You Can Do More Than You Think: God’s Answer to Despair
July 22, 2020
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My text is only one verse of Scripture, but what a verse it is. You’ve heard it, you’ve read it, and most of you have memorized it. It reads like this in the New King James Version: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The NIV says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
The Living Bible expands the text this way: “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me strength and power.”
J.B. Phillips gave us this colorful rendering: “I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.”
Finally, here is the unique translation of the Twentieth Century New Testament: “Nothing is beyond my power in the strength of him who makes me strong!”
For most of us, Philippians 4:13 is an old friend. You know this verse, you learned it in Sunday School, and perhaps you have it on a plaque or a wall hanging. But knowing a verse so well may mean that it no longer amazes or challenges us.
Can we really believe Philippians 4:13
This is message # 8 in the series Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Can, You Have, You Will. This may be the biggest promise of all because it is so broad. The Bible says you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
Most people would say, “I can do some things but not all things.” But the Bible says, “All things.” Is this hyperbole or is it literally true? We have two problems with this verse. Paul seems too confident (“I can”) and the promise seems too broad (“do all things”). We know what this verse says, but can we believe it when hard times hit?
Can we do “all things”? I am going to give you four answers to that question. Along with each answer, I will also give you a principle to think about.
Answer #1: You Can If You Want To.
I call this the principle of Personal Desire. Before the deed comes the desire to do it. To accomplish your goals, you’ve got to decide what you want to do.
There’s an important lesson for us to learn. Isn’t it a principle in life that you usually get the things you really go after? If you want something with all your heart, and if you focus all your energies toward one supreme goal, that’s what you’re going to achieve.
That’s not the end of the story, but it is the place you must begin. If you want it badly enough, you have a fighting chance of getting it. If you don’t care, then it probably won’t happen.
Before the deed comes the desire
I’m not much of a counselor. It’s not the area of my training, my gift or my expertise. But like all pastors, I talk to many people about their personal problems. Although I’m not a counselor, I have learned a lot about human nature by casual observation.
Through the years I have learned this much: If you’ve got a problem in your life, you’re going to get better faster if you stop saying “can’t” and start saying “won’t.” Once you start saying “won’t,” you’ve put the matter in the right framework.
We say, “I can’t forgive” or “I can’t find time to read the Bible” or “I can’t witness for the Lord.” When you say “won’t” instead of “can’t,” you have started to tell the truth. For most of us, “can’t” is a convenient excuse.
Is it possible for you to do “all things”? Yes, it is. But you must want to. That’s answer number one—the principle of Personal Desire.
Answer # 2: You Can If God Wants You To.
This is the principle of Divine Direction. This verse is not a blank check. Paul emphasizes this when he says, “I can do all things through Christ.” It’s not as if Paul is saying, “I can do anything I can dream up.” If you read the context, he is speaking about the varying and sometimes difficult circumstances of life. In verse 11 he says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Here’s my paraphrase of verse 12:
“Sometimes I have a roof over my head,
And sometimes I don’t.
I’ve been laid up sick,
And I’ve had good health
I’ve eaten like a king,
And I’ve had nothing on my plate.
I’ve had money in the bank
And I’ve been flat broke.
I’ve learned to be content no matter
What my situation might be.”
With that in mind, we can paraphrase verse 13 this way: “I have learned through the power of Jesus Christ that I can face whatever comes my way.” If it’s good, I can enjoy it. If it’s not so good, I can deal with it because I have access to the everlasting strength of Jesus Christ.
If God is in your difficulty, you can face it
Let me put this teaching in one sentence: Through Jesus Christ you can do everything God wants you to do. You can face everything he wants you to face, you can fight every battle he wants you to fight, you can obey every command, you can endure every trial, and you can overcome every temptation through Jesus Christ.
If God is in it, you can do it. That brings it all together, doesn’t it?
If God is in your difficulty, you can face it.
If God is in your failure, you can overcome it.
If God is in your dreams, your dreams will come to pass.
If God is in your goals, you can achieve every single one of them.
If God is in your prayers, he will answer them.
Can you really do “all things”? You can if God wants you to.
Answer # 3: You Can If You Rely on Jesus Christ.
This is the principle of Divine Enablement. We come now to the heart of the verse: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” The Greek word means “to pour strength into.” It’s like pouring water into a glass or coffee into a cup. It’s the picture of an empty vessel filled by an outside source. When we face the problems of life, Jesus Christ pours his strength into us.
This makes Philippians 4:13 totally different from purely secular approaches to life. How far will positive thinking get you when you lose your job, when your wife has left you, when the stock market crashes, or when your daughter decides to have an abortion? Where’s the hope for life? What will you cling to then? How will you find the strength to go on? Where is the anchor for your soul?
It takes more than positive thinking. You’ve got to have Jesus Christ on the inside. Are we who believe better than other people? No. Are we stronger? No. Does God give us a free pass so that what happens to others doesn’t happen to us? No. Are we exempt from the Coronavirus? No.
We suffer heartache and disappointment just like anyone else in the world. We endure suffering, sadness, and opposition. We weep because we live in a fallen world. All that anyone else suffers, we suffer too.
You’ve got to have Jesus Christ on the inside
What makes the difference? Only one thing: Jesus Christ within. We have the power of the indwelling Christ who strengthens us. Paul addressed this in another famous passage: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35). All these things happen to the children of God, but they cannot separate us from Jesus Christ. We are bound to him by cords of love that nothing on earth can sever.
