What kind of person are you? A doer? Or a worrier? Are you confident in what you can accomplish? Or are you quick to recount your shortcomings? Some of us think that we can do almost anything. Others think we can do hardly anything. Some of us charge ahead, with little thought about the consequences, and some of us are so anxious that we can’t seem to muster up any confidence at all.
In this issue of The Word Among Us, we want to dissect one of the most promising passages found in the New Testament, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and apply it to those who think they can, as well as to those who think they can’t (Philippians 4:13). We’ll see how this passage encourages those who think they can to examine the source of their confidence. And we’ll see how it encourages those who think they can’t to put away their doubts and start moving out in Christ.
“I Can.” St. Paul was a doer. He preached the gospel far and wide. He established churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe. He wrote lengthy, in-depth letters. He fought one opponent of the faith after another. Dangerous threats, nights in prison, stonings, and severe beatings could not deter his drive. Clearly, this was a confident man! But as he was doing all these things, Paul also confessed that all of his accomplishments and all of his confidence were as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). He even went so far as to say that “good does not dwell in me” (Romans 7:18).
Doesn’t this sound like a contradiction? Didn’t Paul use his own learning to write all those powerful letters? Didn’t he draw from his own rabbinic training as he formed his theology? Didn’t he need a lot of self-confidence to preach as boldly as he did?
It’s not a contradiction at all. Paul knew that he was a steward of God’s grace and gifts (1 Corinthians 4:1). He understood that he could have been born somewhere other than in Tarsus. He knew that he could have come from a family with no connections in Jerusalem and no prospects for further education. He knew that everything he possessed—his intellect, his health, and his shrewdness—came from God. That’s why he could accomplish so much and yet not take credit for it as if he were some great hero.
If you find yourself wanting recognition, money, or some other kind of reward for a job well-done, you may want to examine whether you are a doer in Christ or a doer in yourself. It’s not that Jesus is opposed to recognition or monetary gain. It’s that when these kinds of goals become our primary motivation or our only motivation, a serious question arises: who will get the glory?
Goals of recognition or material gain are good, so long as they do not overshadow the Lord. That’s why Paul used extreme statements like “rubbish” or “good does not dwell in me” even though he fully knew that he was talented and that there was so much good in his life. Paul might have been extreme in his words, but he was always careful to keep a balanced perspective.
If we were to place most of our emphasis on the thought that we can do all things but not acknowledge that we need the strength of Christ, we would end up claiming that our accomplishments are ours alone. That would only feed the self-love that separates us from other people and keeps us closed off to the love that God so wants to pour into our hearts.
“I Can’t.” Hurdles are part of life. We face them every day. Some people revel in them. They thrive on tackling tough situations and overcoming them. Yet it’s a different story for many other people. They look at a difficult situation and lose confidence. Some even feel defeated before they start. A little voice inside tells them, “I can’t. I simply can’t. I wish I could, but I can’t.”
The children’s story The Little Engine That Could tells how a blue locomotive engine carrying a load of toys overcomes a formidable obstacle—a towering mountain—by repeating to itself these words: “I think I can, I think I can,” over and over again. Wouldn’t it be great if we could overcome all of our obstacles the same way? But it isn’t always so easy. For some of us, past failures have beaten us down and convinced us that we can’t. We tell ourselves that we’re inadequate to the task. Or we resist taking risks because we are afraid to fail. We prefer not to face the challenge at all.
Scripture tells the story of a man who gave one of his servants a sum of money that was the equivalent of about three months’ wages. Rather than invest it and risk losing everything, this servant chose to hide the money. When he heard what had happened, the servant’s master was outraged. He took the money away from this servant and gave it to another servant, one who had already doubled his money (Luke 19:11-26).
While this parable may not be precisely about doing all things through Christ, it does offer us some important insights. If you think you can’t and then you don’t, sooner or later, you will lose even the little “can-do” that you have. On the other hand, if you think you can—even with a certain amount of doubt—and you go out and try, God will be more pleased, even if you fail, than if you didn’t try. Plus, you’ll gain more experience and be able to do more in the future!
When the “I can’t” voice rises up and tries to convince you that you can’t do it, respond by saying, “In Christ, I know I can.” This is far more than self-motivation. It’s a proclamation of faith rooted in the promises of the gospel. It’s a statement of trust that we can do what God asks of us because Jesus has given us his divine strength.
Standing on the Right Foundation. Over the next few days, take some time in prayer to examine your motivations. If you tend toward self-confidence, ask yourself, “Am I the primary focal point of my life, or is the Lord?” Ask Jesus for the gift of humility so that you can be more like St. Paul—tirelessly working and doing great things for God, yet knowing that your talents and abilities are gifts from God entrusted to you so that you can give him glory. Try to begin your day in prayer, telling Jesus that you want to start doing everything for him since he has given so much to you.
For those of you who tend toward doubt or fear, ask yourself, “How often do I think that I can’t tackle a challenge? How often have I convinced myself that it’s too difficult? How often do I say, ‘I’m not worthy; I can’t overcome this fear or this resentment or this sense of guilt’?” If this is you, then it’s time to reject these voices of condemnation and inadequacy. Try to begin your day in prayer, telling Jesus, “I am not hopeless and helpless. I have gifts and talents. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
Jesus once said that our faith can move mountains. With that in mind, let’s all agree to look at the mountains of life that we face each day and say, “I can fulfill my responsibilities, resolve my problems, and overcome the hurdles I face—in Christ.”
Rejoice Always—In Christ. In every age and in every land, Christians have learned what it means to do all things “in Christ.” Like St. Paul, they have learned to be content with whatever they have and with whatever situation they face (Philippians 4:12). They have learned how to cope with the ups and downs of life. They have learned that the skill to overcome challenges has less to do with what they can do and more with what Jesus can do with them and in them and through them.
Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life. But since temptation, sin, and evil spirits loom in this world—along with all the goodness in the world—he knows that we will experience times of rejoicing and times of sadness and difficulty. Still, he wants us to “rejoice always,” in good times and bad (Philippians 4:4). He wants us to rejoice because we can experience the peace of God at work in us, no matter what happens.
Whenever you face those happy times, sit back and enjoy them. Relish them. And when you face tough times, remember that Jesus himself suffered. And because he did, he knows our sufferings firsthand. He suffers with us and is always with us, offering us his consolation and strength.
This is a great promise of the Christian life. If we take as our own the prayer of St. Paul—that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us—we will navigate even the most turbulent waters of life far more peacefully and successfully because Jesus is with us, helping us do what we could never accomplish on our own strength.