Do you remember “The Little Engine That Could?” As I understand it, the first record of the story is from a sermon. Did you know that? The Rev. Charles S. Wing was preaching to his church in Brooklyn on April 8, 1906. He told the story of a train that needed to be pulled up a hill. Other engines said “No,” so the little engine was asked. She accepted the challenge and repeated all the way up the hill, “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” And if you’ve read the story, you know she is successful. It is a great story about faith and optimism, but it also speaks to the importance of our words. The little engine spoke out loud what she believed.
The Apostle Paul knew the importance of our words. In many of his letters, he advised individuals, such as Timothy, as well as most congregations to be careful how they spoke to one another. His view on this might be summed up best in what he said to the church at Ephesus, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). A few verses later, in verse 29, he says, “Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.” That is worth reading again. “Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.”
This is a powerful verse. How we need to hear it these days! Wouldn’t you like to be remembered as one who spoke like this? The little engine saying “I think I can” helped get the train over the hill. She made the difference in whether the train achieved its task and got where it was supposed to go. Paul said it is similar for us. We are called to “only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.”
When we say what is helpful, we are on the way to meeting our goal. We are like the little engine. Can we learn to speak like this? Can we do it? “I think we can, I think we can, I think we can….”
– Dr. David Campbell is the senior pastor at Due West United Methodist Church. He is a husband, father, grandfather and former Army chaplain. He can be reached at email@example.com. Church website duewest.org.