I’ve had more than my fair share of “if only” moments in life. If only I had finished college…if only I hadn’t run up that credit card…if only I had listened to her advice…if only I had done a better job with my health. These missed opportunities were a result of personal choices, with no one else to blame but myself.
There are other “if only” moments we encounter in life. Ones that we have no control over—such as the loss of a loved one, a job or the end of a relationship. If only Jesus had healed our loved one. If only the company hadn’t folded. If only that person had been willing to make things work. Circumstances out of our hands, with no one else to blame (it seems) but God.
In the Bible we read about Martha, a woman who experienced one of those times. Her brother Lazarus had taken ill. Martha and her sister Mary had sent word to Jesus, letting him know about their dire circumstances. Yet Jesus didn’t rush to Lazarus’ bedside. He waited. As a result, by the time he finally got there, it was too late.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:1)
Like Martha, I have sent word to Jesus…letting him know about my dire circumstances. When my father was hospitalized in the beginning of 2015, I prayed for divine intervention. But no one, including the doctors, had any control over how quickly his interstitial lung disease progressed.
On February 3, 2015, I held one of his hands as he took his last breath. If only…
My story didn’t end like it did for Martha. Her “if only” was answered by a miraculous healing, as Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. I can’t help but wonder how long she might have stayed stuck in her “if only” thoughts. You see, it’s perfectly understandable to suggest that God might have done something to intervene in our painful circumstances. Clearly, He is capable of bringing back the dead…keeping our job intact…restoring that relationship. But when He doesn’t, will we get hung up on the “if only”? Or will we turn that into another statement, “But even if He does not…”
In Daniel 3, we read about King Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace. These three Israelites knew God’s power and ability to deliver them from the flames. In verse 18, this declaration is made: But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
There is always the possibility that God won’t do what we want. Where are you going to park your thoughts? On the “if only” or “but even if He does not”?
With the death of my dad, I was able to quickly move to the “but even.” It’s the only explanation for how I was able to sing worship songs to God, with tears rolling down my face, as I left his lifeless body at the hospice and went home to tell my family.
Yet there have been other circumstances in my life, where I stayed stuck on the “if only.” This resulted in a shaky faith, with no peace. My emotions strangled me. Everything felt hopeless. It’s a terrible place to remain stuck. The longer you park your thoughts there, the more difficult it is to get out of the pit.
God doesn’t mind hearing your declarations of “if only.” He can handle it. He understands. But that’s not where we are to remain. The sooner we get to the place of “but even if He does not,” the sooner we will experience the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). This is what will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.