“I can do all things through Christ,
who strengthens me.”
Often quoted. But there is a context. And it is, surprisingly, the provision of needs. Paul is talking about being content, whether he has much or little. Seeing that even if he is hungry and needy – even that is God’s plan for God’s reasons at that particular time. Look:
” … for 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.”
This is great stuff. It gives believers the freedom not to be ‘need-driven’. Our thinking can go like this:
- While things are going well, and I am being ‘provided for’, the Lord is blessing. God is being good to me. Everything is ok, and I am praising.
- But when I am struggling, there is no food on the table, I lose my job, there are rows in the family, or sickness in my body … well, now I’m afraid God is not being good to me anymore.
- So now, I have to take matters into my own hands to get my ‘needs’ met. And I start to manipulate and manoeuvre to get that done. In short, I start to try to do for myself what I feel/think God isn’t doing for me. Or I start to despair and doubt.
Neither of those options is the choice of faith.
Faith means that we don’t trudge through our circumstances with a burden which we have failed to leave in His lap. I once heard of the story of the farmer who was on his way to market in his horse-drawn cart, when he passed a bedraggled figure stolidly making his way towards to town with a great, heavy rucksack on his back. The farmer stopped to give him a lift. But after a few miles, he turned to see the fellow sitting by the side of him – still with the rucksack strapped to his back. That can so often be us. We know we have a Lord who carries burdens. But we will not let go of them! Lay it down, believer – you are being carried.
A Picture of Uncast Care
Peter exhorts us, in 1 Peter 5 vs 7 to:
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
I wonder if, when the Spirit inspired him to pen those words, Peter was remembering that time in the boat when such a fearful storm howled around them that they all feared for their lives. Jesus was asleep in the stern, and after throwing every seasoned fisherman’s trick into saving themselves, still the wind howled and the waves raged -and the boat filled. I don’t think it was a gentle hand that shook the Master awake, and I can hear an other-than-calm voice asking, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4 vs 38) Sometimes, when we are in trouble, we are tempted to think that we have to shake God awake and alert Him to our need – has He not noticed? Perhaps, somehow, it has slipped His attention, or He has ‘fallen asleep’.
After He deals with the storm, in that incredible, jaw-dropping way, Jesus then deals with His disciples. He is pretty scathing. This is nothing other than lack of faith, He tells them. Faith learns to be content – whatever. The big question is ‘how’? How do we learn to do that?
Here is Paul’s counter to being anxious. It starts here, in Philippians 4 vs 4 – 7 – and to be sure we get it, he says it twice.
‘Don’t be anxious, rejoice’.
When we walk in this spirit of rejoicing, what are we doing? We are putting God in His proper place, and we are seeing ourselves in proper perspective. ‘The Lord’ is your Saviour – Jesus Christ. Remember who He is and what He has done to bring you to Himself. See the incredible cost of His sacrifice to dispose of your sin. Look at the Spirit within you, who enables you to walk and live in His light, and in the knowledge of Him. What can take that from you? Nothing and no-one in the whole of creation. Christ, who could, won’t – He died for you!
So these circumstances which have bowed your shoulders and furrowed your brow – what are they in comparison to that? For you, now, to live is Christ, and even to die is your gain. What can man – or any set of circumstances you could ever encounter on this planet – do to you? Life may spit its spite in your face, but you are carried on a sea of love so vast that it cannot be measured. Even in adversity, even in sorrow, believer, you may rejoice.
Sir James Simpson was the scientist who discovered the use of chloroform to provide anaesthesia during surgery. That was an immense step in the progress of medicine, and it gained him a knighthood. And yet, once, when he was asked, ‘what is the most important discovery you have made in your life’, his immediate answer was, “THAT I HAVE A SAVIOUR”. Here is your hope, believer, your certain hope. And nothing can take it from you or you from it. Rejoice, I say – again; rejoice.
Thinking the Right Way Up
First, it doesn’t mean ‘do nothing’. Nor does it mean ‘don’t care’. Paul has much to say about ‘concern’ in that same chapter. But ‘concern’ is not ‘anxious’. The choice here is to either regard myself as my provider, or God. And when God provides, He doesn’t do it ‘according to need’. He does it ‘according to His riches in Christ Jesus’. So that’s the measure He uses. Now, do you want to be provided for using your spoon, or His shovel? Your rags, or His riches? But in His time, not always ours. And in His wisdom, not ours. He needs trusting in want. And ‘content’ just means ‘happy to leave it to Him’. If our adverse situation makes us immediately start to doubt God’s goodness, we are thinking upside down. Our thinking should really go like this:
- My circumstances are ‘happening to me’ by God’s hand – no power ‘trumps’ His, and His intention is to bless me and have me grow in grace and in my knowledge of Christ.
- That includes what I might perceive as ‘good situations’ and also ‘bad situations’.
