Our household has just gained two members and it’s given me a much better understanding of a scripture that I think has sometimes been misquoted around me.
How many times, when you faced the seemingly impossible, has someone reminded you that God teaches: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Generally, I haven’t found that to be true. I can do a great many things — more than some people — but “all things” remains far beyond my grasp. Even in my focal professional realm, writing, I focus on prose. Fiction and poetry seem beyond me. I suppose I am as capable as anyone of doing both badly, but would that represent doing “all things in him who strengthens me” or just doing things? I’m not sure.
I made my boss cranky once when I worked for a ministry organization. He gave me a crystal paperweight gift with this scripture floating in the center. I said, “Ooh, my husband got this same paperweight from his ministry supervisor. This must be the gift that says, ‘Trust God for what you need because we aren’t going to provide the tools.’ “
Needless to say, I no longer work there.
Right now, we’re learning to reorganize our home around two retirement age gentlemen who have come to live with us. One of them is my husband’s brother; one is a friend of his. They had been living in a series of pretty unstable group homes, shuffling from one house to another over the last six years. The various homes have been cited, shut down, or foreclosed at least once a year during that time. The sheriff showed up at the latest house a few weeks ago so we decided it was time to give them a better place to live.
Our home is a three-level townhouse, so it’s easy enough to designate the ground level for them. It has its own full bath and what had been our family room is much larger than the bedrooms they had shared. Over the last week we’ve been juggling furniture from floor to floor, picking up a few needed items on Craigslist, selling unneeded ones in a yard sale. I haven’t made it to the gym in a week but I’m reasonably sure that hauling boxes of books up two and three flights of stairs has given me better workouts than the Matrix ever did.
For me right now, “all things” is trying to reduce our home into 30 percent less space than we’ve had up till now. And since our home is among the smallest in our town, and has 25 percent less space than the average “starter” home here already, you can perhaps imagine I’m feeling a bit cranky from time to time, a bit overwhelmed by boxes, a bit uncertain how this particular “all things” will ever come to pass.
Now, I suppose, is the right time to admit I don’t really believe that all people can do “all things,” even in the strength of Christ. I’m too rational to imagine that the average person is going to play even the second etude in “The Well-Tempered Clavier” without being taught something about how to read music and how the notes on the page relate to the keys of a piano. Nor do I think that one of our IED-struck returning vets will win a marathon, however amazing contemporary prosthetic limbs might be, because marathon rules don’t allow disabled athletes to compete in the “main” race. If I’m not advancing human knowledge, I won’t win a MacArthur fellowship. I may do some extraordinary things, but I can’t win one of those “genius grants.”
And likewise, I don’t think that a person who has never taught children should be thrown off the deep end in children’s church because she “can do all things” in Christ or that someone who has never led so much as a game of “Follow the Leader” can serve as a committee chair because he can “do all things in him.”
Why isn’t this true?
Because Paul isn’t even vaguely suggesting that God has made him capable of accomplishing tasks he doesn’t know how to do. Read just a few words more of the text:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
That’s what Paul says he has learned to do: To be content under all circumstances.
And that’s what our new housemates had learned. To be content as their home was shuffled again and again, to be content when their meals were not adequate, to be content as they lived in dependence on undependable caregivers.
Having them with us changes our circumstances. I suppose it circumscribes them a bit. If I think hard, I can remember that there have been boxes around the bed for more than five weeks. (And until the rest of the books sell, there will be boxes. (Please, come to half.com and buy some books from carrieb96!)
But most of what I remember now is that my husband and I am happy to have these men sharing our home. We are content to give up a little to gain a lot.
That’s the “all things” Paul knew how to do. There was a time when we laughed and said, “We’re rich!” and ate out and went on vacation trips and gave away lots of money. This is a time when we laugh and say, “Come share,” and are content with soup and salad and bread.
We are learning the secret of being content in any situation … we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.