I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NRSV)

Jerk that thing out of its context and you have an all purpose verse. You can pull it out when things are going bad, or when you have an unfulfilled dream, or when you want to encourage someone.

That verse is the Christian equivalent to the third grade teacher telling her students that they can grow up to be president of the United States. Of course, it is possible. But it is so highly improbably that the teacher probably shouldn’t go there.

These days we are into building self-esteem and we are good at telling people they can be anything they want to be. Patently untrue, but that’s what we tell people. We have limitations because we are humans and because we don’t all have the same mental acuity and because our physical makeups vary. I may want to be an NBA player, but it isn’t going to happen.

We do the same thing with Philippians 4:13, but point to a powerful God rather than to our indomitable human spirit.

Look at the context. Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. He was, he admitted, having some questions about whether he would come out alive. His friends in Philippi were worried about him, quite naturally, and they sent him some help.

Paul’s answer was meant to allay their worries. “Hey,” he says, “I’m hanging in there. Some days are better than others, but every day God gives me strength to endure because Jesus is here with me and I am in him.”

Paul isn’t claiming a special superpower of the Christian to arise and overcome all. He isn’t claiming — a la Peale or Schuller — that your dreams can all come true. He is saying that Jesus gives him the strength he needs to make it through another day and, by implication, so can we.

Let’s be careful about how we use God’s word.