I had the privilege of helping coach a very good 9-11 year old baseball team this year. During the regular season our team won 12 of 14 games including an area tournament. Of the games we won, almost all of them were by several runs. Our advantage right from the get-go was base running, and everyone improved their all-around game throughout the year. It was one of the best sports teams that I have been a part of, and I have been a part of many.
We headed into the Dixie Youth divisional tournament with the top 12 “All Stars” from the 16 we started with during the regular season. We had a few weeks of practice before we played and everyone was looking very good and ready. Before the opening game one of our coaches, Robbie, introduced the kids to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV), to give them a positive mental focus and as a way of intentionally planting gospel seed in some young hearts. Building on that I shared a word of wisdom form Ecclesiastes 9:10, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might …” (ESV) , saying that this was a window of opportunity that would close on us pretty quickly and we should give it our best effort. We prayed together before the game. I was usually the one who prayed. Never once did I pray for victory, and our head coach, Greg, this day made sure the kids understood that we weren’t praying for victory, but that we would do our best. I always prayed first to thank God for the privilege and opportunity to play and for the creation and the ability to enjoy it. I also prayed for the health and safety of everyone involved on both teams, and that we would all play hard, play smart, and have fun. We never prayed for a win.
We won the first game 12 to 4. Many of the kids had written Philp 4:13 on their shoes or the inside of their hats. The second game had us matched up with a team that we had already beaten rather handily during the regular season more than once. Before this game I shared Proverbs 16:18 with the kids, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (ESV). I told them not to overlook this team because we had won big the day before and because we had beaten them handily before.
During the first couple of innings we scored 5 runs and our opponents only mustered 2. Things seemed to be going our way once again, but by the final inning we found ourselves down by 2 runs. We eclipsed that deficit on an in-the-park home run and a successful steal at the plate on a wild pitch. We held them scoreless in the bottom of the 6th as we were the visiting team before heading into an extra inning. We failed to score and they ended up driving in a run with two outs to win the game. It was a heart-breaking loss, but it couldn’t have been a better game and neither team could have played any better. It was one of the best games in any sport that I have ever been a part of.
The next game we played great for the first 2 innings until a left-hander on the other team, who normally struggles to hit the ball at all, reached out and yanked one over the right-field fence with bases loaded. A grand slam!
That grand slam seemed to take the wind out of our sails and our players just never could quite regain focus. We lost and were eliminated from a tournament that we could have won. Still we had a great season, and still Philippians 4:13 applied.
In our losses and disappointments Christ hasn’t failed us, it is there that he most especially strengthens us, and enables us to remain content and hopeful. The context of that verse indicates that Paul is saying that in good times or bad, whether I am abased, that is brought low, or whether I abound, with plenty of resources or with very little, in the valley or on the mountaintop, in that context he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When Paul wrote those words, he himself was facing the very real possibility of being executed, yet even if he was, he knew that being in Christ he could not lose. Not even death itself could take away the greatest victory of all. Hence, he says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philp 1:21 ESV). Because Paul knew Christ and the power of his resurrection, he also knew that even though he might suffer the loss of all things in this world, even his life, (See Chapter 3) that abiding in Christ he could not ultimately lose. Because eventually all of our loses and disappointments in this world will not even come close to comparing to the joy of the victory that we have in Christ.
Yet I find something else intriguing about how Philp 4:13 is often applied to so many things such as winning in sports (I remember Evander Holyfield had that verse on his robe when he went out and got his ear bit off by Mike Tyson), or being successful in business or some other personal venture that will bring personal success and acclaim. When we are living for God’s glory I don’t believe praying for success in the ventures to which God calls us is wrong, but I wonder how many ever think of applying Philippians 4:13 to keeping God’s commandments. When it comes to keeping the commandments of God though, what I often hear is something along the lines of, “Well, we’re all sinners.” I wonder how often that is used as an excuse to continue in sin rather than a confession to enable us to die to sin so that we can live fully for God. Why not also have an “I can do attitude” when it comes to our greatest competitor and gravest threat, sin and the devil?
The beauty of the early Methodist movement was its great expectations for what God could do in the heart and life of a believer through the cleansing blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. When it comes to the commandments, surely through Christ we can do all these things too, and we can most certainly take up our cross and deny ourselves to gain the ultimate victory over sin and death. After all, is anything too hard for the Lord of all the earth? Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (see 1 Cor 15:56-57 & Rom 7). Now that’s a victory that we should all certainly pray for!