“I Can Do All Things”: A Contextualized Word of Encouragement 

It’s incredible how easily our thoughts can drift from the mountaintop of inspiration, pulled to the edge by one negative thought and tipped to groundless depths, flailing for something to grab onto or to fall on.

I’d like to share some scripture with you that has helped me when I fall into the habit of worry. I didn’t intend to write about this at first. I was writing aimlessly in the dark (literally), listening to the rain, and sipping mint tea, waiting for inspiration. I questioned whether or not I wanted to write about worry because I have written about it so often before, but, as my fingers typed, I remembered Philippians 4, and I realized what this post needed to be about.

First, if I’m honest, my thoughts often drift to fears of loneliness. It’s funny, because I’m not lonely at all, but I can imagine what being lonely would feel like. It’s like when, if someone is talking about an injury, or if I see one on television, I curl up as if I’m the one in pain. Maybe you can relate. When I imagine my future, it can feel so real to me, and when that happens, it’s usually because I’m worrying, and so those feelings can become negative influences on my present emotions.

Worry, like I said, is a habit. It’s like I’m trying to prepare myself for what might happen, thinking that will help me face it. Hope is another kind of looking forward into the future, but for some reason I’m more prone to worry than to hope, because worrying, somehow, is safer. I don’t like to get my hopes up—something I’m also greatly experienced at—so I try to cut my hopes off at the quick before they can hurt me.  Worry prepares. Hope disappoints. As the proverb says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12).

I always wondered what the point of that proverb was. The first part sounds like a warning against hope, but the second part seems to encourage hope. So is it good or bad to have hope? I used to place a lot of value on dreams. I thought everyone should have a dream and follow it, because anything was possible with God. As you may have heard quoted in many films, stories, advertisements, encouraging sports posters, etc.: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This verse comes from one of my favorite chapters in the Bible: Philippians 4. It is often misquoted to encourage people to follow their dreams, to run an extra mile, to get a good grade, etc., and the emphasis is almost always on the idea of “doing”. You can do anything you set your mind to. You can be a 5’2 basketball player. You can win the race if you try hard enough. You can get the good grade because that’s what God wants. I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t believe that God helps us in our everyday lives. He does. But there is so much more to this verse than what it has become through non-contextualized quoting, and all you have to do is read what comes directly before it to see what it is really about.

Paul is writing to encourage those who have been showing concern for him and his sufferings. He writes:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Paul suffered greatly, but he found strength in Christ. Paul isn’t writing this to the Philippians to tell them that they can do anything they ever dreamed of because Christ gives them strength. Paul is telling them that no matter what happens—when things are good and when things are bad—they can find contentment in the comfort of Christ.

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the peace of God will be with you.”

This verse gives me hope, and it is a hope that cannot be deferred or disappointed. Paul doesn’t say that, if we pray, we will be rescued from all evil in this world. Rather, he says that the “peace of God…will guard your hearts and your minds.” I truly believe in this peace. When, after battling with worry on my own, I finally give it to God, I always find peace in knowing that it is in His hands. The idea that God guards our hearts and our minds is a truly beautiful declaration. It is often within my mind that I find and fight my demons. It seems like a battle that only I can fight, yet God is there too, working as much in our hearts and minds as He is in our physical reality. In middle school, I memorized the last section of this verse in order to keep my mind off of my fears. I thought about things that were true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, and I found peace.

Reading this again, I am more encouraged than ever. By beginning with, “Rejoice! The Lord is near”, Paul is claiming that it is God who first enters into our lives. We respond to Him with thanksgiving and prayer. When we pray, God gives us peace. He guards our hearts and minds, but we still must play our part by keeping our hearts and minds pointed toward good things. Gradually, and with effort, this can become a transforming habit, a reversal of negative and harmful thinking. We must keep practicing our faith and coming to God moment by moment. It is when we do this that we find that we can go through anything by the strength of Christ who comforts us. We can suffer. We can thrive. We can give up our desires. We can be alone. We can live in the mundane, ordinary routine of life, practicing patience and trust. We can live with our thoughts lifted toward beautiful things, unafraid and filled with hope, because we have given our anxieties to a God who is near.

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