One Word You Shouldn’t Say Next Year
January 3, 1993
Happy New Year! I trust that you had a wonderful Christmas season and a grand New Year’s Day. I hope that you are as excited about 1993 as I am. Last night when we got home from our trip to Florida—we arrived about 8:30 p.m. or a little bit after that—after unpacking all our bags and after the family had gone to bed, I was prowling around in the kitchen looking for something to eat when my eye happened to land upon a calendar that contains quotations from Chuck Swindoll. I was struck by the quotation for January 2nd: “One of the most encouraging things about new years, new weeks, and new days is the word ’new.’” He’s right, isn’t he? That’s why these days are so exciting. The word “new” means we get to start all over again.
In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays a radio advertising salesman going through a mid-life crisis. He and his friends deal with the humdrumness of life by participating in a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado—an experience that turns out to be a kind of epiphany for all of them. At the end of the movie as they prepare to return to New York and the familiar routine, Billy Crystal explains to one of those friends the concept of a “do-over.” Do you remember, he says, when you used to play ball as a kid? Sometimes when you fouled things up, you would get a “do-over.” It was a second chance to swing at the ball. That’s what is happening to you now. You’re getting a “do-over” in life.
Something like that happens every January 1. We all collectively get a “do-over”—another chance to do it right. If 1992 was a tough year for you, cheer up. It’s a brand-new year! Things may turn out much better in the months ahead.
A Very Simple Question
In that spirit, I’m wondering how many of us have made New Year’s resolutions yet? Most of us, I suppose, use January 1 as a place to begin making some changes in life. Perhaps by now you don’t write them down; perhaps you don’t share them with anyone else. The specifics don’t matter. Most of us plan to lose weight, or to start saving money, or to call our parents, or to have a daily quiet time, or to break some stubborn habit.
Something like that happens every January 1. We all collectively get a “do-over”—another chance to do it right
How are you doing so far? This is January 3rd. Anyone broken a resolution yet? I thought so. That, of course, is the discouraging side of resolution-making. They are easy to make and hard to keep—even for 3 days! That’s why so many of us are so hesitant to make a new start. You mean well, you intend to change, but somehow life overtakes you and your new-found determination lasts about a week. Then it’s back to business as usual.
Nobody wants to fail. We all want to succeed. Sometimes it’s easier not to try than to try knowing you will certainly fail. Now I’ve been there myself many times, and I don’t have any magic answers for you. However, there is a biblical perspective we need to remember at the beginning of a new year. It’s a perspective that’s wrapped up in one simple word. If you remember not to use this particular word this year, your chances of succeeding are going to go through the roof. In fact, I think you’ll be happier if you make a decision here and now to cut this word right out of your vocabulary.
The word is can’t.
Sometimes it’s easier not to try than to try knowing you will certainly fail
That’s right. The one word you shouldn’t say in 1993 is the little word can’t. We use it all the time, don’t we? We say, “I can’t lose weight.” “I just can’t seem to save money.” “I try and try but I can’t find the time to read the Bible.” “After what she did, I can’t forgive her.” “No matter how hard I try, I can’t change.”
The Most Destructive Word
On and on it goes. In fact, I think you can make a persuasive case that “can’t” is the single most destructive word in the English language.
*It destroys motivation.
*It shifts responsibility.
*It denies reality.
When you say “can’t”—especially with reference to the problems of life—you are simply giving up without a fight. You are walking off the field, turning in your uniform, resigning your commission and admitting defeat—all without a battle. You are saying, “I’ve lost and it’s not even worth trying.”
Suppose that you knew you could … in 1993? Could what? You could pass calculus. You could get out of debt. You could lose 20 pounds. You could restore a broken friendship. You could get a new job. You could overcome your shyness. You name it. Suppose you knew that this year you could do it. What a difference that would make. What a great year 1993 would be!
My whole goal in this sermon is to convince you that you can. I firmly believe that this year you can do everything God intends for you to do. No matter how hard, no matter how difficult, no matter how impossible things may seem right now. If God wants you to do it, in 1993 you can!
Five Versions of One Verse
My text is only one verse of Scripture—but what a verse it is. You’ve heard it, you’ve read it, and most of you have memorized it. The verse is Philippians 4:13. It reads like this in the familiar King James Version: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The NIV says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” The Living Bible expands the text this way: “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me strength and power.” J.B. Phillips gave us this colorful rendering: “I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.” Finally, here is the unique translation of the Twentieth Century New Testament: “Nothing is beyond my power in the strength of him who makes me strong!”
