Monday, March 25, 2019

We Can’t . . . But He Can!

Early in my journalistic career, while working as an assistant editor on a suburban newspaper, I was assigned responsibility for closing out the Saturday morning edition. I’d only been on the job for several weeks, but this new responsibility seemed to be going well. With layouts for the front and “jump” pages nearly complete, I was feeling pleased with myself.

Then I heard an alert from one of the wire service machines. Uh-oh! A major calamity had occurred in another state, involving a school bus and dozens of children. I couldn’t ignore this tragedy just because my page layouts were about finished. This breaking news needed to be in the paper.

Reluctantly I began revamping the layouts with only a short time before the presses were set to start. Delays cost money. I knew how to do page designs, but not under such tight deadline constraints. As the seconds ticked by, I frantically tried to make the necessary changes – essentially starting from scratch. Panic started to pervade my thinking. “What should I do?!”

Then the “cavalry” arrived, in the person of the managing editor. He had just “stopped by” to see how I was doing. I’m sure a single glance told him I wasn’t doing very well. But rather than berate me, he sat down beside me and started revamping the pages. Within a few minutes the layouts were done and passed along to the composing staff to assemble. Doom had been averted.

With potential disaster staring me in the eye, the senior editor had swooped in and saved the morning. He did what I could not.

Recalling this little episode has provided a metaphor for many moments in my life. Things seem to be going well when suddenly something drastic occurs that disrupts the calm. I attempt to respond, but nothing works. What do I do now?

Sometimes, as I’ve learned, the answer to that question is simple: Nothing. There’s not a thing within my human capabilities that can be done. There’s only one place to look for the answer, and that’s UP. At such times there’s nothing more pleasing to God than to hear us admit, “Lord, I can’t do this!” Because then He can demonstrate what He can do – and that He doesn’t need our help.

Jesus asserted this when He told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He wasn’t referring only to crises that exceed our capabilities. Jesus was talking about anything of eternal value. We can only accomplish those things through His power.

Later the apostle Paul, writing about how he could endure times of deprivation and struggle, as well as times of abundance and tranquility, said, “I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). I could never recount all of the times I’ve experienced the same thing – when the seeming impossible became possible, but only through the Lord’s enabling power.

It might involve dealing with a devastating loss, addressing overwhelming personal challenges, or answering God’s call to do something well beyond our comfort zone. “I can’t do this, Lord!” we cry. His reply is, “I know. But I can do it – through you.”

The ultimate example, of course, involves our sinfulness that totally separated us from God. When the only standard is holiness, absolute righteousness, no amount of good deeds and intentions can offset our depravity. 

Reflecting on his recurring tendency for not doing what he wanted to do, and doing what he didn’t want to do, the apostle Paul wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Have you ever asked a question similar to this? I know I have. 

But then Paul added, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord…. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 7:25-8:2).

Writing to a different audience, believers in the city of Corinth, the apostle reaffirmed this truth: “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Whether it’s confronting formidable challenges that seem beyond our capacity or acknowledging our inability to “clean up our act” to establish an everlasting relationship with God, the reality is actually very simple: We can’t – but He can!

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