Don't Say I Can't
Our six-year-old is normally quite adept at putting together Lego sets. Last night, however, he ran into trouble while trying to assemble a new project, and he got very upset. Instead of asking for help, he just yelled in frustration that he couldn’t do it. I told him I would help him, so today we sat down and started working on it together, and soon he did not need me anymore. That is all it took—just a little help.
“I can’t” is the path of least resistance. When times get tough, it is an easy road to take, because it does not require any work. When we find ourselves facing a difficult task, we can say it is not possible or we can ask for help.
One time, the Israelites were confronted with this choice. In Numbers chapter 13 we read that Moses sent twelve men to spy out the Promised Land and bring back a report regarding it. All of the men came back and described it as a good land that flowed with milk and honey. However, ten of the spies went on to say that the people of the land were strong and the cities were walled. They reported, “Moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan” (verses 28-29). They concluded their report with, “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we” (verse 31). These men had decided it was easiest to say, “I can’t,” and they convinced the rest of the Israelites to do the same.
When God first called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, He said to tell them, “I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). The spies confirmed what God had said about the land, both good and bad. Sadly, the Israelites chose to focus on the bad when they should have been focusing on the promise: God had said He would give them the land. Instead of looking at the promise and trusting that God would help them, they looked at the situation and what they could do in their own strength, and said, “We can’t.”
Many years earlier, Moses had had a similar reaction when he was first called at the burning bush to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He did not think he was capable of doing what God had asked, so he offered a number of excuses. One of them was, “Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, the Lord hath not appeared unto thee” (Exodus 4:1). The Israelites’ unbelief was not a problem for God. He simply provided three miraculous signs that would convince them: He turned Moses’ staff into a serpent, caused his hand to become leprous, and changed water to blood. If God calls us to a task, we might not be capable of doing it, but He is, and He will make it possible.
Then Moses had another excuse. He said, “I am not eloquent . . . I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God addressed this concern by asking him who made his tongue. Finally, Moses realized he did not have to lead the Israelites on his own; God would go with him.
Gideon was another who made excuses. We read in Judges 6 that while he was threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites, an angel appeared and called him to save the Israelites. In response, he said he was the least in his father’s house, which was the least in the tribe of Manasseh. Apparently he thought this would surely disqualify him from being used of God. However, God was fully aware of Gideon’s abilities before He called him. While Gideon certainly was not able in his own strength, God intended to win the victory, and He did.
As a school teacher, I hear “I can’t” frequently. Finally, I made a rule that my students are not allowed to say it. If they do, I tell them, “I did not hear that.” The reason for that rule is because I know their abilities and would not ask them to do something beyond their skill levels. If I have asked them to do something, they can do it. Sometimes they need my help, but they can do it. Similarly, if God has asked us to do something, it can be done. With His help, we can do it.
One problem with “I can’t” is that it so easily becomes “I won’t.”
One problem with “I can’t” is that it so easily becomes “I won’t.” That was the case with a rich young ruler who went to Christ asking what he could do to get to Heaven. When he was told to keep the commandments, he said he had done that. He was serious about living right; he had made an effort. Then the Lord told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. This instruction was difficult for him, because his wealth was very important to him. No doubt, in his mind, he thought, I can’t. However, the fact that he walked away sorrowful, without what he came for, tells us that he let that “I can’t” become “I won’t.”
When God is trying to draw a consecration from us that seems beyond our capabilities, we want to be careful not to harden our hearts. Several years ago, I experienced a situation that could have ended that way. After I was saved, I began to feel that the Lord wanted me to do something more in His service than sing in the choir: I felt Him calling me to preach, and I did not know what to do with that feeling. It scared me and caused me to lose sleep. Not long after that, we moved to Chehalis, Washington, and my initial thought was, This is good. I will just sing in the choir. However, the Lord kept talking to me. Then the pastor started to tell me stories about when he was asked to preach. I felt cornered. One evening I went to the altar and poured out my heart to God, telling Him, “I can’t.” When I was finished praying, the pastor called me into his office and asked if I was called to preach. My reply was, “Yes, but I do not think I can do it.” He said, “The Lord knows.” Eventually, I yielded. Then I learned that we do not have to be able to do what we are called to do; we just have to be willing, because when we can’t, God can.
God can do all things, but He cannot help us if we do not let Him. What would have happened to the man at the pool of Bethesda if he had said, “I can’t,” when Jesus said, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8)? His story would have had a different ending! Consider the situation of the man whose child had a dumb spirit. Jesus told that desperate father that if he could believe, his son would be healed. The man could have said, “I can’t,” but instead he said, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The Lord can help us to believe.
Even Jesus in the flesh needed some strengthening help from God, some encouragement to do what He was called to do. Luke 22:42-44 tells us that as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, His “sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Jesus was distressed. The burden of what He had come to earth to do was weighing Him down. He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done,” and the Lord gave Him what He needed. “There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”
If you are going through a difficult situation where your instinct is to say, “I can’t,” put your trust in God and let Him help. When you come out on the other side, you will see that you could, because it was not accomplished in your own strength. God is more than able!