No matter what version you use, Philippians 4:13 is a verse of unlimited possibility. My particular problem in this sermon is how to convey what this verse says in a way that will actually impact the way you live. Unfortunately this verse is so well-known that many of us take it for granted.
Check that. Most of us take it for granted. Who knows? Maybe we all take it for granted. For once, the person who never comes to church actually has an advantage over the person who comes all the time. If this verse is new to you, then you are probably in better shape to benefit from my words than if you’ve known it for 50 years.
No matter what version you use, Philippians 4:13 is a verse of unlimited possibility.
For most of you, Philippians 4:13 is an old friend. You know this verse, you memorized it years ago, you learned it in Sunday School, perhaps you have it on a plaque or a counted cross-stitch wall hanging. The down side of that is that over the years this verse has lost its power to amaze us, to challenge us, to encourage us and to convict us.
“I Can” Christianity
Here, then, is the question before the house: The Bible says that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. “All things.” Can you really do “all things” through Christ? Is that just wishful thinking, just another piece of hopeful religious propaganda? Or is it literally true?
“All things?” Most people would say, “Some things, yes. All things, no.” But the Bible clearly says, “All things.” Is this just hyperbole or is it literally true? Is this a verse upon which you can build a coherent, optimistic philosophy of life or is it just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo?
Can you do “all things” in 1993? I am going to give you four answers to that question. Along with each answer, I will also give you a principle to think about. These four answers—taken together with the four principles—make up what I call “’I can’ Christianity.”
Can you really do “all things” in 1993?
I. You Can If You Want To.
I call this the principle of Personal Desire. Before you can, you must want to. Before the deed, there must be the desire. In order to accomplish your goals in 1993, you’ve got to decide what it is you truly want to do.
Now there were a lot of football games over the past three or four days—a fact many wives discovered when their husbands suddenly turned into TV zombies and sat in front of the tube 14 hours a day. I think there were 16-18 college football games from Thursday through Saturday. Some of you loyal fans may have watched every moment of every game—and taped the ones you couldn’t watch.
But only one of those college games was important. That was the national championship game on Friday night in the Sugar Bowl between the University of Alabama and the University of Miami. It was the Team of the 70s versus the Team of the 80s. Both teams came into the game undefeated. Both teams were loaded with talent. All week long the papers were full of analysis. This was the Game. Everything else was PeeWee Football.
Well, I didn’t want to miss the game. I was speaking all last week at Word of Life Florida—about 50 miles north of Tampa. I gave my last message on Friday morning, finishing about 11:30 a.m. Then we loaded into the van for the trip back to Chicago. I told Marlene before we left, “Sweetheart, it doesn’t matter how far we travel today, we’re going to stop somewhere and watch the Sugar Bowl. And between now and then we’re going to drive as fast as we possibly can—right to the edge of the speed limit. But we are going to stop in time for the kickoff.”
So it was late in the afternoon and we were traveling from Tallahassee, Florida to Montgomery, Alabama along a road that took us across the southwestern corner of Georgia. We had just a few miles left and we would be in Alabama. At this point I was going slightly above the legal speed limit or maybe just more than slightly above. The sun in front of me was beginning to sink toward the horizon. My mind was fully concentrating on making it to Montgomery and finding a motel room by 7 p.m. So I suppose that’s why I didn’t notice the blue light in my rear-view mirror.
A Norman Rockwell Painting
When I saw it, I said to the boys, “Sit up straight. Get in your seat belts. Comb your hair. Clean up that trash. And smile!” When the officer came up to my window, he looked in on five smiling faces. We looked like a Norman Rockwell painting of “The All-American Family on Vacation.”
The officer said, “Sir, were you on your way to an emergency?” (Why do they always say that?) I meekly said, “No sir.” He said, “You know you were speeding.” I looked downcast and said, “Officer, I don’t know how fast I was going.” (Which was true, but I knew it was probably over 65.) With a stern voice he said, “You were going 70.” I hung my head in shame. There was nothing I could say at that point. He had me dead to rights.
