finishing marathons and winning football games in the name of Christ

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I am not a contented person by nature.
I’m always wanting more.

I spent three days in a Tanzanian village earlier this week and realized how very discontented I am.  I didn’t miss (for those three days) running water or electricity.  Taking a bath out of a bowl of water isn’t so bad, and the absence of electricity only meant the night sky would be absolutely stunning.

But I can’t express to you how much I missed soft chairs, beds, and couches.*  The cushiest thing I sat on during my stay in the village was a rock; and I thanked God for it’s anatomically-contoured curves.  But still I was not content.  I secretly longed to go read my Bible while sitting comfortably in the truck that was parked just a few meters away.

Nor was I content with the food I was served. I ate what was placed before me and enjoyed the company,** but I sure missed having some variation in my diet.  In my mind, a guy can only eat so much rice or ugali — and dipping it in the same accompanying sauce at every meal is not my forte.  Boredom sets in quickly with tasteless starches dunked in tomato-flavored boiled water.

I am not by nature a content person.  And neither are you. Contentment is not inherent in fallen man. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What I Learned On My Summer Mission Trip

Every short-term-mission-trip-goer is an expert on contentment.  Because they’ve witnessed firsthand Haitians living in huts and Hondurans living off beans and rice.  These Christians return to the states with a renewed appreciation for what they have and a strong desire to be as content as the completely satisfied Latin Americans.

To hear these mission trip goers, you’d think selfishness and materialism is a North American disease, one to which the rest of the world is immune.  Not true.

The African living under a thatch roof desperately wants one made of tin.  The Haitian family sleeping together in one bedroom lusts after their neighbors’ two-bedroom home.  Godly contentment is not something the third-world has a firm grasp on.  If you’ve witnessed true contentedness, it’s likely due to the Holy Spirit and not the absence of wealth.***

Paul Says…

“…I’ve learned to be happy no matter what the situation.  On one hand I’ve experienced not having anything at all, but on the other I’ve at times had more than I could ever possibly need or use.  But most importantly, I have learned the secret of being content in all circumstances, whether hungry or full, whether lounging on a rock or a leather couch, and whether or not I own the newest Iproduct.  I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”  — Philippians 4:11-13

A(n extremely) Common Misuse of Scripture

It’s odd that we’ve interpreted this last verse to mean nearly the exact opposite of what Paul intended. When I see a high school football team with Philippians 4:13 printed on the back of their state championship shirts, or a group of marathon runners who believe this verse means they can, and should, complete 26.2 miles to display Jesus’ power in them, I am saddened.

This verse would be more appropriately demonstrated by the little crippled boy who will never run a step in his life, but is happy just to be in the crowd.  Or the football players who can’t play a lick and lose all their games, but enjoy the season and its accompanying camaraderie all the same.  The family who has just lost a child in a car accident, but still believes — and acts as if — God is good.  Or the Christian couple who desperately desire to have children but are unable and, so, volunteer their time at the local Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.

While I’m certainly not against accomplishing great feats of athleticism — and am myself a runner and triathlete (though not one with any great feats to his name) — we can’t forget that “doing all things” to Paul meant being content no matter how horrible the situation.

[I would argue that the expression of joy during times of success is not nearly the witness of Christ as is the demonstration of contentment during defeat, poverty, or hard times.]

And Christ’s strength in us is the secret of that inextinguishable joy.

That is the meaning of Philippians 4:13 and the big secret Paul had learned — that Christ enables us to be content in any and every situation.  Whether we’re marathon finishers or cassava farmers in Bilyahilu village, whether we’ve just received a raise or a pink slip, whether we live in an air-conditioned home or under a thatch-roof, we can have joy and Godly contentment because of Christ in us.

* I suppose this was made worse by my sore bottom due to arriving by bicycle.
** Well, all but the beans — God’s worst invention.
*** Though I’ll give you that the absence of wealth may give you a head start on contentment.  Seems like Jesus may have touched on that with the whole camel-going-through-the-eye-of-a-needle thing.



Filed under living in africa, modern-day retelling, musings on the Word, sports

18 responses to “finishing marathons and winning football games in the name of Christ

  1. Lance

    Hey man! I admit that I have not your (or any other) blog for months and months. This fall was super crazy with some added responsibilities and I just got way out of the habit. It was refreshing to read your thoughts and see the awesome pic of you, Christie and beautiful little Baylor 🙂 T and I ate dinner together last night and talked about how jealous we were that RaDora was heading that way! Miss you guys!

    • Lance

      *have not read, that is…

    • i forgive you both for not reading my blog and for your hugemongous grammatical blunder.

      and beautiful baylor turns one-year old tomorrow. radora’s arriving just in time for the party…

      i miss you and t. a hefty war eagle to both of you (but i duck after giving him his).

  2. Amen..

    I have taught that Philippians 4:13 would be better read:

    “I am content regardless of my circumstance because I have Jesus – the all in all”

    • sounds like a good reading. i was told a few days ago that the newest NIV translation reads, “i can do all this because of Christ who strengthens me.” that ALL THIS is a very important ‘all this.’

  3. fantastic blog – so true what you said about how we use that last verse in the opposite way it was intended. I’ve been exploring lately how we interpret the Scriptures through our suburban lenses and neglect its original context – namely persecution, etc. Well done, loved this.

  4. Just discussing this very verse this morning with my gal pal (whom I sent your blog to ) !!! She home schools 7 kids (5 bio, 2 Ethiopian)and does not teach them to ”memorize” this verse (like all good bible /sunday school teachers would do)!
    We CANNOT do ALL things! No matter how much I pray, or have ‘faith’ or practice shooting hoops every day, I will NOT BE MICHAEL JORDAN!
    love this. 🙂

    • that’s her————/*

    • chrissy, thanks for passing my post on to your gal pal and her basketball team (w/ two alternates). my daughter’s not old enough to memorize verses yet, but it’s good for me to be thinking about this ahead of time.

      however, you point out your friend’s comment below as if i offer a referral fee. sorry to disappoint you, chrissy, but all i can give you is your money back on what you’ve read so far.

      • well then,
        since I withheld my tongue on your use of my Gator boy Tebow’s pic on this post * just in case such a monetary gain was possible*…….
        and you rudely decline,
        LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING MISTER……you are in Gator Country round here, “chomp chomp”!!! 😉

        • i’d hardly say i declined rudely.

          and are you really a florida gator? i grew up in dothan, alabama — not far at all from you guys. though i’m an auburn tiger myself.

          [commence the “paying our quarterback” jokes.]

  5. Love that. So true. You put it to words so well.

    • thank you for your compliment, tisha. and thanks for coming by the blog. even if you were forced into it because of chrissy wanting to get a referral fee. she’s such a cheapskate… that chrissy.

      and thanks for the link on your blog. it looks like you’ve been sending people my way all morning. i appreciate it.

  6. Eagle

    About the Philippians 4:13…yup I leanred this the hard way. What was worse was dealing with the criticism from the from those within the “Christian bubble….” who wield this version of Philippians 4:13 in the same dangerous manner like a young kid finds his father’s gun. Adverse work situations, being in a thrid world nation in the midst of war also taught me that.

  7. Pingback: scripture in context: answer key | aliens and strangers

  8. I love it when football players PLAY in the name of Christ. But the winning does NOT have anything to do with their prayers or their Christianity. I REFUSE to pray that a particular team win (even my son, I think. I might have slipped a couple times there…) because there are most likely Christians on both teams.

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