“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, NKJV).*
This past winter I had the privilege of coaching the sixth grade girls’ basketball team at our local Adventist middle school. The Lady Rapids didn’t have a coach, and my daughter Morgan was on the team. How could I pass up the opportunity?
From the start I’ve loved coaching these 11 girls. They have terrific attitudes and work hard at learning their positions. But we faced some challenges. First, we were a brand-new sixth-grade program, and we would be playing experienced teams. Second, four of our tallest sixth graders had moved to the seventh-grade team (which didn’t have enough players). It was important for us to have realistic expectations.
Before our first practice I sat the girls down and talked to them about what must be the most popular Bible verse for Christian athletes, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). It seems that every Christian athlete from football player Tim Tebow to one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton (from the movie Soul Surfer) finds inspiration in this verse.
“Do you think,” I asked, “that being able to do all things through Christ means that you could go dunk the ball right now?” The girls smiled and shook their heads no.
I told them what this verse actually means: “I can handle all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 teaches us that we can be content in any situation—whether we’re winning or losing in life—because we know Christ. When Paul wrote the words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he was writing from a prison cell.
I told the girls that we couldn’t control how high we could jump or how many games we would win, but we could control how we handled our circumstances. We could choose to carry ourselves with dignity and show respect for our opponents—whether we won or lost. We lost our first game 34 to 0.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d lose by such a wide margin—that we wouldn’t score a single point! Our shots rolled around the rim but just wouldn’t drop. The team we played, a group of surprisingly tall home-schoolers called the Chattanooga Patriots, had several seventh graders and had been practicing together for a year. We’d been together for a week. Still, it was a traumatic experience for our players, and by the fourth quarter I couldn’t help feeling the long gaze of our disappointed home crowd.
That night I barely slept. Thirty-four to zero? I wondered if the girls would lose confidence in themselves and in me.
The next day the girls showed up for practice positive and ready to go. Our assistant coaches and I helped them with their aggressiveness, explaining that it was possible to be aggressive and content at the same time!
Our second game was scheduled for a month later . . . against the Chattanooga Patriots, the same team! When I first told the girls, their expressions said: Do we really have to go through that again? But they dug in and worked all the harder. During Christmas break several of the girls—and their families—came out for optional practices. We all had the same look in our eyes: If we could just score next time!
The day of the game, the players looked tense during warm-ups, so I took them to a separate room to relax their minds. We talked through our anxieties, then I prayed out loud for each girl, thanking God for the gifts He’s given them. Most of all we prayed that we would handle all things gracefully—through Christ who strengthens us.
Refreshed, the girls ran back to the court and played their hearts out. We lost the game but scored seven points, a big step forward. You should have heard the wild cheers from the stands when we scored our first basket—a silky-smooth jump shot from 12 feet away.
On those days when you feel like you’re losing 34 to 0, remember the Lady Rapids: Calle, Drielly, Emily, Kelly, Megan, Morgan, Olivia, Sarah, Shadai, Shelby, and Sofe. Like them, you can handle all things through Christ who strengthens you.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Andy Nash is a professor and pastor who plans and leads family-friendly trips to Israel. E-mail [email protected] for information. This article was published March 15, 2012.