Then he looked at my boys—the very picture of boyish innocence—and at Marlene, a look of caring concern on her face, and he said, “This is right on the edge. 70 is the cut-off point. If you had been going a little bit slower, I wouldn’t have to give you a ticket.” Then he paused and said, “But it is the first day of the new year. You’ve only got five more miles left of the beautiful state of Georgia. Just take it easy and we’ll let it go this time.” So I thanked him and wished him a happy new year. He got back in his patrol car and went the other way, and we drove off toward Alabama … slowly. I got out and let Marlene drive.
We drove through Dothan and up the road to Montgomery. By now it was a little bit after 6 p.m. The game started at 7:30 so we knew we had to stop soon. Finally, at 7:15 we stopped at the Holiday Inn in Prattville, just north of Montgomery. We got two rooms, deposited the boys in theirs, and I stretched out on the bed to watch the game.
“They Wanted It More”
Then a funny thing happened. I began to get sleepy. All that pressure and all those hours on the road had taken their toll. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I ended up going to sleep at halftime and didn’t wake up until one o’clock in the morning. I wondered, “Who won the game?” There wasn’t anybody to call, I couldn’t turn on the TV, there was no way to get the score. So I went back to sleep and woke up at 6:30 in the morning. I turned on ESPN and there was Lee Corso, Craig James and the other guy saying that Alabama won 34-13.
Lee Corso then gave this analysis of the game I slept through: “Alabama won because they wanted it more.” Miami came to play, but Alabama came to win. After all that hype, after months of practice, after a grueling season, after all the discussion and analysis, when the national championship was finally on the line, it all came down to this: One team wanted it more.
There’s an important lesson for us to learn. Isn’t it a principle in life that you usually get the things you really go after? Isn’t it true that if you really want something with all your heart, and if you focus all your energies toward one supreme goal, that’s what you’re going to achieve?
If you want it badly enough, you have a fighting chance of getting it.
That’s not the end of the story, but it is the place you have to begin. If you want it badly enough, you have a fighting chance of getting it. If you don’t really care, then it probably won’t happen. So many people who say they want to do things really don’t want to.
Won’t Versus Can’t
I’m not much of a counselor. It’s not the area of my training, my gift or my expertise. But like all pastors, I talk to many people about their personal problems. And although I’m not a counselor, I have learned a lot about human nature just by casual observation. Through the years I have learned this much: If you’ve got a problem in your life, you’re going to get better faster if you stop saying “can’t” and start saying “won’t.” Once you start saying “won’t” you’ve put the matter in the right framework.
We say, “I can’t lose weight.” For most of us that really means, “I won’t lose weight.” We say, “I can’t forgive.” For most of us that means, “I won’t forgive.” We say, “I can’t find time to read the Bible.” For most of us that means, “I won’t find time to read the Bible.”
If you’ve got a problem in your life, you’re going to get better faster if you stop saying “can’t” and start saying “won’t.”
When you say “won’t” instead of “can’t,” you have started to tell the truth. For most of us “can’t” is simply a convenient excuse.
Is it possible for you to do “all things” this year? Yes it is. But you must want to. That’s step number one—the principle of Personal Desire.
Can you really do “all things” in 1993?
II. You Can If God Wants You To.
This is the principle of Divine Direction. It’s crucial for you to understand this second answer because it is clearly stated in the text. “I can do all things through Christ.” This verse is not a blank check. It’s not as if Paul is saying, “I can do anything I can dream up.” No. If you read the context, he is speaking about the varying and sometimes difficult circumstances of life. Verse 11—”I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Verse 12—”Sometimes I find myself with plenty of food and sometimes I have nothing to eat. Sometimes I have a roof over my head and sometimes I don’t.” “I know what it is to have money in the bank and I know what it is to be flat broke. And I’ve learned to be content no matter what my situation might be.” (That’s the Pritchard Loose Paraphrase.) Then verse 13—”I have learned through the power of Jesus Christ that I can face whatever comes my way.” If it’s good, I can enjoy it. If it’s not so good, I can deal with it. Why? Because I have access to the everlasting strength of Jesus Christ.
Through Jesus Christ you can do everything God wants you to do this year.
Let me put this teaching in one sentence: Through Jesus Christ you can do everything God wants you to do this year. You can face everything he wants you to face, you can fight every battle he wants you to fight, you can obey every command, you can endure every trial, and you can overcome every temptation through Jesus Christ.
