My stomach was twisting into knots and my hands were shaking in my lap as I waited on the front pew of the church. Soon it would be my turn. And I didn’t want it to be my turn. Every verse, every prayer, every story brought me closer and closer to the time when I would have to stand, walk up on stage, and somehow deliver 20 minutes of harp music to the whole entire audience. My parents had volunteered me to give a “sermon in music,” and that meant I would be playing for the whole second half of the church service that day.
To say I was nervous would have been an understatement: I was terrified. I was only 10 years old. And it was one thing to play a simple 3 minute song and then be done with it. But 20 whole long miserable minutes?! What if I forgot my memorized music? What if I made a hundred mistakes? What if I felt so nervous that I just started crying? I couldn’t remember ever feeling more anxious about anything in all my life. I wanted to run right down the aisle of that church, straight out the back door, through the parking lot, and never come back. And I think I might have, too, if Mom hadn’t started whispering right then.
Mom must have somehow sensed how panicked and crazy I was starting to feel, because she leaned over, squeezed my hand, and whispered in my ear, “Want to know a secret?”
“Does it make people disappear?” I asked.
“No,” she whisper-laughed, “it’s even better: it makes people very, very brave.”
“Tell me!” I pleaded, squeezing her hand back. I had just glanced at the program, and there was only one more person left before me. It was now or never. This better be good.
“There’s a verse in the Bible,” she explained softly, “that says ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,’ and it’s like a secret – a secret to doing hard things. Just before you have to do something really really hard.”
“Like this?!” I interrupted
“Like this,” she agreed, “you can just say that promise, and do you know that you’ll actually feel it making you stronger? It’s true!” She insisted. “Just try it, and find out.”
What did I have to lose? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I said silently to myself. Could I really? Was it true? Would He give me the strength for real? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I repeated again, as I smoothed my white dress. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I said as the pastor called my name, and I stood to walk forward. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I said in my head as I sat down at my harp. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I decided as I pulled the harp back onto my shoulder, placed my fingers on the strings, and started to play.
This would be a much better story if I could tell you that the secret verse helped me play perfect that day. But it didn’t. It would even be great if I could claim that the secret took away all my fears and nervousness, but it didn’t really do that either. What it DID do, however, was exactly what Mom said: it made me brave. Because suddenly, I knew Someone else was helping me. I knew I didn’t have to do that hard thing alone. The verse promised that Jesus would give me the strength I needed to do all things – and He did.
I made it through those 20 minutes of playing with my new strength-secret in my head, and after that, I was hooked. I whispered that verse before every concert, every test, every challenge, and every scary thing I ever had to face. It wasn’t magic. I didn’t always succeed. But Mom never stopped being right – it made me brave. It made me brave because I knew it meant that Jesus could take me through anything.
I’m all grown up now, and can you believe that I still use my secret verse all the time? I didn’t grow up to be a harpist, but I still end up on the front stage of church a lot – telling stories, preaching sermons, and teaching other people about Jesus’ love. You can be sure that every single time I climb the steps and cross the stage to begin talking, I’m saying something very specific inside my head. You know what it is: “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who gives me strength.” And you know what? It still makes me brave.
What I didn’t realize is that my secret verse is THE BIG SECRET of Paul’s whole entire book of Philippians. He’s in jail for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus, some people even want him killed, and things are looking bad for Paul. I’ve been to the jail cell he lived in: it was dark, wet, cold, and made of nothing but chains and rocks. Day after day, Paul sat inside this jail cell, and wrote letters to his friends. In this letter to the Philippians, he wrote what is maybe the biggest, boldest, bravest claim in all his writings anywhere: he said he had learned the secret.
“I have learned the secret to being content in any and very situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And then he revealed his secret, and do you know what it was? It was MY secret. The very same one: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” WOW – this isn’t just the secret to being brave when you’re scared – this is the secret to being at peace no matter what awful, wonderful, wicked, or wild thing life throws at you. This is the secret to everything: Christ can give you the strength to face it. And when you have this secret? It doesn’t really matter what happens. You know that Jesus will somehow see you through.
This Thanksgiving, after this crazy year, I know that one of the things I am MOST thankful for, is the way Jesus can take us through anything. He doesn’t always take bad things away. But He gives us strength and courage to face them bravely. Being brave doesn’t mean we are not afraid. But with Jesus, being brave means we are never alone. We can do all kinds of hard things, because our friend Jesus is with us, giving us strength. I am so thankful I have a friend like this!
Family Talk Time:
1. What tricks or secrets have we tried over the years to face hard times or challenges? Did they work? Why?
2. Paul claims to know the secret to being content in any and every situation. What is Paul’s secret? Could this also be the secret to being thankful at all times? Explain.
3. This thanksgiving, we can think of some situations that are scary, challenging, tricky, or just not something to feel thankful for. What situation are we not feeling too content with or thankful for right now? How can Paul’s secret make us brave enough to face these things?
Prayer: Dear Jesus, next time we feel overwhelmed or afraid, help us to remember that you can give us the strength to face anything. Help us to believe that. Help it to make us brave. And help it to make us thankful to have a wonderful friend like you. Thanks for being the secret to everything. We love you! Amen.
1. There have certainly been times this year when we didn’t feel ready to face any or every situation. And repeating the verse isn’t like waving a magic wand: our problems aren’t going to just go away. How does this promise work when we’re just not feeling strong?
2. What specific situation do we not feel strong enough to face right now? Do we believe Christ will give us the strength to face it?
3. What is the connection between “being content in any situation” and thankfulness? How does one grow the other? How can we grow this in our home right now?