I was being super spiritual and doing a morning devotion a few days ago when I came across the familiar verse, Philippians 4:13. I didn’t even need to open my Bible. I pictured myself finishing my first half-marathon in record time and getting a first place medal that weighs my neck down because it is so gigantic and awesome. As I make my acceptance speech for my first place award (because all winners get to make speeches, right?) I will throw my fist in the air and yell: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” And then the Heavens will open, God will shine a beam of Heavenly light on me, my muscles will grow, and I’ll become even more famous than I already am.
Or, more realistically, I picture myself writing the verse on my hand before the race, getting dead last because I have to stop and walk, and maybe even crawl the last 3 miles. All while yelling dramatically, “why God, why? Where’s this strength you are promising me?” And then I’ll pass out, get carried away on a stretcher, and have a super low self-esteem when I eventually wake up.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13]
This verse, the verse that has aided so many athletes and motivated Christians to push themselves to their limits, was written by Paul. I’m not sure if Paul was any kind of athlete, but I do know that he had many obstacles to overcome during his time as a missionary of Christ. He’s thanking these Philippian people for being concerned about his well-being. But at the same time, he’s telling them that he isn’t really in need of anything. In verse 11, Paul starts this long list of things he has learned that helped him to be content. According to these verses, Paul can be satisfied in any situation or circumstance that he’s placed in. Which is good for him, but no other human being would agree with anything he’s saying. If he told me these things as we sat side by side in our little prison cell, I’d probably be thinking that he was psychotic.
But, being thrown in prison with little to no food and an uncomfortable sleeping situation, Paul is content. And he says he’s content because he has been given strength. God is not giving Paul strength to run fast, lift heavy weights, or be a great blogger (he’d probably be awesome though). He’s giving him strength to survive. Strength to be content. No matter how much I can benchpress, I don’t think I have the strength to just be content all the time. I always want something new, something better, something more. I won’t be content until I have wireless internet in my apartment. I won’t be content until I can actually win first place in a half marathon and get a gigantic medal. How the heck is Paul content as a homeless evangelist, or as a prisoner?
He has been strengthened. The power to be content is God-given, that’s for sure. I think I will always refer to Isaiah 26:3 when I am getting anxious or uneasy.
You keep him at perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. [Isaiah 26:3]
I wonder if that’s how Paul stayed content and satisfied. If my mind stays on God, stays focused on Him and His provision for me, it would be hard to be anything other than content. If I can remember that His timing is perfect, that I am precious to Him, and that He will take care of me, it’s hard to not be content. I am starting a new life in a new city, and it’s too easy to get anxious or nervous or unsettled. I have a new job and it’s going to be hard to not get anxious about my work and it’s going to be a challenge to not freak out every time my boss talks to me. It’s also going to be hard to pay bills and buy groceries and learn how to feed myself. Growing up brings a ton of new opportunities to worry. But I need to learn how to be content with God’s provision. I need to learn how to be like Paul. When I have Christ as my savior and God as my provider, there’s no other way to feel but content. He is the ultimate satisfaction. Which is good news for me, because I don’t think I’ll be winning a marathon anytime soon!