Several years ago I heard a message with this same title. Unfortunately, the title is all that remains lodged in my memory. But I like the phrase, so I decided to write my own message.
“Can’t” is one of those unique words in the English language that both reveals the attitude of the speaker and triggers an emotional response from the hearer. Ask a four-year-old to tie his shoes, or a seventeen-year-old to do his calculus homework, or a thirty-three-old husband to fix a clogged garbage disposal, you’re likely to get a common “I can’t.” Of course, what each means is, “I don’t feel like it”, or “Why don’t you do it instead”, or “It’s not convenient for me to do at this time.” On the other hand, if a person in authority, (a parent, a teacher, a pastor or a policeman) tells the four-year-old, “You can’t go outside and play,” or the seventeen-year-old, “You can’t associate with that boy,” or the thirty-three-year-old male, “You can’t drive over the speed limit,” watch their reaction and see if their behavior doesn’t try to prove the authority figure wrong.
An attitude of “can’t” is also unique in that it doesn’t even need to be spoken to be “heard.” It can actually be “heard” via a person’s behavioral response to a request or suggestion. More often than not, that response reflects fear (of not wanting to fail) and/or pride (of not wanting to be seen as a failure.)
This morning I was reading a passage in 2 Kings 5 that demonstrates both of these points. The chapter is about a Syrian general named Naaman, whom the Bible says God chose to give Syria a great victory. When the man contracted leprosy an Israeli servant informed him of a prophet who could heal him. The King of Syria sent Naaman to the King of Israel with a letter asking to have this great warrior healed. But the King of Israel saw the request as a demand upon him personally – and he knew he didn’t have the ability to heal anyone of leprosy. He didn’t even consider the possibility that God might want this man healed. He didn’t tell Naaman “I can’t” but his fear captivated his behavior. In the meantime, the prophet Elisha heard about the request and said, “Send him my way.” Elisha knew his ability resided in God.
Then when Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house, Elisha didn’t even come out to talk to him. Instead, he sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” Naaman’s pride kicked in and he started to leave and return to Syria. His “I can’t” was buried in his reaction. Fortunately for him his servants again intervened and reminded the general, “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Once Naaman recognized that his healing was dependent on his obedience to the one true God, and not anything he or any other human being did that mattered, he was healed.
I think I stand on pretty firm ground when I say that the Bible doesn’t like the word “can’t,” either spoken or unspoken – because it reflects a lack of trust in God.
We’re told to encourage one another to be the best we can be. And that’s exactly what the Bible does for us. It encourages us by telling us: “You can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens you”; or when it says: “you are the head and not the tail – you are above only and never beneath;” whenever you are obedient to your Creator. Even if you think you’re the one exception to the rule and you believe you are physically and intellectually challenged, the Bible has a word of encouragement for you, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
History is filled with people who overcame physical and emotional handicaps. T.D. Jakes was told as a young boy he’d never be able to preach because of a bad lisp. Now he has a vast ministry that reaches millions. Smith Wigglesworth lacked self-confidence and couldn’t speak from the pulpit for more than 2 or 3 minutes before breaking down in tears and asking someone else to finish for him. But God gave him the ability to preach and travel all over the world. And nearly everyone has heard of Helen Keller, who contracted a disease at nineteen months of age that made her both deaf and blind – still she became a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer.
It is especially important for parents to avoid using the word “can’t” in dealing with your kids. In his letter to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul put it this way: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” And when he wrote to the Ephesians he said it a little differently: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” If I were interpreting Paul, I’d say, “Guide your kids, but don’t nag them.” I really believe most parents sincerely desire to create a positive, constructive environment in the home; one where they’re involved in their children’s lives. Parents need to learn to balance discipline and trust, protection but not overprotection, helping them set and meet realistic goals, all the while communicating love both verbally and physically. No one said it’s going to be easy.
So the next time you’re tempted to say “I (or you) can’t do that!” just hold your tongue. And the next time someone tries to discourage you by telling you, you can’t attain one of your dreams, ignore them. Believe in yourself – the highly valuable person God sees when He looks at you – and trust in Him to draw that out of you. And trust God to bring out the best in your family, your friends and those He puts before you to minister to.