How many of you remember the tv show, Man vs. Wild? It was a unique concept at the time, where a survivalist named Bear Grylls, was dropped off in some remote, difficult terrain and he would try to last for a week on little more than his wits, ingenuity, and advanced survival skills. Amazingly, he was largely successful because of his broad knowledge base, his confident and decisive choices, and his willingness to embrace discipline. Around the same time, there were also these little books called, “Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook”. In these entertaining articles, the reader was given tips on how to make it through serious challenges like escaping a mountain lion, wading through quicksand, diffusing a bomb, or even surviving a bad date. As odd as these things were, they appealed to a desire that most of us have, even if we aren’t that good at carrying it out. We like to be prepared for as many situations as possible. We want to be able to hit whatever curveball is thrown at us. We generally don’t like surprises, but if and when they come our way, we want to be able to handle them in a healthy, decisive way.
In the second reading today, St. Paul is talking to the Philippians, a community he loved very dearly. He is writing the letter from prison, where he has been detained for spreading the gospel. In the letter he encourages and praises the believers in Philippi for the ways they have supported him and his missionary work with prayer and material resources. He even brags to other communities about the Philippians’ kindness and generosity. In today’s passage, he is giving them the secret of his success: he is telling them how to survive any scenario that life can throw at them. And Paul should know about this. He has lived through abundance and poverty, being well-fed and hungry, in need and having more than enough. He had survived shipwrecks, stoning, a severe beating and even some time at sea as a castaway. He had made it through numerous dangers from nature and other people and somehow had emerged alive: not just alive but joyful, grateful, and flourishing!
What was his secret?! Was it a special training? Was he some freak of nature, with ripped muscles or a genius IQ? No, this was not the answer! How did St. Paul do all of this, becoming one of the greatest saints of all time? He says quite simply, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” and “My God will fully supply whatever you need.” St. Paul could survive anything life threw at him because he never made any decision apart from Christ. Over the course of his life, from the moment of his conversion to the time he was martyred, he relied on the Lord to guide his thinking and form his actions.
At this point, I think we need to pause and think about this. Is the approach of St. Paul, doing all things in and through Christ, something possible for us? Is it a viable, relevant worst-case survival guide for modern-day Christians living here in Chesterfield? The short answer is “yes”! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever! His wisdom has not diminished with the ages and it never will. His power has not decreased as time wears on. His love for each and every one of his followers is just as strong as it was when St. Paul was around. Our Lord is waiting for that invitation from us to strengthen us, to supply for our every need. But he is not going to force that goodness on us; we have to ask and invite him into our lives and our decision-making.
We need to have the courage and honesty to ask ourselves these questions. First, in whose name do we make decisions in our daily life? Is it in the name of convenience or comfort or wealth? Deep down, is greed, unmoderated pleasure or pride, the force that moves us and forms our choices? Do we consider inviting the Lord to be a part of our decision-making? Are we open to his guidance and even the ways he might challenge us and change our course of action? Or do we make up our mind on something and move forward stubbornly, hoping for the best? Who do we rely on to take care of our needs and give us strength? Is it first and foremost, God? Or, do we place that entire burden on ourselves, on our own resources, talents, and cleverness? Perhaps we place our trust in another person, an institution, some other creature?
St. Paul wanted the Philippians to know that God was incredibly present to them and ready to help in every need, no matter how large or small. That’s how humble Christ is, he lowers himself to be available to us in every circumstance. St. Paul was inseparable from Christ, like thunder and lightning, peanut butter and jelly. It was this intimate connection in everything, that enabled him to survive whatever came his way. We are called to that same resilience and we desire it deep in our hearts. Like St. Paul, we can do all things in him who strengthens us, and God will fully supply whatever we need, if,( and this is important,) if we talk to him and let him guide us. We make this a reality by getting in the habit of talking to him daily as we would a close friend, of holding nothing back from him, even those things we might be struggling with. We can also seek his input and listen for his ideas. This friendship is what made enabled Paul to be fearless and ready for every challenge. This personal relationship with the Lord is what made St. Paul undefeated, even in terrible circumstances. May we follow his lead and share the same blessings he did, able to survive any worst-case scenario that comes our way!