by David Sisler

It is one of the most enduring stories from childhood. If you reflect on the story of "The Little Engine That Could" you wonder if that is where proponents of positive thinking found part of their message.

Somehow I think the story would have been deprived of all of its charm if it had been about an engineer who reflected on doing great things. The child in all of us instinctively responds to the fascination of an animated, living train engine who thinks and dreams.

"The Little Engine That Could" was faced with the task of pulling an enormous load up a gigantic mountain. The object of ridicule from the other trains in the yard, he believes in himself. I don't know if the story ever received any literary awards, but any parent who has ever read it to his or her children has been pulled right into the story and imitates the sound of a train.

As the little engine pulls his load he says, slowly at first, and then with gathering confidence, "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can."

Almost defeated by the weight of the cars behind him and the height of the mountain, he reaches for one last bit of strength and pulls himself over the top. As he coasts to the bottom his chant becomes, "I knew I could. I knew I could. I knew I could."

That spirit of self-belief, not self-doubt, was present in an 80-year-old arthritis patient. He had spinal arthritis and had to receive a specific injection. Because of the man's particular needs, his orthopedic specialist made all of the arrangements and then instructed his nurse to call the man.

Two days later, the patient phoned the doctor, concerned that he had missed the call because of his poor hearing.

"I can barely hear, barely see and barely walk," he told the nurse. Then he added cheerfully, "Things could be worse, though. At least I can still drive."

We may question the wisdom of someone with the old man's obvious health problems driving an automobile, but there is something in that attitude we applaud. It is an attitude that says, "I refuse to be defeated. I think I can."

In one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul focused on his own self-doubt.

"I do not understand the things I do," Paul wrote. "I do not do the good things I want to do. And I do the bad things I hate to do. I know that nothing good lives in me. I want to do the things that are good. But I do not do them. In my mind I am happy with God's law. But I see another law working in my body."

Some people think Paul was referring to his childhood and his earlier years as an unbeliever. I think he was being incredibly honest, reflecting on his current experiences and struggles as a believer in Jesus Christ.

If Paul, at that point in his life, had written the children's story, the little engine would have said, "I don't think I can. I don't think I can."

Approximately six years after he wrote Romans, Paul wrote another letter, this one to the church in Philippi. The man who once wrote, "I do not understand the things I do," now declared, "I can do all things!"

Did he change his way of thinking? He must have. That's a strong statement, "I can do all things."

Here is what Paul really said: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." If we would only learn that! We do not strengthen Christ one little bit. All we add to Jesus is weakness. Everything He adds to us is strength.

We are not like "The Little Engine That Could." Our basic, gut reaction is, "I don't think I can." To which Jesus replies, "You can't. But I can. Trust Me!"


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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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