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The Little Engine That Could

“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23



One of my favorite stories as a young child was “The Little Engine That Could.” First published in 1930, the story has been told and retold many times since its first known publication in the early 20th century. For those unfamiliar, the tale begins with a long train filled with toys and goodies for children on the other side of a mountain. When the train’s engine breaks down, several larger engines are asked to pull the train over the hill, but they all refuse for various reasons. Finally, a small blue engine, the Little Engine, agrees to try despite its small size. As it approaches the steep incline, it puffs, “I think I can, I think I can.” Upon successfully topping the crest with its heavy load, it says to itself. “I knew I could, I knew I could.” Despite its size and the challenge, the little engine exemplifies optimism and self-belief.


In Mark 9:17-24, we encounter a father who brings his son to Jesus for healing. The son is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech and caused him physical harm. The father, though, hoping against hope that Jesus can heal his son, approaches with doubt: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22). Jesus' response leaves no room for doubt; it is within the authority given him by the Father. The man then freely confesses, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v.24). Jesus then rebukes the spirit and heals the boy. The passage illustrates the struggle between faith and doubt and the importance of holding firmly to belief in the face of adversity.


Both stories convey that belief is not just a state of mind but an active force that can change outcomes. The little engine’s self-encouragement and the father’s plea for help in his unbelief are moments of transformation that lead to success and healing, respectively. They teach us that while doubt is a natural part of life, it is through faith and belief that we find the strength to overcome challenges. 


Sometimes, we are more likely to identify with the man praying, “I believe, help me with my unbelief.” We know God answers prayer, yet doubt creeps in in our impatience and incomprehension. Rather than confidentially puffing, “I think He can!” we puff, “I think He might!” But as we saw in the passage, Jesus heals despite our nagging doubt. 

How do we overcome our doubt using the message of the little engine?


Acknowledge the Challenge: Just like the Little Engine faced the daunting task of climbing a mountain, we should acknowledge the challenges and doubts without underestimating them.


Affirmation: The Little Engine used the mantra "I think I can" as self-encouragement. Similarly, we can use prayer to bolster our belief in Jesus, knowing we can overcome seemingly impossible obstacles through Him.


Taking Action: Despite doubts, the Little Engine didn't remain idle; it attempted the climb. We, too, must take action, even when uncertain of the outcome, but trust in Jesus.


Persistence: The Little Engine repeated its mantra throughout the journey, demonstrating persistence. When doubts arise, we must remain persistent in prayer.


Seek Support: The Little Engine was not alone but part of a team of engines. When faced with the challenge of pulling the train over the mountain, the little engine received encouragement and support from other engines. When doubt overwhelms us, seeking support from friends, family, or faith can provide the strength we need to continue.


Reflect on Past Successes: Just as the Little Engine could look back on the distance covered, we can reflect on all the times when God has answered our prayers–what He has done before and what He will do again. 


Gracious Father, We come before You with hearts open to Your transformative power,

as shown in the Gospel of Mark. Just as the father in the scripture cried out to Jesus for the healing of his son, we, too, seek Your intervention in our lives.


Lord, we believe in Your might and mercy, but our faith is sometimes challenged by the trials we face. In those moments of doubt, we echo the father's earnest plea: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"


Grant us the strength to trust in Your plan, the courage to face our mountains, and the

faith to believe in the impossible. May Your grace be sufficient for us, and May Your power be made perfect in our weakness.


We pray in the name of Jesus, who makes all things possible. Amen.


Blessings,

Pastor Tim



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