- If I perceive my ‘state’ to be ‘in need’, my Shepherd has a purpose in that. It is no accident, and God is still my good Father and I am still His child
- Thus, what I perceive to be ‘my need’ may not actually be a ‘need’ at all. He knows, better than I, what I ‘need’. Sometimes. I need hardship and training in my faith. Sometimes I need to go without. Sometimes I need to have plenty. And sometimes, just enough.
My learning contentment is to be the state of heart and mind which SOLELY relies on Him. Then, my ‘need nerve’ has its roots where it should. In His love and His will for me.
The Giant of Gentleness
Paul goes on:
This rejoicing spirit is not perturbed by outward aggravation. It doesn’t need to reach out and grab, or to seize hold of others, or anything, to make them or it do its bidding – particularly not Christ. It can afford to be gentle. Indeed, this is a product of this rejoicing, it is yet another trait of the rejoicing heart. Christ in us is gentle, so we are gentle to. We can deal kindly with others – whoever and whatever they are. Our circumstances don’t determine it, and how they respond is largely irrelevant. Even if they were to throw this gentle-dealing back into the face of its giver, with abrupt words or harsh actions, it is not daunted. Because the reservoir of Godliness which lies behind that issuing stream pushes it outwards, and the flow cannot be reversed. Let man do his worse, he will not bend that river back on itself. Can you throw the sun’s light back at the star from which it comes? No more can you repel the love of the gentle, Christ-like heart.
The Perpetual Prayer Life
Here is the exhortation continued – don’t be anxious about anything – pray!
The first time the whisper of an anxious thought intrudes in your mind, pray. Do it immediately. Learn to do it automatically. Train yourself in this. Anxiety is not to place one toe over the threshold of the Christian’s life. Brothers, we have an immediate remedy. It’s as if anxiety is the ‘common cold’ of the soul. But unlike that persistent, mutating virus, against which the human body has no permanent remedy, here we are given an unfailing solution. At the first sniffle of worry – pray. Whatever it is that causes it, bring that to the throne. And every time our reluctant mind starts to pick it up again, take it back to Him. Until your heart gets the message. Look at all of these superlatives:
Always – all – anything – in every situation
Could it be plainer? Nothing you will ever experience, or think, or do, or suffer; however great or small, is to be left outside of this great commission. Speak to Him who is your Father. Petition Him. Present your requests to Him. In His last day before the cross, the Saviour said to His disciples,
“before now you have asked nothing – after now, ask everything and anything”.
“Don’t even ask Me – ask Him in My name”.
Here, then is the promise. Pray, and you will not be anxious. You cannot do both. If you are anxious, you are insisting on being your own God. If you are praying, you are insisting that He is. Anxiety is your head trying to do God’s job for Him. It will never succeed because we cannot be God. Give it up. If it is beyond you, it is His. Leave Him to sort it out.
The Persistent, Protected, Peace of God
And here is the outcome. Guarded hearts, guarded minds in Christ. Guarded with Godly peace. I love that in verse 4, Paul talks of ‘the peace of God’. And in verse 7, he talks of ‘the God of peace’. What does peace guard you against? Well, just anything that will disturb it. This is durable peace. It isn’t going to desert you. Sometimes, a glance at the strong original words the Spirit uses to power His truths home, in Scripture, serves us well. Here is what verse 7 actually says:
“The peace of God – which is superior to every mental state – will be garrisoning your hearts and the apprehensions of your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The outcome of this insistent, rejoicing, praying spirit is to surround the saint with an impenetrable fortress. It will protect heart and mind – no troubling of the soul or threatening thought will be able to invade. There will be a resilience against all that the world outside can throw at it. This unworldly, inner peace will be the harbour which staves off the howling winds, and into which the waves will not encroach. When the word of Christ is ‘Peace, be still’, nothing created is not calmed. Let the devil himself do his worse, he cannot unravel one thread of God’s masterful weaving. In the world, saint of God, you will have tribulation, but your Jesus has overcome the world.
When is a ‘Need’ Not a ‘Need’?
And here is the conclusion of this amazing, super-human, Spirit-led mindset:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
So here, then, in short order, is what this passage teaches us:
- What I perceive as a ‘need’ – an absolutely vital ‘must have’ of life – may be just a ‘want’ that I must learn to be content in.
- God is ALWAYS good, and He is ALWAYS being good to me as His child.
- God ALONE can and does determine what my real ‘needs’ are …
- … and He ALWAYS will provide them in Christ Jesus
- … and I can trust Him to provide in the measure of the riches of Christ, not of the poverty of my need.
If that be so, here is what we may think, then. That if we see within or without us what appear to be unmet needs, it cannot be so that God is not ‘being good’ to us. Our faith will assert that that would be a denial of His very being – God is ALWAYS good. So, if God is always meeting all my needs, why, it must be true that what goes ‘unmet’ was not truly a ‘need’ at all. That that was just what it appeared to be in my flawed thinking. That my mind needs reorienting to get things straight. That I can ‘do’ this through Christ, who strengthens me – whatever I lack, or whatever I have …
… I can be content