“If God Is In It, You Can Do It”
Back to the football game. Back to the University of Alabama. Now a word about their coach—Gene Stallings—a man who is a believer in Jesus Christ. He just won the National Championship on Friday night. If you watched the game, you may have seen a shot of his wife and their 30-year-old son Johnny. It was a poignant moment because the doctors said that Johnny would never live to be 10. You see, he was born with Down Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that delays full mental development. When he was born, the doctors predicted that he would never see adulthood because medical science in those days often simply ignored children with Down Syndrome, many times preferring not to treat them when they were sick. But Johnny proved the doctors wrong, grew up to be a healthy teenager and now a healthy and happy adult, living at home with his parents.
This week Gene Stallings made a comment about his son, “I’ve lost plenty of games as a football coach. But Johnny doesn’t mind. Every time I come home and tell him we’ve lost a game, he just smiles at me and says, ’You’ll get ’em next time, Pop.’ Then Gene Stallings said these words, “What seemed to be the worst thing to ever happen in my life has become the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.”
Two comments: 1. That sure puts a football game in proper perspective. 2. You can face whatever life throws at you through the power of Jesus Christ. Gene Stallings is living proof.
“If God is in it, you can do it.”
Let me share a simple phrase with you: “If God is in it, you can do it.” That brings it all together, doesn’t it? If God is in your difficulty, you can face it. If God is somehow in your failure, you can overcome it. If God is in your dreams, your dreams will come to pass. If God is in your goals, you can achieve every single one of them. If God is in your prayers, he will not only hear them, he will also answer them.
Can you really do “all things” in 1993?
III. You Can If You Rely on Jesus Christ.
This is the principle of Divine Enablement. We come now to the heart of the verse: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” This week I studied the last part of that verse and I discovered that it is a participle in the Greek. The word itself means “to pour strength into.” It’s like pouring milk into a pitcher or water into a glass or coffee into a cup. It’s the picture of something empty that is filled by an outside source. It’s the picture of a believer facing the problems of life—hopeless and helpless—and in that situation, Jesus Christ pours his strength into the believer’s life. He strengthens us—he pours his strength into us.
This is what makes Philippians 4:13 totally different from things like Positive Thinking, PMA, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” and other purely secular approaches to life. Those techniques may be useful and may in fact help you to a limited degree, but if that’s all you’ve got, you still don’t have anything that impacts your heart. You may get up every day, look in the mirror and say, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” That’s a nice thought, and if it helps you, okay. But that’s a far cry from the truth contained in this verse.
How far will PMA get you when you lose your job, when you come home and your wife has left you, when the stock market crashes, when your daughter has just decided to have an abortion. Where’s the hope for life? What will you cling to then? How will you find the strength to go on? Where is the anchor for your soul?
It takes more than positive thinking. You’ve got to have Jesus Christ on the inside. Are we who believe better than other people? No. Are we stronger? No. Are we spared the problems of life? No. Are we tougher than others? No. Does God give us a free pass so that what happens to others doesn’t happen to us? No. Are we wiser than others? No.
Does God give us a free pass so that what happens to others doesn’t happen to us? No.
Do we suffer? Yes. Do we know heartache and disappointment? Yes. Do we see our dreams crumble? Yes. Do we face opposition? Yes. Do we get sick? Yes. Do our loved ones die? Yes. Do we know tragedy, tears and death? Yes. All that anyone else suffers we suffer too.
What makes the difference? Only one thing. Jesus Christ within. We have the power of the indwelling Christ and that makes all the difference in the world.
Is it enough? Is Jesus Christ enough for the problems of life? Is his broken body enough? Is his shed blood sufficient? Is his intercession in heaven able to sustain us? Can his power meet the problems of life? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and the saints across the ages testify that Jesus Christ is enough.
You can do “all things” if this year you rely on Jesus Christ. Not on your own strength, not on your own power, not on your own wisdom, and not on your own ability to figure things out. But if you will say, “Lord Jesus, this year I’m relying on you,” you can do all things through Christ.
You can do “all things” if this year you rely on Jesus Christ.
Can you really do “all things” in 1993?
