- Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
I Can Do What?
When I began to reflect on “I can,” the first thing that came to my mind was The Little Engine that Could. Maybe it should have been Philippians 4:13, but it wasn’t. Yes, I teach at Bible colleges, but I teach Children’s Literature. The verse was a close second though! Honestly, the two go together (next blog!) It is definitely the “I can” go-to verse though, so we should reflect there a minute.
Our most familiar translation of Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (KJV). See the “I can” there? Do we sometimes add a [‘t] to the end of can? Or do we twist the verse into “I can’t do anything without Christ.” That is an odd take on life because there are plenty of people out there doing lots of great stuff without Christ. I know that doesn’t sound right to say, but it is just true. I thought about this a lot because I am aware that when I start saying, “You can because you think you can” I need everyone to understand the role that God plays in this—and that I am not leaving God out of the “I can” equation!
Let me take the verse back to what it actually says in the Greek (yes, I looked it up and confirmed with my Bible scholar friend*): “I can do all things IN or WITH or ENABLED BY [him] who gives me power.” In other words, we don’t go through Christ like a conduit, we are in/with/enabled by Christ. Therefore, while anyone can climb a mountain, I am going to climb that mountain in/with/enabled by Christ. I can’t say that God told me to climb the crazy mountain (see upcoming blog post), but I will be with Him when I do it and He will be enabling me with power and strength. I don’t know if that matters to anyone else, but for me it changed how I thought about accessing God’s power. I don’t need to go looking for Jesus so I can go through Him—I am already with Him. In addition to my own strength gifted to me by God the day I was created, I have even more strength by means of Christ who I am in/with/enabled by. He and I are on this amazing journey together so I know I can!
I have watched others wait on God. Not that waiting is a bad thing, after all Jesus did tell his followers to wait in Jerusalem—in fact that particular word is used only in that form in Acts 1:4—it was an emphatic “Wait!” Why? They were waiting for the power of the Holy Spirit—that we now have. The word “wait” is found less than 100 times in the Bible, the word “go,” over 1,000. Wait has a time, place, and purpose, but life really seems to be more about action. We are often so busy waiting, that we miss amazing opportunities to make dreams happen! Sometimes we wait for God to drop by and tell us to do the obvious when He is actually there with us waiting for us to just get up and do what we know we should be doing.
In his book, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up the Way You Thought He Would, Pete Wilson (2009) likens the waiting to the life of a surfer sitting on a board, waiting for the perfect wave. Moving ahead too soon or too late means failure. Never trying to catch the wave does too. Some of us have gotten ahead of or behind waves and now have a fear of “going”. As soon as dream comes to us, our immediate answer is “I can’t." That is tragic thinking because (’t) just is not in Philippians 4:13, is it?
When I began considering this, I listened to the words I spoke during a day. I was amazed at how often I said, “I can’t.” (Sometimes I even said, “I won’t.” That was taking it to a completely new level!) Then I listened to others and heard it even more. I thought, “No wonder we think so many things are impossible! We say they are every day!” Start listening! I believe you will be surprised at how many dreams or possibilities you inadvertently speak right out of existence by saying “I can’t.” Stop yourself and rephrase the sentence!
*Note: Almost every translation uses the word through even though the “normal” preposition that is used in Greek to denote the idea of “through” is the preposition “dia." In Phil 4:13, the preposition that is used is the preposition “en.” The preposition “en” has various functions and meanings. The most common translation of the preposition en is the English preposition “in.” However, en also is used regularly to denote the idea of instrumentality. In Phil 4:13, en is usually described as having an “instrumental” meaning, which would typically be translated as “with” or “by means of.” Both of these meanings infuse an interesting nuance to the meaning of Phil 4:13 (i.e. read the verse and substitute the meanings “with” or “by means of” in place of the meaning “through”) (Dan Powers, Ph.D.)