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The Meaning We Often Miss in Philippians 4:13

I’ve always scoffed when people quoted Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” it reads. It’s often taken to be this anthem of “I CAN DO EVERYTHING” and “I AM INVINCIBLE” and so on… and I’m not really a fan of that. I think we take that verse and polish it up with red, white, and blue, and make it sound a lot like the American dream. We tell ourselves if we believe in God, he will make everything happen for us– we can do everything with him on our sides, right?!

Yes, but also, no.

This verse is one I’ve been wrestling with in this season of life, a season where I’ve been made even more aware of my weakness, my brokenness, and my sin thanks to weekly counseling sessions. I sit on that couch for an hour and realize just how messy I’ve made things in my life, almost always because of things I tried to control or do on my own strength.

I’m very aware of my weakness. I’m very aware of my shortcomings, my bad habits, my sin patterns, and all the ways I run away from the Lord and rebel.

And yet, I’m learning about what it means that Christ gives me his strength in exchange for my weakness. I’m learning about what it looks like to co-work with Christ on the things he is calling me to. I’m learning to release my grip of all those things I want so desperately to control, and I’m learning about the truly beautiful blessing that surrender is.

And I’m also learning that just because Christ is on my side does not mean everything will suddenly be sunshine and rainbows. There will still be hard times, there will still be bad news, there will still be sin. But there will also be redemption, and healing, and forgiveness, and a whole abundance of grace.

I love that Paul says in the verse right before this one “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Nothing about that says “I believed in God and then everything in my whole life was awesome!” but instead is a much more honest and authentic picture of faith, through good times and in bad, through the valleys and the mountaintops.

It’s a lot less like the American dream of working hard and achieving success, and a lot more like a daily battle of faith through all circumstances.

I was thinking about this verse in the middle of a hot yoga class recently. Random, I know. I was hot, I was tired, I was noticing all the more capable students around me doing the amplifications of every pose (just picture people doing all sorts of crazy handstands and flips and things) and I was feeling incredibly weak and not at all capable. The instructor was making her way around the room, helping students make adjustments and corrections to more properly settle into the poses, and to be honest, I didn’t really want her help. But, as she came my way, I moved into the pose the best I could, and she started to move my arms and adjust my hips to help me get a better stretch. As soon as she made those simple tweaks (that I didn’t know how to do on my own), I realized how much better the pose felt. I realized I felt stronger, more steady. I realized she gave me something I couldn’t have given myself when she stepped in to help me.

I realized that’s what Jesus does for us.

He sees us, shaky and tired and totally incapable of figuring everything, and he steps in to guide us, redirect us, and lovingly help us in our need. He isn’t judgmental about it, he isn’t critical or condeming, but he is gracious and gentle, and he gives us his strength in the place of our weakness.

We are better for it.

All these things we can do through Christ are not because we are so wonderful and awesome and able, but because he is. Philippians 4:13 isn’t an anthem about our own abilities, but an honest prayer of praise to a Father who leads and guides us through all seasons, all circumstances, all trials and tribulations.

The next time I hear that verse (even if out of context), I’ll remember that yoga teacher helping me adjust. I’ll remember that only God, our perfect Teacher, can open our eyes to what needs work and teach us more about his goodness, kindness, and faithfulness when we trust him through the process of our growth.

I’m grateful today for God’s strength. I’m thankful Jesus intervened and saved us, knowing we could never even begin to save ourselves. I’m deeply appreciative of the Spirit who moves among us, gently correcting us, redirecting us, and bringing us deeper into truth. This life of faith was never promised to be easy, but goodness, how much more abundant and free it is to give up our weakness and let Christ be our strength.

Through him only, indeed.

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Rachel Dawson

Rachel Dawson is a believer, editor, writer, social media manager, and bookworm living in Richmond, VA. She's the design editor for a handful of Christian sites by day, and runs The Rising blog and quite a few other creative and community-building endeavors on the side. You’ll often find her in coffeeshops with her nose in a book and a vegan latte in hand, but she’ll drop everything to swap stories and talk about Jesus with you. She also loves the Enneagram, doodling her sermon notes, Instagramming too much, tacos, and sharks... you know, the important things. You can find her online at or @racheladawson on Twitter and Instagram.

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