When The Little Engine That Could — Can’t



I always enjoyed reading The Little Engine That Could to my kids.
As the story proLittle Engine That Couldgressed, I’d draw their young minds into the story, the rhythm of
“I think I can.
I think I can.
I think I can,”
feeding their suspense, shrinking the world to the book open on my lap.

We’d turn the page and smile when the little engine crested the hill, “I think I can” became
“I thought I could.
I thought I could.
I THOUGHT I could!”
and the train rolled into the depot to the excited, cheering townspeople’s delight.  The kids and I would cheer and celebrate with them, glad that a little blue engine wouldn’t settle for “can’t.”

Positive people are a lot like that determined little engine. They’re upbeat.  Their I-think-I-can attitude is contagious. They exude confidence. People gravitate to them, especially in the midst of life’s challenges, hoping to fuel their inspiration tanks in the process.

I am one of those positive ones.  I work at it. And I do well.
Most days.

I have news for you.  Believe it or not, optimistic, I-think-I-can people sometimes see their reflection peering at them from the mirror and hear the words they hate.
“You – are not The Little Engine That Could,” arrests the attention of the usually-positive and lists all the reasons their optimism is unrealistic:
Multiple demands. Fatigue. Health concerns.
Limited time. Limited finances. Limited experience.
Thoughts about how over-ambitious January’s goals are.

How often does your reflection quietly sneer,
“Looks like the little engine that could — can’t”?

I face it regularly.  It’s wearisome! Some days I feel like avoiding the mirror altogether: “Don’t talk to me. I have work to do.”


You’ve got more to do than is humanly possible.
So did He.
Jesus knows how you feel.”

Max Lucado,
In the Eye of the Storm


I’ve begun countering my reflection’s nay-saying
disguised as common sense with few phrases in verses I know.

“You’re right,” I say. “I proved a long time ago that I’m not man enough to live the Christian life, let alone succeed at the things God has in mind for me to do.  But  … (I pause so my reflection knows it’s time to listen up)  The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of GodHE  loved me. HE gave Himself up for me. You’re talking to the wrong guy. Go away.”  (see Galatians 2.20, emphasis mine)

“You’re overlooking the fact that my confidence isn’t in me.” Paul said “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.  I’m His work, and He finishes what He starts.”  (see Philippians 1.6)

“He (God) has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me….  When I am weak, then I am strong.  So yeah, you’re right —partially— I don’t have what it takes. But Christ does. And I’m His. You’re bothering the wrong person.”   (see 2 Corinthians 12.9 – 10)



I think positive, but I know I’m not the little engine that could.

“I think I can?” No, sorry.  It’s not me. “I know HE can…” I’m just the delivery driver. I pick things up at Heaven’s dock and deliver them to the people I know and love.
My wife. Mom. Mother in law.
My family. Clients. Friends.
People in Bible studies I teach. Even strangers.
God sets it up, I’m one of His delivery drivers.

Many before me endured more than I ever will. Mine is not to compare my lot with theirs and wonder or envy, mine is to observe God’s faithfulness in their settings and be encouraged, strengthening myself in the Lord the way David did in circumstances much more severe than mine.   (I Samuel 30.6)

-Phil-sig- TranspBkgd

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