We’ve been watching a lot of Olympic coverage here at Chez Martin. We’ve heard Gabby Douglas and Lolo Jones (and others) talk about their faith, and it’s great to hear these young people willing share that this is an important part of their lives. The questions become more complex, though, when these athletes who claim Christian faith don’t win the medals. How does that fit with “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”? This article at Christianity Today gives a nice response, but I want to go into a bit more depth here.
Does God promise us an easy life, a perfect life? No. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we get to win gold medals if we live good Christian lives. In fact, we are told to expect problems and difficulties. John 16:33 “. . . In this world you will have trouble. But, take heart! I have overcome the world!” But Jesus said that he is with us and has already beaten them!
We’re never alone. God is always with us, even when life really sucks. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Our life circumstances may not be what we want or expected – I have chronic headaches, Lolo Jones didn’t get a medal, etc. – but God is walking through it with us. If that’s not comforting, I don’t know what is!
James 1:2-4 tells us to “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Some of these athletes that we’re watching on TV are in the process of losing their dreams. Where is God in that? He’s right there. He’s teaching His children through every circumstance, Olympic or mundane, to love Him and serve him more.
God is not like Santa Claus – if we’re good, we get presents. God allows us to live through the circumstances of life, whether of our making, someone else’s, or just “random” (although with God holding together the universe, nothing is truly random). And then God uses those events to teach us and mold us to be more like him.
Let’s also look at who Jesus hung around with. He chose to be with the poorest and most humble of people. His disciples were fishermen – not exactly the upper crust of society. He had dinner with Pharisees (religious leaders) and with Lazarus (rich but immoral), but he also spent time with outcasts like the Samaritan woman. So, while it’s certainly not wrong to pursue excellence like gold medals, it’s also important to remember that Jesus doesn’t love successful people any more than he loves anyone else.
And what about Philippians 4:16 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me.” [NKJV] Let’s look at the entire passage.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
It appears that Paul is saying that he can be content in all circumstances through Jesus’ strength, not that he can do whatever he pleases. I heard in church so often that if we just prayed enough, we could do anything. At times, that message would be tempered by saying that we could do anything that was God’s will. Yet, it appears that Paul is trying to tell us that he has the strength to be content in any situation through Jesus. It’s an incredibly important lesson, but quite different from the usual interpretation.
When we think about Christ strengthening us, maybe we need to think about him strengthening us to be content. When life doesn’t work out the way we want or expect, Jesus is still walking right there with us. When we fall, He picks us up.
Where is God when it hurts? Right beside me.