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The Temptation of "If"

"He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear,

and put their trust in the LORD" (Psalm 40:3 ESV).

The word IF used to paralyze me.

As a child I stood on the edge of the playground, wanting desperately to engage with the laughing girls who were jumping double-dutch. What if I stumble and they laugh at me? As a teen, I loved writing poetry and attended a performing arts school, but what if I share and my poetry is rejected?

As an adult, I wanted deep relationships. What if I say or do the wrong thing and they leave me? "What if" kept me from trying new things. My unique and creative view of the world was left unheard, and my gift of encouragement remained underdeveloped. I was timid, shy, and wrote in secret. There was no end to trying to prove myself worthy while, at the same time, I sabotaged relationships because "what if" I was wrong. Worst of all, trying to control the outcomes of what-ifs didn’t stop the trials and trouble from happening. My family fell apart. Those I loved passed away. I still experienced rejection and loss. And, at times, the deep wounds of unrealized dreams plagued me. It's true, succumbing to the "What ifs" gave me control of my life, but it also stifled the opportunities for good outcomes. You see, the constant questioning made it all about me and left very little room for God. Meeting Jesus caused a shift in my thinking. Because I learned that Jesus is good, it opened my heart to the possibility of good things happening in my life. Reading scripture taught me that taking risks would result in an abundant life because of the relationship I had with Him. "But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). As I began the practice of looking for the possibility of relationships with others, I sought the task of making friends. The reality of, What if I fail? made stumbling a reality. So I read scripture, prayed often, and my fear of failure turned to hope. The result was learning what it meant to be a faithful friend in small and big ways. You see, Jesus showed me, through scripture, what a true friend looked like. He told his disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15 ESV). In the past, I would have stopped trying, but because I could see in scripture that Jesus went out of his way to make friends and maintain the relationships, I didn't give up on making friends. Even putting all of this to practice, I didn't always do or say the right thing, and neither did my friends. Low and behold, with Christ's help, we could forgive one another, and our relationship became deeper because we were open to God's goodness in our friendships. My first attempt at college resulted in failure. With the Lord's help, I tried again, and the second time around I took study skills classes. This helped me realize I wasn't stupid after all, I just had to learn differently. D's and F's turned into A's and B's. I started experimenting with different styles of writing and found joy in encouraging others through the written word. Sharing became a delight. An opportunity to grow in writing and share the reason for the hope that I have. When my oldest son died, God showed me that He was still faithful in my life. God revealed the hope and glory beyond the grave. I have been able to share this hope with those who have lost loved ones to suicide, resulting in a more abundant life for me and for others. Life is not always easy. Challenges continue to cause the What Ifs to rise to the surface, threatening to paralyze me. Yet now the question excites me, and it helps me to grow in my writing and in my faith. This post comes to you after a couple of months of feeling frozen and unable to work through the fog my insomnia had kept me in. When I couldn’t see the next steps to take in my writing, God told me to be still in my uncertainty and trust that He was working behind the scenes. He spiritually fed me with sweet time in His word and worshiping with other writers. God started bringing strangers for me to minister to within their dark places of despair. God did this in my time of waiting, and without me seeking these people out. I supported and encouraged other leaders as they too struggled to wait patiently for God’s direction. I praise God for the incredible week He just orchestrated. I shared my testimony on an international platform, and others opened their hearts to God's faithfulness in their what-ifs. God gave me an opportunity to weep with and pray for families in crisis and encourage those suffering physical pain. None of this would have possible without asking what-if and believing God would bring positive outcomes. And you know, looking back on this week I am delighted to ask what if? "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD" (Psalm 40:3 ESV). "What if" now means I stand eagerly on the doorstep of heaven and wait to see the good gifts Papa God has for a world so in need of hope. And I get to be a part of His delivery team! Yes, Lord. Thank you, for using me to point to You.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT Satan can destroy us on the cliff of “if”. He’ll carry us to the great heights of physical, mental, and even spiritual success, and show us all we will obtain if we submit to him. Satan asks, "Did God really say that?" (Genesis 3:1 Paraphrased NIV). Because of Satan's power, we start to wonder if what God says is trustworthy. We start to question God's goodness and to feel He may be holding out on us. "'You will not certainly die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'"(Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). It cost Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden, the right relationship with each other, and creation. They feared God, and their trust of Him waned. But God formed a bridge by sending his own son to transform our what-ifs of doubt into what-ifs of anticipation. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). No matter how broken and messed up we think we are, when we encounter a "what-if" we can look at God's unchanging character and use the truth of scripture to anticipate good things. Now, when we encounter a "what-if," we can look at God's provision and use the truth of scripture to anticipate good things.

Here are some passages of scripture to add to your toolbox:

  • God values me: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27 ESV).

  • God created me and will equip me to minister, no matter the circumstances: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

  • God formed me and is fully capable to rescue me: "Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: 'I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.' " (Isaiah 44:24 ESV).

  • God is transforming me to look more and more like Him: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

Our what-ifs, in the hands of a creative God, become spectacular testimonies of healing, moving beyond what hinders us, and head-turning possibilities. PRAYER Lord, you know me inside and out. May I know You so well that when I hear the word “if” I recognize the enemy and declare the truth and anticipate Your glory. Amen

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