Can I really do "all things" in God's strength?
Can I really do "all things" in God's strength?

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Dear Christians in Sport,

I often see and hear the phrase, ‘I can do all things through him who gives me strength’ as a motivational mantra for Christian athletes like myself. But what does this phrase actually mean? Am I really able to do all things through the one who strengthens me?

This is a brilliant question. To answer this, firstly, let’s have a look at why such a phase appeals so effectively to sportspeople:

Competitive sports people are driven people:

  • Driven in their persistence to find marginal gains.
  • Driven by the pursuit of that elusive PB.
  • Driven to squeeze more in and leave all out on the field.

We’re also driven in finding things that motivate us:

  • Things that give us a little bit extra when the going gets tough.
  • Things that take our mind off the pain and help us fix our eyes on the outcome.

We all have them - mantra’s, whispered chants, thought processes. Anything that can give you a little bit more, a little bit extra. That special motivation that works only for you!

Finding motivation in the Bible

What happens when we take our motivational search to the Bible? Is the Bible the place to find motivation for sporting pursuit and thus sporting greatness? Is that how the Bible works?

The nineteenth century witnessed the birth of ‘muscular christianity’, a belief which first appeared in English private schools. It aimed to instil desirable traits of character through competition in games. It started the emergence of the connection between a faith in God and competitive sport. Ever since then the use of Biblical language for competitive justification and motivation has been a hot topic.

Fast forward two centuries and we find these so called motivational Bible texts being used by everyday competitive Christians:

  • Underlined in a bible.
  • Printed on a poster.
  • Tattooed on a forearm.

Here’s one such verse - a favourite ‘go to’ for many, Philippians 4:13:

I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. (New English Translation)

Can I really do all things with the strength of God?

But am I really able to do “ALL THINGS” with the strength of God as my enabler?

  • To be the fastest man on earth over 100 meters if I try really hard using only God’s strength?
  • To be the best in my discipline…in my club…in my district…in my nation…in the world?

So let’s use this verse as the lab-rat to test against the theory that the Bible can provide motivation for the competitive sports person. Context is always the key controller in understanding the meaning of the Bible. We must ask these kind of questions:

  • What is Paul saying to the church in Philippi at this particular time using these specific words?
  • What is the authors intent which has been inspired and breathed out by God?

A major theme running through the book of Philippians is one of joy and rejoicing. Paul uses the word ‘rejoice’ eight time in four short chapters. He’s in chains - in prison for speaking about Jesus. He awaits trial, punishment; for sure, death likely and yet still he is joyful. That’s incredible when I picture my fickleness towards the subject of joy - my joy is almost only circumstantial: the fleeting moments of passing joy that a big win can muster perhaps.

But whats this ‘rejoicing’ that Paul speaks about that isn’t found in a moment, an experience or a performance, but a state?

4:11-12 gets us to reason he writes verse 13:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. (NIV)

Whatever the circumstance, says Paul I have learned to be content.

Surely not! Surely not when you’re dropped, injured, lost form, lost friends - surely not then? Yes, this is a contentment for Paul that leads to a rejoicing in Jesus whatever the circumstance - starving, beaten, ship-wrecked, abandoned, again and again and again.

Then comes verse 13:

I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. (New English Translation)

In moments of desperation and despair, disgrace and discouragement I am able to do all things. When I am well-nourished and have plenty I am able to do all things. That is to find contentment in every given moment, in every given situation says the Apostle.

Yes and no!

So is Philippians 4:13 written with the intent for motivation to do whatever I put my mind to? We have to say yes and no!

Paul’s context answers the ‘no part.'

This isn’t about what I do or what I can achieve or what legacy I can leave. Paul is not urging me here to reach for the stars and God will give me all His strength to achieve all of my dreams - that’s certainly not it and praise God that it’s far more richer than that.

And so here’s the ‘yes part.'

If I have been transformed in Christ as I trust in him for forgiveness of sins then he is able to create in me a heart of deep contentment that leads to a life of deep joy and rejoicing. I am literally able to face anything that sport throws at me - rejection, retirement and ruptured knee ligaments with a contentment that is only found in knowing Jesus with the strength that he gives.

My perspective is changed. My positivity no longer only lingers around my highs. I can claim a state of super-natural satisfaction at every turn of life - I really can!

No he doesn’t grant me super power to achieve my goals or miraculous motivation to perform to ‘A’ standard in every game. But he does grant me a super power of contentment to face every trial and tribulation in sport and life with the strength that He gives through Christ who lives in me - the hope of glory!

Get this right and it’s rich motivation for life.

Do you have any questions about sport and faith?
Send them to us at askcis​​​ or feel free to contact us via social media

Ian Lancaster

Ian is the UK Team Leader at Christians in Sport. He runs with Alchester Running Club and is one of the leaders at Town Church Bicester.

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