“I Don’t Know How”
I remember this experience just like it was yesterday. Melinda was driving as we were making our way back home. We had been in Scottsdale, Arizona, for a visit with family and friends. While we were there, we were introduced to a delightful group of believers. These saints were assembled for a time of corporate fellowship to which Melinda and I were invited. It was in that time of fellowship that this brother made some very poignant remarks in reference to the text of scripture found in Philippians 4:11-13. Here is the text from the King James Version of the bible:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 -- I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
What was spoken about this passage of Scripture gripped me and even after our departure it was still ringing in my ears. In those days I was going through a particularly difficult time of transition. Without a doubt, the Lord was doing some deep things in me during those times—much of which I was struggling to understand. We had left a church plant in northeast Texas, of which I was one of the primary leaders, and we had moved to Bossier City, Louisiana. Our departure was fraught with interpersonal conflict. I had been moving along a trajectory for a decade and a half continuing to feel that I was on the track that the Lord had put me on. But in 1990 things started to unravel. I vividly remember that in those days the Lord spoke a very clear word that completely indicated an eminent and monumental transition. I was the only one in our existing leadership team that heard that word. I determined to set myself to seek and to walk in obedience to the word that I had heard.
After some months of attempting to clearly understand what the practical implications were of what the Lord was saying about that transition, relationships began to fracture. The eventual result was an implosion. The enemy was fast at work sowing distrust and chaos. But, the Lord was also at work pressing those who were willing into a new season. Those were days of extreme turmoil and anguish. Uncertainty abounded. Darkness loomed over the relationships in our lives, and eventually, the Lord spoke clearly to me and Melinda that we were to leave East Texas and move to Bossier City, Louisiana.
All of that put us into a search mode. What exactly was God doing? What was He saying about us and our future. I never questioned the call of God on my life. Melinda and I made all of the adjustments necessary to begin a new chapter for ourselves and our six children. Those were days of wonder—we wondered what the heck had happened! We wondered what the heck was going to happen! We were starting over with almost nothing in the way of finances. No job, no income, no real plan. Almost all of the people in our lives had pulled back from us as a result of a smear campaign and a publicly announced instruction specifically about us that could only be explained as we had been “blacklisted.” In fact, we were told that the leadership told the congregation explicitly not to have anything to do with us. So as you can imagine, it was a very difficult time for us.
It was during this time that we made the trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. I knew that we were supposed to make that trip, and I felt that during the trip the Lord was going to say some things to us and show us some things. During that trip the man of God I referred to earlier preached a message from Philippians 4:11-13 (which was, generally speaking, a very familiar passage to us). However, he emphasized and expounded on some of the text in ways that were new to me/us.
“I can do all things”
I was 42 years old at that time and had been saved for 22 years. I had been active in ministry for most of those 22 years, so I had been around the block quite a few times. At the age of 20, I was born again. My experience with the Lord was incredibly profound, and I was immediately put on a fast track. I was learning and growing like crazy. Very early on in my experience with the Lord, I had the clearest sense that there was a calling on my life. In those days I did not even have words to articulate what I was sensing, but it was undoubtedly gripping. It was real! I was growing in the knowledge of the scriptures and generally in my relationship with the Lord.
One of the verses of New Testament scripture that I call a “refrigerator verse” is Philippians 4:13. You know what I mean, don’t you, when I say a “refrigerator verse”? It’s that class of scripture that includes the all-time favorites from the Bible. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” is certainly one of the scriptures in that category. I read in many times; I could quote it word for word. I had it stuck on my refrigerator as a daily reminder. It was great! It was true! And, I believed it, but there was so much more that I didn’t know. Of course, you know that we don’t know what we don’t know right? So, I knew what this portion of scripture said, and I believed it. But what I didn’t know was that I didn’t know the rest of what the text was saying. I knew a portion of the content, but I certainly did not know the broader context. I had not considered the whole thought—only the portion that was most quoted and most spoken about. I was familiar with the portion of the thought that says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” But, I was unfamiliar with the whole thought. I had taken as my own a portion of the thought contained in the passage of scripture, and as a result, my application of verse 13 was not anchored to verses 11 and 12.
Without realizing it, I needed more understanding about what the “all things” that Paul was speaking about meant. It was in Scottsdale, Arizona, when I heard the man of God expound on the entire text that clarity began to come to me. From that moment I knew that I needed to take the time to consider what the lead in to verse 13 was. So, there we were driving on the Interstate headed east making our way back home. I was meditating on the Philippians 4:11-13 passage. I knew that there were things in it that I needed. And then it hit me! The portion that I was pulled into was, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.”
I sat there in the passenger seat of the car as Melinda drove us, and I began to cry. Melinda noticed that I had become very quiet. She looked at my face and realized that I was crying. She asked me, “Are you ok?” I said, “No, I’m not ok.” She asked, “What is going on with you?” I said, “I don’t know how.” She said, “What do you mean that you don’t know how?” I said, “I don’t know how to be abased, and I don’t know how to abound.”
That encounter with the Lord and with Philippians 4:11-13 shifted me. The days and weeks following that day were days of intense reflection; they were days of repentance and seeking the Lord. They were days of crying out to God from a place of sincere inquiry. I wanted to “know how.” The day on the interstate was a day of revelation for me. It was a revelation of the truth of the scripture, but it was also a revelation of the truth of my condition. I so very desperately needed to learn “how to be abased and how to abound.” Beginning on that day, my prayer and my pursuit was that I would come to a place where I too could say that “I have learned” and that “I know how.”
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