Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
The last time I went through the Epistles, these verses stood out to me, and they have remained.
We’re standing in a season of change for a lot of people, and that season is not just for the college students and young adults who are making large transitions into college, grad school, or embarking upon a career. There are also those parents and family members who, after close to two decades of time and effort, are seeing their greatest investment walk out into the world to stand on their own.
This season calls for these experiences, and even if it’s not your own personal story right now, this time likely still brings about memories or anxiety or excitement. Few people remain unaffected by seeing others embark on a new journey.
In the middle of these segue stages of life, we must not walk into such moments with unreal expectations. To be sure, these times will serve as a benchmark for many of our steps going forward, but so often, we tend to think (young people especially) that the mere stepping out into a new stage of life will force all the changes we desire to come about.
College, marriage, grad school, a new job – we often seem to consider such things as a destination. This thought is not explicit. In fact, we term such things as “turning over a new leaf” and, in the case of marriage, “starting our new lives together” in the hopes that things will be different. Because things do look different on the outside, we assume that the mission has been accomplished.
With such expectations, though, what we have hoped for is a kind of wizardry. The move, the marriage, and the “fresh start” act as an incantation designed to eliminate the effects of gravity that we feel pulling us.
Remember as a child those moments when you would jump up and down on a trampoline or perhaps on the bed? During those brief moments of suspension, a part of us feels like we will never come down. Every time I came back down onto that elastic tarp, a part of me felt like, “All right, this next jump is going to be the one; I can feel it.” The child in me believed that if the jump was just a little bit higher, then I would in fact take off and fly.
That might sound silly, but the truth is that our leaps into new things can be exactly the same. We jump up and out into a new town, a new career, a new relationship, and what we believe about the new thing is that “this time it will be the one; I can feel it.” Some of these leaps result in a thud. Like the time that I was jumping on a trampoline and landed on the outer mat, fell through to the springs, and was left dangling upside down by my leg. During such times, we may realize the superficiality that can go along with such leaps, but I think we usually just think of those moments as prime reasons for trying again.
The result of our leaps tends to be far less dramatic than either the soaring flight or the crashing thud. Typically, it is more like dust settling or when the chocolate syrup slowly sinks to the bottom of your glass of milk despite your vigorous stirring. Big change causes explosions of learning and adjusting, yes, but without the proper perspective, we will settle in and the dust will fall to precisely the same places it had been before. The settling goes unnoticed; the facade of our new environment will fool us.
Eventually, though, the same depressions reappear. Old temptations are able to win again. The same obstacles that kept us from moving forward become visible again as the dust clears. Then, we usually stake out for the promotion. We look to get engaged, get married, and have kids. Or, we will aspire toward graduation. Benchmark after benchmark after benchmark goes by.
This is the context of Philippians 4:13. Oftentimes, the context we wrap around this verse comes from the ecstatic leaps we make. We journey to new adventures and claim that Jesus Christ will be our strength to, to do what exactly? Start new? Begin fresh?
Paul doesn’t seem to be speaking in such a manner. Instead, he talks before about learning to be content no matter where he is, and there is only one reason he is able to do such things. Christ strengthens him to do all things. In Christ, Paul endures the minutia along with the great trials. His hope of transformation rests, not in some illusory change of scenery, but in the redemptive power of Christ.
There’s nothing magic about big change. Most of it is only external. Christ’s work in you and in me and in the church, now that’s extraordinary. That’s where we, as a Church and as a people, need to start putting our hope again.