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I Cannot

One of the phrases brought up in some Gen Z slang that I have picked up while at work is this phrase “I cannot with [insert issue/difficulty here]”. Online sources describe this phrase “I cannot” as “indicating that one is overwhelmed with a situation, due to it being extremely hilarious, emotional, frustrating, etc.” and it can come with a tone of resignation accompanying it as well. But what is interesting – and why this phrase is the title of this article – is how it is usually said before one actually does something about the issue or situation.

An example in my own house comes to mind, particularly when my son, Jacob, was preparing for a memory verse for Sunday class on Saturday. Overwhelmed by the length of the verse and multiple portions he had to memorise on his own – something that he was not used to early in the year – he lamented, with a tear in his eye, “I cannot!” His elder brother, Mark, then tried to step in to tell him that he could, and advised him to do it in segments. When that did not convince him, with more protestations of “I cannot,” I decided to step in and go through the portions of Daniel 2:47 bit by bit with him. I primarily used the technique I picked up in “How to teach your children Shakespeare” to help him memorise it, and mixed in a bit of cajoling and stern reminders of needing to do what the Sunday class teacher says.

The entire point of the above lengthy example is not to boast about the example set by Mark or the pedagogical techniques I possess; rather, it is the fact that Jacob could do what he was supposed to do despite crying out “I cannot” multiple times. It really drives home the point that, often times, we as adult Christians might be quick to say “I cannot” to certain roles, activities or even working with others within the church. Hence, it is important for us to overcome overthinking, fear, anxiety and perhaps paralysis (that makes us say “I cannot”) due to over analysis.

There was a platoon mate of mine in the army that often rallied us by saying “don’t think, just do.” I was initially confounded by that statement because I was brought up to think through matters carefully and make a rational decision. It also brings up memories of a Jim Carrey film called “Yes Man.” Do we say “yes” when it comes to doing more for Christ and the church? Rather than saying “I cannot,” what did David say to the men who were warring with the Philistines, who were ridiculed by Goliath for days? We hear of his faith and belief in God despite Saul saying David would not be able to slay such a warrior like Goliath.

"And David said to Saul, 'Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.' And Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.'" (1 Samuel 17:32-33)

We all know how that fight turned out, despite David’s youth and stature. The apostle Paul was also aware of the kind of persecutions a Christian would face, being one of the chief persecutors himself previously, and went on his missionary journeys in the Mediterranean despite having to endure railing, beatings, stoning, imprisonment and being left for dead. One could very easily have given up, saying “I cannot” after only one of these hardships and persecutions, but Paul soldiered on for Christ. To others outside the faith, these accounts in the Bible, as well as what some of our fellow brethren and missionaries are doing in the field around the world, may seem borderline delusional and pointless, extraordinary even. However, we are assured that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

Do we have the “can do” spirit often lauded in the Bible? Or do we resort to excuses and reasons to say “I cannot” in the vein of Moses, when he was asked to lead God’s people out of Egypt in Exodus 4:10-17, despite having had the training for an Egyptian prince, and having been deemed worthy by God? Do we find ways to run away from doing God’s work like Jonah (despite only needing to deliver the shortest sermon ever in Jonah 3:4)? Personally, I must confess that there was a bit of doubt when the elders asked me to become one of the deacons for the Lim Ah Pin church of Christ, but I remember saying yes fairly quickly because I wanted to do more for the church that has been so accepting of me, and more importantly, to do more for my God. I had thought that I may not be a good deacon, that maybe people might not want to work with me, and perhaps people might take issue with what I say. However, after a year in the role, with prayer, diligence and experience in the role, it has all been worthwhile, and I hope that more will say “I can do” in the spirit of Philippians 4:13, rather than “I cannot” in time to come, because every Christian has a role to play in the church. I pray for unity and growth in the church that meets at 20 Lim Ah Pin Road, and for more to participate in the June Camp this year.


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