I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. Philippians 4:10-15 (NRSV)
I can do all things in Him (Jesus) who strengthens me. (verse 13)
Verse 13 of the above passage from Philippians is often picked out and quoted on its own. Yes it is true that Jesus is our Strength, but that shouldn’t make us infer that the journey of following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of proposition.
In our country we have been conditioned to prize our independence, which is not always a bad thing. No one wants to be a mindless lemming that just goes along with the group without thinking about what the group is doing. Many people are also wired to be introverted, which means a little socialization goes a long way, as introverts primarily recharge their batteries by getting away from people and being alone. Jesus Himself did this at times. He went off to pray and fast by Himself quite often. Taking times of solitude- in moderation- can be a healthy discipline.
It can be unwise to think we are too independent though. Not only do we move and breathe and have our strength because those things all come from God, we were created to live and operate in community. Not just “me-n-Jesus,” but “me-n-Jesus AND the greater community,” is how it’s supposed to work.
This means we are supposed to engage in dialogue. We are supposed to contribute to the life and the well being of our families and communities. We are, like the apostle Paul did, supposed to accept help from others when we need it. We are called to the drama and the messiness of belonging to a community and participating in the life of the community.
We do encounter Jesus in the solitude of prayer and study, and those disciplines are important to our growth in understanding and faith. Yet there are some who will say things such as, “nature is my church,” and who claim to not need the fellowship and the encouragement of a Christian community. Unfortunately when we miss out on being part of a community, we miss out on a vital way of connecting with God, and we miss out on sharing the strength and encouragement of others.
How can we live out our lives as Jesus followers and rely on His strength both one-on-one with Him in solitude, study, contemplation and prayer, AND in community, alongside fellow believers?