Once upon a time, Philippians 4:13 was my football locker verse. There, in the midst of my stinking shoulder pads and disgusting workout clothes, I taped in my locker a notecard that bore the words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
At that time, what I intended by putting that verse in my locker was to remind myself that I could run one more 40 yard dash through Christ who strengthens me. I could do one more drill through Christ who strengthens me. I could knock one more guy over through Christ who strengthens me. But then one faithful Friday night, my high school football team lined up across from another team – the Dumas Demons.
And after the game, I saw a group of those Demons kneeling in prayer on the 50 yard line. And though it hadn’t struck me before, I suddenly came to the realization that there were probably actual Christians who played for the other team. In fact, there might even have been one Christian with Philippians 4:13 taped in their locker. So as I was trying to knock someone over with the power of Christ, so also might someone have been trying to knock me over with the same power.
It was a crisis of faith, born under the lights of Friday night Texas football.
Which of course made me wonder if Philippians 4:13 was possibly not about my ability to block the right person in a football game. As I discovered by reading just a few of the verses around it, Paul didn’t intend this verse to be applied as some kind of energy steroid for athletics. This verse was about contentment:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13).
Paul wasn’t speaking to the future linebacker; he was talking to every single person in Christ, for every single person in Christ will know the experiences he outlined in these verses. We will all have more and less at different points in our lives; we will all be both in abundance and in need. The seasons of life will change; they will ebb and flow; and yet according to Paul, through Christ we can maintain a stable source of joy and contentment through Christ and Christ alone.
This is a good word for the leader because we, maybe more than anyone else, struggle with this issue. There is always something more; there is always something bigger; there is always someone with more acclaim. There is, for the leader, always something “else.” But through Christ who strengthens us, we don’t have to worship at the altar called “else”- our lives will not be characterized by the constant pursuit of more. More money, more renown, more power, more recognition. Instead, we will always be able to know that we have enough, for no matter how our circumstances change, we will always have Christ.
Now you might look at this passage and feel a sense of discouragement. It’s not particularly uplifting to recognize the reality that at some point, circumstances will change. You, like me, will experience points of loss and need and sadness in this life. The encouraging part of this verse isn’t that we aren’t going to feel the pain of those things. No – the encouraging part of this verse is that Paul learned the secret of being content.
In other words, contentment isn’t our natural state, but it can be learned. We can develop a certain aptitude for contentment. And the school in which we learn contentment is the school of loss. When we feel the sense of despair and when we feel the temptation of accumulation, we can remember that we are sitting in the classroom of life. And through these lessons, we will learn how to trust in Jesus for our self-worth, our joy, and our comfort. And slowly but surely, we will find ourselves progressing in this school.
We will learn contentment, over and over again. Let us then apply ourselves to our lessons. Let us choose to fix our eyes on Jesus over and over again so that we might be reminded that no matter what else happens, we will always be rich in Him.
Michael Kelley is the Director of Discipleship at Lifeway, and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life