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The Willful “I Can’t.”

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The second Sunday in Lent, that season when we prepare for Holy Week, that season when we prepare to celebrate the events that resulted in our redemption and our salvation.  Most people prepare for that celebration by self-examination – discovering our need for that redemption and salvation.  Last week, the first Sunday in Lent, we just had to talk about the Parkland. FL shooting as evidence for the evil that lies within us all.

This week, as I have reflected, I have reflected on my willful use of the sentence “I can’t.” When I say “willful use,” I do not mean those times I might use that sentence as a confession of weakness, but the times I use that sentence as means of stopping change.  “Doctor, I can’t lose weight.” (Implied in that sentence, “It’s not happening, so shut up and leave me alone.”)  “I can’t be happy unless….” (A sentence that is actually emotional blackmail, forcing the listener to concede to whatever demand the speaker in making.)  “I just can’t get this English lesson.” (“I’m not willing to work hard enough to get this homework completed.”)  I am reflecting on those times we use “I can’t” to build a barrier between ourselves and those trying to help us, or most importantly between ourselves and God.

We use “I can’t” to define the boundaries of a space where we feel safe, and we define safe as a place where we are unchallenged, unstrectched, and never grow.  And yet, challenge and growth are the essence of the Christian experience.

The Apostle Paul, and the writer of Hebrews, use racing metaphors to describe the Christian life.  The writer of Hebrews discusses the Christian life in terms of coming to maturity – growth.  Being a Christian is not about being “safe,” – it is all about being stretched and challenged and changed.  Perhaps the most oft-quoted passage from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles is this:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Being a Christian is a good thing – the best thing – but…it…is…not…safe.

“I can’t,” is an expression of a lack of faith.  Consider this passage of the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church at Phillipi: [emphasis added]

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.  Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

“I can’t,” means we either refuse to rely on God, or we do not believe that God is able.  Let me reemphasize that.  If we say “I can’t” then either we lack the faith to rely on God who can or we do not believe that God can and therefore lack faith in His capabilities.  You see, the difference between “can” and “can’t” is not our capabilities, but God’s.

When Jesus came upon a father whose daughter could not speak or hear, the father pleaded with Jesus for help.  Jesus responded, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”  To this the desperate father answered, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”  Every temptation to utter “I can’t” is an opportunity to ask God to help us with our lack of faith.

This Lent, let’s give up “I can’t.”


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