It started with a conference (Christian Camp & Conference Association) back in early December. Not only was I one of the speakers for the conference, I was part of the team that planned the conference. And as we dreamed about what God might say to us at that event, we kept coming back to two phrases – one, a phrase of regret: “IF only…”, and the other, a phrase of expectation: “What IF…?”.

As I prayed and prepared for that conference, it dawned on me that most of my ministry happens between those two phrases, and God began me to prompt me to give that idea some thought. Somewhere between devotional study of the life of Jacob, and some sermon prep around disappointment with God (see 2 Kings 4: 1-7 and John 11: 1-44), I found myself coming back to this basic truth: We are not limited by our “If only’s…” and our “What if’s…?” are as limitless as the promises of God.

If you’ve spent much time doing ministry between “IF only…” and “What IF…?” I invite you to read what follows. It’s probably more of a poem, than a blog…and as you read it through, you’ll discover that it’s not much of a poem either. Whatever it is, my prayer is that you might hear it as a word of encouragement as we all start out a new year of life and ministry together:

We are not limited by our “if only’s”. And our “What If’s” are as limitless as the promises of God.

“If only’s” tell a lie.

  • They tell an incomplete story.
  • They point to a shortfall, a lack, a deficit.
  • They add up the circumstances and come up with a negative.

Because they don’t add in God.

  • “If only” is Jacob scheming and conniving to get a blessing from God.
  • “If only” is Israel grumbling in the wilderness lost in disappointment.
  • “If only” is the spies who think Canaan can’t be won.
  • “If only” is the army that cowers in the face of the giant.
  • or stops its march at the foot of the wall.
  • “If only” is the widow who has only one jar of oil (2 Kings 4:1-7).
  • “If only” is the counselors of Job giving easy answers to hard questions.
  • “If only” is looking at a multitude of people and a very small amount of fish.
  • “If only” is a beaten band of disciples locked behind doors of fear and discouragement (John 20: 19).
  • “If only” is saying, “Lord, you should have been here”…and you weren’t (John 11:21).
  • “If only” traps up, slaps us, and wraps us in grave clothes of surrender and despair.

And it tells us a lie

Because with God…

“if only” is never the final word.

Our “If only”‘s simply set the stage for God’s “What if…”

What if God meets us in a place we don’t expect,

in a whisper we weren’t listening for,

with a gift we never expected,

through circumstances we would never have chosen

with a promise we don’t deserve,

in a way we never imagined?

What if we changed our stories – so that instead of ending the story with “if only”, we opened a new chapter with “What if?” What if we chose not to give in to hard questions …

…big walls,

…small thinking,

…difficult people,

…dry places,

…tight spots,

….inadequate resources,

….unmet expectations,

“What if” we chose to believe that God isn’t finished with us…

…with our families

…with our church

…with our ministries

…with our students?

What if we wait and watch and hope and believe for God’s “What if”?

We are not limited by our “if only’s…”. And our “What If’s…?” are as limitless as the promises of God.

This is my prayer for you (and for me!) as we begin the new year. Thanks for what you do, and for the privilege of allowing guys like me to share in your ministry!