First, for those who don’t know me, I’m a hopelessly optimistic person. I love stories where the impossible becomes possible by hard work and a positive optimistic attitude. You know—Everest gets climbed, a company gets built, the farm gets saved from foreclosure. I value optimism so much that I’m irritated by pessimism. A new challenge faces one of us, and the most annoying thing I can hear is someone saying, “I can’t!”
One of the things I love about America is that its founding and history is so much about “I can.” It was Henry Ford who said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” There are so many good things that could have been accomplished had people just thought they could. I’ve sat on many boards and committees, and I’ve watched good ideas get trashed because some voice simply said, “I don’t think we can do that.” Helpful, enriching, community building ideas scrapped over one vocal voice of small thinking. Fortunately, I’ve also experienced some against-all-odds ideas come to fulfillment because someone on the team kept waving the “I think we can” flag, and people were inspired to get behind their optimism.
Our lives have been imprinted by the famous story re-written by Watty Piper in the early 1950’s: “The Little Engine That Could.” Variations have been woven into children’s TV shows from “Captain Kangaroo” to “Sesame Street” to “Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood”. It is an endearing story that teaches the importance of not giving up easily and having that can-do attitude, telling ourselves, “I think I can.” We often discover that our hard work, perseverance, and positive attitude will bring our dreams to reality.
I’m afraid our American dream and this good and healthy way of approaching life have influenced our approach to righteousness. We begin to imagine that the mountain of becoming holy we must get over in order to be with a holy God can be scaled if we simply put the little engine story to work in our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth! Not to fall to pessimism, but when it comes to gaining access into heaven, perfect holiness – absolute perfect performance/obedience – is the price of the ticket, and all the “I think I can’s” in the world won’t conquer that mountain.
The Little Engine is a great story for so much of life – teaching endurance, perseverance, patience, positive thinking, etc. However, when it comes to getting into heaven, the better story is one of rescue. It is the person trapped in a hopeless situation without an outside party coming to the rescue. Consider the Chilean miners. What did they do to affect their rescue? NOTHING except not refuse the little capsule sent to pull them to the top. ALL the rescue effort, all the expense, all the work, and all of what it took for the rescue to become a reality was beyond them. Their rescue was a gift they chose to accept. That’s it! All their “I think I can” positive talk wouldn’t have gotten them out of the mine. Getting out was dependent on another’s effort.
So, when it comes to life in this world – business, education, completing tasks, etc. – remember “The Little Engine That Could.” It is a great motivating story. But when it comes to matters of salvation, think Chilean miners, and let the rescuing God rescue!