IV. You Can If You Start Today and Don’t Look Back.
This is the principle of the Personal Choice. One question: Which way are you going this year? Are you going backwards into 1992 or are you going forward into 1993? Your answer makes all the difference. So many people I know live in the past, worry about the past, fret over the past. Forget it! 1992 is over, done, gone, kaput, finished. It’s never coming back. You can’t go back even if you want to. The old year is over, the new one is dawning. Wrap up the old year and give it to the Lord. Then strike out in 1993 to do great things for God.
Wrap up the old year and give it to the Lord.
Let me put it all together. Can you really do “all things” in 1993? Yes, you can. Here are the four principles:
Notice that the first one is personal, the next two are divine, and the last one is personal. There’s perfect balance here. Two depend on you, two depend on God. Does it depend on you? Yes. Does it depend on God? Yes. Think of the verse this way: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It begins with I, ends with me, and Jesus Christ is in the middle.
Let me boil it down to four key words: “I can through Christ.” (To make it clearer, let me explain what I am not saying. I am not saying, “I can do all things.” Those are the words of a boaster. I am not saying, “I can do some things.” Those are the words of a doubter. But I am saying, “I can do all things through Christ.” Those are the words of a believer.)
Let me boil it down to four key words: “I can through Christ.”
You can do in 1993 everything God wants you to do. You can fulfill his will in your life. You can obey every command, endure every trial and overcome every temptation. You can do everything God wants you to do this year—through Jesus Christ.
There is, then, one word you ought not to say in 1993. That’s the little word “can’t.” Perhaps you’d like to make this into a motto and stick it on your dashboard: “I can through Christ.”
The Little Engine That Could
Last night as we were on the final leg of our trip from Indianapolis to Chicago, we began to talk about children’s stories. I asked the boys if they remembered a story called “The Little Engine That Could.” No doubt you’ve read it to your children many times. When I mentioned it to the boys, Nicholas immediately began telling it to the rest of us.
The boys and girls in the town on the other side of the big mountain were waiting for the train to bring them their toys. But to get to the town, you had to go up, up, up the mountain and then down, down, down the other side. Not an easy thing to do. When the train with the toys came to the last stop before the mountain, the engine broke. What to do? The engineer went looking for another engine to carry the train with the toys over the mountain to the boys and girls on the other side.
So he went to the roundhouse and talked to several engines but no one was interested. One big shiny engine said he only carried passenger trains. The big diesel locomotive didn’t want to bother with a load of toys. One by one all the big engines said no. Then from a corner came a voice, “I’ll do it.” It was a little switch engine. “I’ll do it. I’ll carry the train with the toys over the mountain to the boys and girls on the other side.” “But you’re much too small.” “I’m willing to give it a try.”
So they hooked the little engine up to the train with the toys. And that’s where the drama begins. You remember how the little engine began to gather steam for its climb up the mountain. Chug, chug, chug. As it gathered speed, the little engine that could began to say to itself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can,” each time a little faster than before. Up the mountain it went—”I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” At last, straining with every ounce of energy, the train cleared the crest and started down the other side. In the distance the children could see the train coming and they were cheering and waving and dancing with delight. Down the mountain comes the train—chug, chug, chug—with the little engine saying to itself, “I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.”
Most of you right now are on the other side of the mountain. Some of you are facing marital mountains, some financial mountains, some career mountains, some health mountains. Some of you are facing tasks that are so difficult that it seems impossible. The mountain seems so high, so forbidding, that you are tempted to give up without even trying.
If you hook up with Jesus Christ, you can climb that mountain this year.
If you hook up with Jesus Christ, you can climb that mountain in 1993. You can do it. When you come to the end of this year, you’ll say, “I thought I could.” Right now it’s only, “I think I can.” But remember—through Jesus Christ you can.
Let’s make this very practical. In the space below, write down three goals that you believe God wants you to reach in 1993. It can be personal, professional, relating to your family, your marriage, your friends, your career, your dreams, any part of your life at all.
A Place to Begin
With Christ’s help, in 1993 I can …
The story of the “Little Engine That Could” is charming and encouraging, but it is not entirely biblical. There are two important differences between the story and our text. In the story the little engine said, “I think I can.” But Paul was saying, “I know I can.” What makes the difference? The little engine was relying on its own power to get over the mountain. But we have available to us the resources of an infinite God. That’s the difference between “I think” and “I know.”
Can you really do “all things” in 1993? Through Christ you can.