So allergy season has begun in the southeastern part of the United States where I live. How do I know? I am feeling the physical effects of the yellow pollen covering the ground. Just like the foggy layer on my car’s windshield, my head seems to be in a fog as well. My throat scratches, my eye blurs, my nose stuffs, and my head hurts. Yay for Spring! Actually, I really love Spring; it is my favorite season. Everything feels fresh and new and I enjoy planting flowers and planning for the summer ahead. I remember my Mom used to plant a large vegetable garden and in early Spring she would draw a map of her proposed garden, designing each row according to the size and shape of the plants she would have. I like to do the same, so I guess in that way I take after her.
Yesterday I was standing in my driveway, when I noticed all the weeds that had popped up in the small flower bed alongside. I was already feeling bad, but thought to myself, “Maybe I can build up immunity to allergies if I just expose myself to them more.” So I decided to spend the afternoon weeding out said flowerbed, despite my headache, stuffy nose and scratchy throat. It was great until after dinner, when I felt worse. So much for the immunity theory. I can tell you it doesn’t work. So around 7:30 p.m. I faced a dilemma: go out for a walk as I usually do in the evening, pushing through my allergies, or just put on my jammies and go to bed early. What would you do? Are you someone who pushes through no matter what, or do you realize you have to stop and rest sometimes?
I’m sure you’ve seen so many commercials that advocate just pushing through everything. No pain no gain, just do it, winners never quit, let nothing hold you back, pain is fear leaving, etc. Yeah, those are great and there is a time to push past the pain and struggle. There is even the Christian motto; I can do all things. Which is so often used for exercise and sports themes, we begin to think we really can do everything, and that we MUST do everything. But, what some people don’t realize is that the Apostle Paul wasn’t talking about sports at all in this passage. He was talking about contentedness, and about Christ’s strength, not his own. In fact, he was actually talking about money.
If you’re not familiar with the passage, here it is from Philippians 4:13; “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV). Some Bible versions, such as the English Standard Version, ESV, substitutes the “this” with “things”. But what is the “this” Paul is referring to? Well, it’s not about lifting weights, running marathons, or going for walks. In verses 10 through 12 he explains he had learned to be content whether he has money or is poor, and whether he has eaten or is hungry. See, when Paul wrote this letter to a church in the city of Philippi, he was in jail and he was thanking the church for sending him money and encouragement. And he was reminding them he could only do this (be content) with Christ’s strength, not his own. He had learned that only through Christ’s strength, could he trust in God’s provision.
By the world’s standards Paul would have seemed like a failure, like he didn’t measure up. He had planted many churches, yet here he was in jail and was talking about not having money and even of being without food. We can assume there may have been times when he didn’t have a place to live. He did freelance work as a tentmaker. So, in the passage he is admitting, he had at times been inadequate and lacked money and food. He also mentions he had learned to be content (verse 12). It must have been a process to go through these times of supply and lack so that he realized he could only be content if he relied on Christ. It wasn’t about self-motivation at all. You have to wonder if Paul would have “learned” to be content, had he not had shortcomings in his finances. It’s easier to trust God when everything is going our way. So, this brings me back to my dilemma.
I’m sure you have times when you realized, you didn’t measure up. You felt inadequate. When everyone around you is doing great and everything’s going their way. And here you are, not quite up to the standards, struggling. Maybe even like Paul, you’re struggling with finances or even health problems. You reflect on the times you had plenty and the times you had food or felt great. And that is the secret to finding contentedness, remembering those good times. In fact Paul uses the word “secret” in verse 12; “I have learned the secret of being content”. It is not pushing through, but realizing God’s provision. It is not about doing everything with an attitude I am going to do this because I can if I just try hard enough. It is about recognizing how to be content when you can’t do everything. The secret is relying on Christ for strength to find peace and contentedness despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. And sometimes it is about just putting on your jammies instead of going for a walk. Allergy season will pass. God Bless- Nancy