Is Jesus enough for the problems of life? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and the saints across the ages say the same. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul never says, “Jesus will get you out of trouble,” but he does say, “Jesus will never leave us.”
You can do “all things” if you rely on Jesus Christ. Not in your own strength, not in your own wisdom, and not in your own ability to figure things out. But if you say, “Lord Jesus, I’m relying on you,” you can do all things through Christ.
Answer # 4: You Can If You Start Today and Don’t Look Back.
This is the principle of Personal Choice. Which way are you going in life? Your answer makes all the difference. Many people live in the past, worry about the past, and fret over the past. Forget it! It’s over, done, gone, finished. You can’t go back even if you want to. Remember the First Rule of Spiritual Progress:
I can’t go back.
I can’t stay here.
I must go forward.
There is no “Reverse” gear in the spiritual life. The river of God’s purpose flows only in one direction–forward!
Let me put it all together. Can you really do “all things” through Christ? Yes, you can.
Here are the four principles:
- Personal Desire
- Divine Direction
- Divine Enablement
- Personal Choice
Notice that the first one is personal, the next two are divine, and the last one is personal. There’s a perfect balance here. Two depend on you and two depend on God. Does it depend on you? Yes. Does it depend on God? Yes. Look again at this verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It begins with I, ends with me, and Jesus Christ is in the middle.
All things through Christ!
We can boil it down to four words: “I can through Christ.” To make it clearer, let me explain what I am not saying.
I am not saying, “I can do all things.” Those are the words of a boaster.
I am not saying, “I can do some things.” Those are the words of a doubter.
But I am saying, “I can do all things through Christ.” Those are the words of a believer.
You can do everything God wants you to do. You can fulfill his will in your life. You can obey every command, endure every trial, and overcome every temptation. You can do everything God wants you to do through Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you should make this into a motto and stick it on your dashboard: “I can through Christ.”
The Little Engine That Could
Many of you remember a story called The Little Engine That Could. No doubt you’ve read it to your children many times. I’m sure I heard it as a child, but I never thought about it until my years as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. Several times each semester Dr. John Walvoord, our esteemed president, spoke to us. Like nearly all the students, I was in awe of Dr. Walvoord. He made a huge impression on me even though I only knew him from a distance. That’s why this story stays in my mind almost a half-century later. One day in chapel he spoke on Philippians 4:13, hoping to encourage us that with the Lord’s help we could finish the semester well.
“I think I I can. I think I can!”
It was a fine message, but I mostly remember what he did at the end. He wrapped up his message with the story of The Little Engine That Could. It amazed me to hear this great man repeat a simple children’s tale.
I’m sure you remember how it goes. The boys and girls in the town on the other side of the big mountain were waiting for the train to bring them their toys. The train was filled with teddy bears, dolls, stuffed animals, tops, and jackknives. There were baskets filled with food and candy: red-cheeked apples, big golden oranges, bottles of creamy milk for breakfast, fresh spinach for their dinners, and peppermint drops and lollipops for dessert.
But to get to the town, you had to go up, up, up the mountain and then down, down, down the other side. Not an easy thing to do. When the train with the toys came to the last stop before the mountain, the engine broke. What to do? The engineer went looking for another engine to carry the train with the toys over the mountain to the boys and girls on the other side.
He went to the roundhouse and talked to several engines, but no one was interested. One big shiny engine said he only carried passenger trains. The diesel locomotive didn’t want to bother with a load of toys. One by one, all the big engines said no. Then from a corner came a voice, “I’ll do it.” It was a little blue switch engine. “I’ll carry the train with the toys over the mountain to the boys and girls on the other side.” “But you’re much too small.” “I’m willing to give it a try.”
So they hooked the little engine up to the train with the toys. That’s where the drama begins. You remember how the little engine began to gather steam for its climb up the mountain. Puff, puff, chug, chug, puff, puff, chug, chug. As it gathered speed, the little engine that could began to say to itself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can,” each time a little faster than before. Up the mountain it went: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
At last, straining with every ounce of energy, the train cleared the crest and started down the other side. Seeing the train in the distance, the children cheered and waved and danced with delight. Down the mountain came the train—chug, chug, chug—with the little engine saying to itself, “I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.”
If you hook up with Jesus Christ, you can climb that mountain!
Most of you right now are on the other side of the mountain. You may face a marital crisis or financial difficulty. Perhaps your doctor has given you some bad news. Your career may be in trouble. Your children may be wandering from the Lord. You may face an impossible task. The mountain in front of you seems so high that you are tempted to give up without even trying.
Here’s the lesson from Philippians 4:13: If you hook up with Jesus Christ, you can climb that mountain. When you come to the end of this year, you’ll say, “I thought I could.” Right now, it’s only, “I think I can.” But remember, through Jesus Christ you can.
The story of The Little Engine That Could is charming, but it is not entirely biblical. There are two important differences between the story and our text. First, the little engine said, “I think I can.” But Paul was saying, “I know I can.” Second, the little engine relied on its own power to get over the mountain. But we have available to us the resources of an infinite God. That’s the difference between “I think” and “I know.”
Can you really do “all things”?
Through Jesus Christ you can.
Jesus will give you everything you need to do everything he calls you to do
Here’s the Big Promise for today: Jesus will give you everything you need to do everything he calls you to do. In that confidence, let us go forward saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Lord of All Things,
Deliver us from paralyzing fear.
Help us to trust you more.
Thank you for bringing us to hard places and difficult moments.
Help us to make no excuses.
We gladly yield ourselves to you.
We ask you to make this verse come true for us.
May your strength enable us to do more than we think we can.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.