Friday, January 15, 2016

Through Him Who Strengthens Me


… 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12-13 ESV)

This week, my second-born of five sons turned 18. He’s reached the age of majority, and he has such a hopeful future ahead of him. His birthday marks a milestone for me, too. It’s been 18 years of special needs parenting, 18 years on the spectrum. My husband and I are not done yet. For while our son has largely overcome his challenges, his immediately younger brother remains significantly affected by autism.

A few years ago, I shared with my husband that I believed I was falling apart. I was burning out on homeschooling, parenting, and managing the home, and I no longer had the motivation and tenacity I once did. I was losing physical strength as an autoimmune condition wreaked havoc on my joints. I feared cognitive decline, as I struggled with brain fog, confusion, and even paranoia. There were a couple years where I got very little done. I felt as though I was failing quite miserably. What’s so good about my son’s 18th birthday and his upcoming graduation from high school is seeing the big picture, the totality of our journey together. The clear conclusion is that God has been faithful: The preschooler with global delays—the one for whom the developmental psychologist had given me little hope—has caught up with his peers. There has been so much God work in his life, and so much evidence of his aid to my husband and me in raising him. And I didn’t fall apart after all. I stumbled, but my son and I finished together.

Philippians 4:13 has to be one of the most quoted (and often misapplied) verses of Scripture. It’s such a great concise verse to hold on to, but it can’t really be understood outside of its context. Much of the epistle is Paul’s encouragement to the members of the church in Philippi to join him in pursuing and proclaiming Christ with abandon because of his infinite worth. He calls them to let that mindset shape all of life—their service, the way they relate to each other, their attitude towards suffering, and their obedience to the word of God. His letter is also about the grace of God available to all believers through Jesus Christ. It fuels their pursuit of him and carries them through life, sustaining and perfecting their faith, and filling them with peace regardless of circumstances. Immediately before verse 13, he says, “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.” It is in this context that he makes the statement: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Verse 13 answers the how of verses 11 and 12, and every other imperative in the epistle, really: it is through Christ, who will himself provide the strength.

All things is about all we are called by God to do as believers, beginning with the call to follow Christ. Every other calling is related to the call as a disciple and God’s work of perfecting us and glorifying himself in us. Caring for loved ones with special needs is our work, and Christ is our strength in it.
"I am persuaded there is no work to which a Christian can be called for which he will not be found well qualified…. in all places and in all duties the Christian is always strong enough, if the Lord his God is with him! Without Christ, he can do nothing, but with Christ, he can do all things." --  Spurgeon
There are victories to celebrate and the lowest of seasons in the call to caregiving.  Sometimes we feel on target with meeting our children’s needs, but attention to our marriage slips. At times, we pour so much into caring for our families, but it is at the expense of our own health. In other seasons, there are few areas in which we feel as though we are prospering. Yet, with changing circumstances, there is the assurance that Christ is near and will give strength to endure and to persevere to accomplish what is needed of us for the sake of our loved ones and for God’s glory.
"It seems that God gives faith equal to the emergency, and weak faith can suddenly sprout and swell, and grow, till it comes to be great faith under the pressure of a great trial!" -- Spurgeon 
Writing during imprisonment, Paul has earned credibility to speak about the strengthening presence of God in trials. He’s faces torture, ridicule, treachery, and the loss of reputation and relationships. Aware of his potential martyrdom, he weighs the benefits of dying versus staying and continuing his ministry. Yet, he speaks of having learned contentment—a sense of sufficiency, satisfaction, and of lacking nothing.  But heart rest and divine peace are not uniquely his. It’s available to any believer because God himself supplies it.

When I look back over the past 18 years of special needs parenting, I can see he has strengthened and carried both my children and me, whether I recognized it at the time or not.  But I can also see that fear and not faith has defined too much of my journey.  I want what Paul describes today and for the next decade of parenting—more strength, eyes fixed on Christ, contentment and trust, and the peace of God.

For so many years, I would read this passage of Scripture, and wonder what Paul’s secret was. But it’s been there in plain sight all along: It is that he supplies the strength to rejoice, and to give thanks in all things. He supplies the peace and contentment because he changes the heart and mind.  He supplies the energy to work, to keep on working, and to rejoice in it. So, we pray for these, and even in our praying, we need the help of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, infuse us with your strength and grace to persevere in the work you have called us to do--the ministry of raising our special children and caring for our loved ones. Give us your joy, peace, and contentment in it. Amen

~Michele Bovell

Quotes taken from Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermon, "All-Sufficiency Magnified," November 18, 1860, Exeter Hall

2 comments:

  1. What a blessing of encouragement. Thank you. Beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm encouraged to know it was a blessing to you, Denie!

    ReplyDelete