When Phil and I were newlyweds, we were in Wal-Mart one day getting some duplicate keys made. As we waited at the counter, my cell phone rang, and I turned slightly away from Phil to take the call.
(By the way, if you’re a new reader, this might be a good time to tell you I’m blind.)
When I hung up a few minutes later, I reached out to put my arm around Phil’s waist. As I did, I slipped my hand down and patted him on his—well, you know. We were newlyweds, after all!
As I did, I heard him say, “Jennifer, what are you doing?”
I could tell he was trying to hold back a laugh. I could also tell his voice was not next to me anymore, but behind me. I was horrified when I realized he had stepped away from the counter while I was on the phone, and another man had taken his place.
“I am so sorry, sir!” I yelped.
By now, Phil was laughing. I didn’t have my cane out, and I don’t really look blind at first glance, so I’m sure the man had no idea why I had so brazenly patted his backside. I could feel myself turn every shade of red God ever created as the confused and violated man muttered, “No problem,” and stepped away.
“Tell him I’m blind,” I whispered through clenched teeth. Phil was laughing so hard he couldn’t even talk.
“If you had been here, this would not have happened!” I scolded him.
Does that phrase sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve found yourself saying something similar such as, “If You had been here, God, then…”
Friend, you and I are not the first ones to grapple with “if/then” speculations. The apostle John tells of Martha and her sister Mary, who were heartbroken when their brother Lazarus died.
Jesus was a family friend, so they had sent word to Him that Lazarus was deathly ill. But Jesus didn’t get there until it was too late, and Lazarus died. When Jesus finally arrived, Martha said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).
I love the way she just tells Jesus how it is. And we all get it. We know Martha is saying with her heart, “Lord, I trusted You. Where was Your presence when we needed You most?”
But was Martha’s statement to Jesus true?
Martha believed Jesus’ presence would protect Lazarus from death. She knew He could touch her brother and heal him completely. As far as she was concerned, if Jesus had been there before Lazarus breathed his last breath, then Lazarus would not have died.
Yet isn’t it also possible that Lazarus could have died with Jesus right there with him, holding his hand? The truth is, yes.
What happens in our lives has nothing to do with God’s presence and everything to do with His providence. Sometimes we may think it is God’s presence that keeps us from hard and awful things. But often it is God’s presence that comforts us as He carries us through those hard and awful things.
Like Martha, have you ever placed any “ifs” on God?
- God, if You had been here, then ______ wouldn’t have happened?
- Lord, if Your presence was truly with me, this tornado wouldn’t have destroyed our home.
- God, if You really were with me, how could I have been treated so terribly?
“If” is a word of speculation; it is not a word of reality.
When we use the word “if” with God, we are pining for the past or projecting ourselves into the future.
- If You would just do what You did in the past, I would know You are with me.
- If You would just give me a sign for the future, I could trust that You have a plan.
- If You would make my today just like my yesterday, I wouldn’t be so focused on tomorrow, and I could enjoy Your presence now.
But thoughts like these can keep us from being present and attentive to what God is doing in our lives right now.
Oh girl, instead of creating “if/then” scenarios to satisfy what we don’t understand about God’s ways, let’s switch our focus. Instead of “what if” let’s choose to focus on “what is.” And, here is what is:
God is with us.
God is an ever-present help in times of trouble.
God is sovereign.
Sister, there is no need to fantasize about the future, or to pine for the past. God is here and we can claim His promises as our own. And He promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
And He didn’t use the word “if” at all in His promises—so we don’t need to either!
How is God’s presence comforting and encouraging you right now in a present challenge, situation, or struggle you face? Share in the comments below.