I’m not completely sure why there are killer whales in San Antonio. When you think about Orcas, and where you should be able to find them, chances are your first thought isn’t, “Texas. We definitely have access to some killer whales in Texas.” But when I visited recently, I realized that not only did they have a Sea World, they also had one of the most terrifying elevators ever.
Look at that thing, it’s like stepping into the belly of the beast. (Please insert your own Jonah joke here.) Killer whales can travel 58mph. They can weigh 17,000 pounds and be 30 feet long. Scientists call them the most perfect killing machine ever created and they often eat great white sharks. For snacks. Let’s put one on an elevator with a wry whale smile.
I saw that whale because I was in San Antonio to speak at a church. I’ve been traveling a lot lately and to tell you the truth, these have been some wonderfully weird three months. I’ve had some crazy opportunities throw at me out of nowhere. We wrote a new book. We’ve planned out the next three books. We’ve talked about a new blog. I’ve been in 6 states in 36 hours, bouncing about the country like a newly gifted with two separate eyebrows young man.
And in the midst of that, I find myself stretched. I’m out of my comfort zone. A sure sign of critical growth, I find myself in new territories, doing new things. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to say in the midst of all of this is, “I can’t.”
I want to crush each new opportunity that comes my way. I want to rise to the occasion. I want to always find the silver lining of any challenge. And I think that’s how culture is wired these days.
Bosses tell us, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”
Coworkers tell us, “They’re not challenges, they’re opportunities.”
Parents tell us, “Buck up, you made this mess, you can get out of it. Bootstrap it!”
Friends tell us, “Don’t be so negative, you just need to pray more. You can do it.”
We are a generation of “we can.” We believe anything is possible. The sky is the limit. The phrase, “I can’t,” is weak. It’s pessimistic. It’s negative.
We must be positive! We look down on doubt. We challenge people who feel challenged. We question the faith of Christians who feel stuck or limited or maybe even lost in situations.
But some things are bigger than we have the ability to “positive think away.”
I don’t know if you can instantly silver lining away the pain of a divorce.
I don’t know if you can turn a frown upside down when a teenage daughter emotionally or physically runs away from you.
I don’t know if you can “the sun will come out tomorrow,” a job loss that cost you not only your stature, but how you’ll pay the rent next month.
And into those situations we add the idea of being “better.” We start to hear a soundtrack that says, “If I were a better Christian, I wouldn’t feel this way. If I were a better mom, I wouldn’t have these issues with my kids. If I were a better accountant, I would get promoted and never have to worry about money.”
There are a million ways to mad lib that idea, the “If I were a better ___________, I would _________.”
We hear those statements and we don’t want to admit we can’t. We want a can do attitude. Something positive. But that’s not really what we see in the Bible. That’s not what we see exhibited by someone who had an impossibly difficult road.
Joseph, of fruit stripe gum colored coat fame, had a pretty difficult road. His brothers debated killing him. They sold him into slavery. He worked as a servant. He was wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit and was thrown in jail. He stood on the precipice of escape after helping a fellow inmate only to have that person forget him. For years.
And when he returned to the edge of redemption, when he was brought from the depths of jail into Pharaoh’s palace, we find 7 crazy words. We find 7 words we ourselves might not have said, given the circumstances.
Pharaoh has had a bad dream. (This is very different from singer Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.”) No one can interpret it, but Pharaoh has heard great things about Joseph. In Genesis 41:15 he says to Joseph:
“I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
This is a “yes we can!” situation if ever there was one. In a single sentence, Pharaoh said “you” three times. This is Joseph’s moment! “I can do it! I can!” That’s what Joseph should say. Essentially Pharaoh is asking him, “You’ve been in jail for years. Would you like to be free? Can you interpret this dream for me?”
And what is the first thing out of Joseph’s mouth? What does he possibly say:
“I cannot do it,”
Oh no! Epic fail! Wrong answer. That’s like saying that you still want to be in jail. But wait, he’s not done. The full verse reads like this:
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
I love that! “I cannot do it, but God will …”
I love that Joseph realized he was way outside of his abilities. I love that even if it cost him additional jail time, he was going to be honest and say those two words we think make us look so weak, “I can’t.”
We sometimes think we must be superheros for God. We sometimes drop the second half of Philippians 4:13 and instead just say, “I can do all things …” We sometimes want our Goliath moments without ever wrestling bears first. But that’s not what we see in the Bible.
Joseph told Pharaoh, I can’t but God can.
Moses told God flat out, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”
David didn’t show up to fight Goliath, he brought lunch. He didn’t say, “I can,” he said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
We might not like to say it, but I think that as believers, we are the “people of I can’t.” But that’s OK, because we serve the God who “can.”
There will be challenges ahead. Dreams that are bigger than your talents. Giants taller than your abilities. Cliffs higher than your hopes. And as you survey them, don’t worry. Don’t fear. Don’t tremble. But also, don’t lose sight of the 7 words of Joseph:
“I cannot do it, but God will …”