or so, for me, has been one of the best AND one of the hardest yet. There have been moments when I have wondered how this Philippians-4:13-thing is supposed to work. When I get to the end of myself and am so exhausted and empty and have absolutely nothing left to give. When I want to say “I can do everything through Jesus’ strength” … yet I cannot. And I am reminded of those kids and that sign. And I cry.
So I bought the sign. It is not a slogan or a feel-good verse. It is gut-wrenchingly painful sometimes.
But I bought it to remind me that if they can, I can. I can get up the next morning in faith and in hope that only Christ can give … and I do my best. And trust God for the rest.
“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT)
Hard times are training opportunities. Think of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, taken to another country, imprisoned etc. (See Genesis 37 ff). What others intended for evil in his life, God used and intended for good. (Genesis 50:20) God used seemingly disastrous events to train, prepare, and place Joseph in the right place at the right time for the right reasons. We all know the story … but when it happens to us, we have the chance to learn it for real and anew.
Challenging times are the perfect time to become acutely aware of and to grow our dependence on Him. As one author says: “Challenging times wake you up and amplify your awareness of needing My help.” Challenging times forge our character. They also prepare the way to God to reveal His glory in greater ways.
So I’m in training (as are a few other sojourners with me). And I embrace it. I want to know deep dependence on God. I want to trust in Him alone to save me. I want to see His glory revealed in my life like I have never seen it before. And so I train — listening, watching, waiting, working, responding, obeying, trusting, and moving in faith.
The Lord is the strength of my life! Not anyone or anything else. The Lord God Almighty is my strength and my song! And with Him, I am victorious. No matter what.
Training ground is holy ground … when we have Him to train us!
“So Jacob named the place Peniel (which means ‘face of God’), explaining, ‘Certainly I have seen God face to face and have survived’ … but he was limping because of his hip.” Genesis 32:30b-31 (NET & NLT)
I went for a run today. Part of the way through, my left calf started to cramp up. Dehydrated? Maybe. Still recovering from a prior workout? Probably. Should I slow down our walk it out a bit? But if I constantly accommodate for every ache and pain, I’ll never getting stronger. Should I push through it? But what if it’s really injured, or if I end up really injuring it? Then I’ll be out of commission for a longer period of time.
The Christian journey can be like that, can’t it? How are we to interpret events or circumstances that come our way? Is God telling me to slow down or change directions? Should I read the circumstances as a cautionary flag? Or maybe he is trying to build perseverance and endurance in my character? Maybe I need to look to Him for strength to push through? How do I know how to respond or react?
I ask Him.
I ask the God who knows every cell of my frame & who loves me beyond my wild imaginings. I ask Him what I am to do.
Sometimes He tells me. Other times I have to try, in faith, what seems to be good and true. Sometimes His answer is in accordance with conventional wisdom and knowledge. Other times, it is completely counterintuitive. Sometimes I never really know.
And sometimes it is simply because He wants me to walk with a limp — for reasons of His own.
And I trust Him.
“The Lord strengthen and protects me; I trust in Him with all my heart.” Psalm 28:7a (NET)
“Will you trust Me in the shadow as well as in the sun?'” God said to me. “Do you not yet know that inner strength comes in and through the struggle?”
Strength comes through the struggle.
Yes, it does. And the same is true for strength-training. In order for our muscles to grow stronger, they need to be progressively overloaded. In other words … to get stronger, muscles need to be systematically and repetitively loaded beyond the point at which the muscle is normally loaded. Plain English? A muscle needs to repeatedly work against resistance to a point of fatigue. Then the muscle repairs and grows.
This is how God made us. As we struggle to lift a heavier weight, our muscle is growing stronger. It is one of His principles in this world. And when we struggle to get through trying times, we get stronger in spirit too. (See also “Growing Stronger” post (8/10/15) and “Growth” post (6/24/14)).
So every time I weight-train these days, I think about growing stronger. I think about all of me growing stronger. Because, rest assured, the thought and intention I put into my weight-lifting routine is nothing compared to the thought and care God puts into the “shadows” He allows me to go through.
“Will you trust Me in the shadows as well as in the sun?” He asks.
Yes, I will Lord.
And with You by my side, I trust that I can and will come out stronger on the other side.