Lost in the ‘woulds’

Gerald Cowan’s Personal Periodicals – 649


Ask church members to do something. It may be some service, or some continuing duty and responsibility to be assigned or, perhaps, a one-time need to be fulfilled. It may even be something the Lord expects, requires and commands. Of course, you must not embarrass one by insisting that he or she explain and justify a refusal to do what is being requested – or by suggesting that, In your judgment, he or she is well qualified and able to it. The reply will often be: “I would like to do it, and I would if I could, but I can’t.” That I can’t is supposed to be taken at face value, without further question from you. But if pressed, or if feeling they must offer a reasonable explanation, they will offer an excuse or excuses that justify them in saying no to the request. Let’s focus on matters required and requested by the Lord himself. Here are a few representative examples:

Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). “I would attend the services, but I can’t,” because .. “It isn’t a convenient time for me … I don’t have decent clothing … I don’t have transportation and walking is not an option … the weather looks threatening … I may have visitors … I think I’m going to be sick and indisposed.” In reality it may be because, “I don’t like the way things are done … I don’t like the preacher … I don’t feel welcome because I’m different from the others.” Not many will admit: “I don’t attend because I just don’t want to.” But even that excuse wouldn’t justify one’s absence and lack of involvement.

By this time you ought to be teaching others (Hebrews 5:12). “I would teach a class, I would try to teach others about Christ and the church, but I can’t, because I’m not qualified – I don’t know enough and others already know more than I do. I’m afraid I will make mistakes or be asked questions I can’t answer to their satisfaction.” There’s some validity in that, but what are you doing to become qualified? Are you willing to seek and accept help – from others or from God, so that you can answer the call when needed?

Give as you have prospered and purposed: God loves a cheerful giver (1 Corinthians 16:2, 2 Corinthians 9:7). “I would give to the Lord and his church, and to the needs of others, but I can’t because I have other obligations, and besides that, I don’t approve some things the church is doing and I don’t think the church needs the money.”

Visit and minister to the needs of widows and orphans, the sick, hungry, persecuted and prisoners, etc (James 1:27, Matthew 25:36). “I would visit and help others but I can’t because I’m not very good at doing that kind of thing – it really depresses me. I’ve got troubles of my own without taking on the troubles of others. I think sometimes people deserve to be left alone and made to help themselves.” So, is that the way you want others to treat you, just leave you alone and not help you? (Matthew 7:12).
Go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15, 2 Timothy 4:1). “I would be a preacher/evangelist/missionary but I can’t because I don’t think God has called me for that. You don’t have to go to far away places to preach and teach. There are other Christian works that are more rewarding and less difficult or costly.” So, what are you doing instead of missions and evangelism? Are you actually doing these things at home?

Well, you get the idea, don’t you? The work of the church and the works of Christians often get “lost in the woulds” of members and professed Christians. In some cases the excuse formula should be changed from “I would go, do, give but I can’t” to “I could if I would, but I don’t and won’t.” Of course we must avoid accusing anyone of misrepresenting his or her abilities and opportunities. But it is certainly easy to under-estimate one’s abilities, easy not to recognize one’s opportunities, and misjudge one’s response to needs, requests, (and even commands of God). But we are surely safe in suggesting one should never assume he cannot do a certain thing until he has at least tried to do it. You may never know what you can do until you try honestly and sincerely to do it – perhaps trying several times before being convinced you really cannot do it. You may find out: where’s there’s a will and earnest trying, there’s way to succeed, for you too.

Here’s a follow-on lesson. God does not require what one cannot do – He judges according to what one has, not what one doesn’t have and can’t get (2 Corinthians 8:12). He doesn’t expect or require a “one-talent” person to produce what a multi-talent (2, 5, or more) can do and does do (read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30). The talent in the parable is a sum or quantity of money – it is not an ability. Notice in verse 15, the master or property owner distributes his money among his servants and implies opportunities to use it in ways that will benefit him, not them, the amount based upon his assessment of the abilities they already possess. The two-talent and five-talent men were not commended and rewarded based upon the amount gained by their efforts – a doubling of what they had to work with, but rather based upon their faithfulness in doing what they could with what had been entrusted to them. The one-talent man was not condemned because he did not produce at the same level as the others – doubling the investment – nor was he commended because he did not lose any of what was entrusted to him. He was condemned and rejected because he made no effort to use and improve upon his talent; he did nothing to benefit either himself or the one who had invested in him. Fear of failure and consequent censure by a demanding investor crippled him: he ended by losing everything, including the initial talent he had received.. Do you see the application here? Whether or not given directly by God, we have abilities, resources, and opportunities. We can use what we have for Him, or we can refuse and fail. But we will not be judged on what we could have done had we tried, but on what we did with what we had.


We give our lives to You
In rust that You will make our lives complete.
Grant us courage, Father, as we face adversity.
We are so often weak.
Give us something of You all-sufficient strength.
We lose our hope too easily.
Help us then to persevere.
Teach us patience, for we find it difficult to wait.
Set our feet in safety on the our Lord, the Rock;
May we never waver or be moved from Him.
Let meekness dissipate our self-important airs.
In true submission may we find true liberty.
Teach us charity and kind forbearance,
For we are too often uncooperative and selfish.
Undo pride and our self-seeking will
that we might be more tolerant of others.
Enable us to bear life’s burdens for ourselves and others.
But share the burden with us, Lord,
and never let the weight of trial overcome us.
May we find knowledge in Your word
for we would not be ignorant of You.
Grant us wisdom so that knowledge is not used improperly.
Comfort us in sadness.
Ease the ache in hearts now filled with sorrow.
Grant that might not be anxious slaves to stress,
But set the peace of Christ within our hearts.
And most of all — above all else,
Sustain our souls in spiritual communion with Yourself,
for we can never live by bread and water alone,
but only with the food of Your word and the water of life
for our spirits as provided for us in Christ.
Be our Rock and Refuge, our Help and Hope, our Strength and Stay. Keep us on the pathway to life and heaven
marked out clearly for us in Your Son, our Lord Jesus.

– Gerald Cowan