“I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”
I love to take pictures of flowers. Fields of wildflowers, gardens of carefully cultivated flowers, big and bold flowers, simple and plain flowers – wherever I find them, I love to take pictures of flowers.
Most of the time I find flowers where one would expect them to be: in the garden, or in a pot, or in a field, or in the forest. But every once in a while I come across flowers in the most peculiar places. I’ve found flowers growing in the cracks in sidewalks; I’ve found flowers growing in the rain gutters along our roof; I’ve found flowers growing where there is very little oxygen, high up in the alpine tundra.
When Carol and I traveled to Scotland, I saw flowers growing in the rock walls on the side of the roads. People had not planted the flowers; the seeds had just blown (or maybe they were “deposited” by the birds) into the cracks and crevasses of the centuries-old walls. Somehow, though, the flowers grew – flourished, even.
Similarly, when we were hiking in Colorado, I looked off to my left and noticed a bed of flowers growing right on top of a boulder. There were only a few inches of forest compost to serve as soil, but it was enough for the flowers to grow – to flourish, even.
I mention these peculiar places where I have discovered flowers because I know that many times we might find ourselves in less-than-ideal situations or circumstances in our lives. Circumstances that wouldn’t ordinarily be suitable for flourishing. Situations you don’t normally think of when you hear the term, “abundant life.”
And yet, abundant life is precisely what we discover with Jesus. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10. I’ll let you in on a secret: the “they” in that verse refers to you and me!)
I don’t want to pretend to promise that everything is rosy (excuse the pun) with Jesus. We still will experience some of those challenging times in our lives. We will experience difficulties and trials. But when we experience the trials and difficulties with the assurance of Christ’s love and kindness and presence, then I am convinced that the quality of life is different for us. Even in the midst of struggles and challenges, we can thrive, not simply survive.
I have seen different people confronted by the same traumatic experience; and at times I have seen totally different outcomes. Some may come out on the other side embittered by their struggles, ready to give up. Others may come out filled with hope and peace, and even made stronger as a result. Those who come out stronger and more hope-filled invariably owe their strength and hope and peace to their relationship with the Lord. As they have struggled and grieved and cried out, they have found One who comes to them and nourishes them with his love, his grace, his peace.
I am aware that what I am claiming here may be an over-simplification. That is one of the downfalls of trying to address profound truths in brief blog entries. I am fully aware that the struggles many people face are more dire than I will ever know. And I am aware that conditions like depression or anxiety can’t simply be alleviated by saying, “You just need Jesus, and it will all be better.”
I know that it’s not that simple.
But I also know that, no matter the situation in which we find ourselves, we can experience abundant life. Because, Jesus. Because Jesus offers us strength, and courage. Because Jesus introduces hope, and gives us his peace. Because Jesus shines light into our darkness, to dispel and overcome the darkness.
The apostle Paul wasn’t speaking empty, pithy words when he said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” In fact, he was writing those words from a prison cell into which he had been unjustly sent. He had seen success in his ministry, but he had also experienced rejection and persecution, even bodily harm. But the trials and the difficulties he faced were different when he viewed them from the perspective of Christ’s presence and grace.
He knew that abundance wasn’t so much a matter of circumstance, as it was a matter of Who was with him in the midst of the circumstances. That’s why he said, “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. I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
If flowers can grow – flourish, even – between a rock and a hard place, don’t you think it’s possible for you and me to do the same?