“I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:13 (Common English Bible)
What is so remarkable about these words is that they are spoken by a man in chains. Paul is a prisoner in Rome. In a life dedicated to serving Christ, Paul has endured much – shipwreck, ridicule, hunger, and excruciating poverty. Now he sits in a Roman prison and writes that whatever the circumstances, Paul has learned the secret of inner strength and contentment. Perhaps even more remarkable, Paul lays aside his own needs and concerns to write a deeply personal letter to the Philippians to encourage them in their faith. Despite his imprisonment and impending trial, Paul’s one desire is to share with the church in Philippi that joy and strength does not come from outward circumstances but from an intimate relationship with Jesus. That power is so tremendous and so available that Paul feels he can face anything knowing that nothing can diminish his spirit. His spirit was invulnerable. Paul wants the Philippians to utilize that same power.
The interesting thing about the New Testament is that we find that same power animating most of the early Christians. A profession of faith in Jesus usually pushed people to the margins of their communities. Families were torn apart – mothers and daughters, fathers and sons no longer in relationship with one another because one or the other decided to become a follower of Jesus. Worship services were conducted in secret and often disrupted by Jewish leaders eager to destroy the Jesus movement. The worst tortures that could be imagined were invented and performed to discourage participation in the new Christian faith. There was every reason for ignoring the swelling growth of the Christian Church, keeping your head down and simply avoiding trouble. Yet, for all the compelling reasons to remain separate from those following Jesus, men and women who risked believing in Jesus made one dominating impression wherever they went, the impression of uncommon power.
That power has not been withdrawn. It is not a closely guarded secret. Where men and women continue to take Christ’s attitude of loving others and serving others that same power is unmistakable. What is troubling is that few would say that the Church today impresses the world with the same power as it once did. Somehow those who claim discipleship to Jesus Christ show little evidence of a changed life, a life of uncommon power. Absent in many Christians today is a sense of adequacy for meeting challenge and adversity. Membership and attendance decline of the Christian Church has been tracked and documented for many years now. This has resulted is the publication of resources to perfect the church’s hospitality, increase the vitality of its worship, and harness the power of technology. However valuable these may be, the most urgent need is for followers of Jesus Christ to get back to that power which is possessed by the daily nurture of a personal fellowship with Jesus.
Return for a moment to the first two words above, “I can.” Some years ago I was working with a personal trainer, Michael Bishop. One particular day he had me on my back, bench pressing what seemed to be an incredible weight for me. After pushing the bar above my head several times I did a controlled drop of the bar to my chest. I was depleted. I delivered an eye message to him to remove the bar from my chest. I will never forget his response, “That’s not my bar. You place it back on the upright supports.” Then he did what his training taught him to do. He placed his hands around the bar with my own. That was simply to ensure that I didn’t hurt myself. But the lifting belonged to me. I pushed with everything in me; I summoned all the power I could to lift the bar back onto the supports. As my strength began to fail, he matched the loss of my strength with his own until the bar had returned to rest on the support. Paul writes, “I can, through the power who gives me strength.” If you are depressed or in trouble say, “I can in Him” and you will find God’s strength come alongside your own. If you struggle with passions or addictions that frighten you, or if you feel that you are losing your grip on life, say, “I can in Him” and you will discover an unseen hand on the bar with your own, matching your strength. The Christian’s strength begins with, “I can.”