‘If only’, what powerful words. ‘If only I hadn't done this, said that, or thought the other’, ‘if only my attitude had been different’. Some of our ‘if onlys’ are immediately apparent with immediate impact, others grind away for years before the fruit of actions, thoughts, feelings and attitudes becomes apparent. Either way the effect on us and others can be bigger than we could ever imagine - maybe even catastrophic. Sometimes this is what others have done to us and sometimes it can be what we have done to others, or more than we would like to admit, done to ourselves. The realisation can leave a sick feeling in our stomachs and our minds going over ‘if only…’.
The Lord of course knows all about ‘if onlys’, some of which are impossible to avoid; Matthew 26:39 ‘Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me - nevertheless not my will but Yours be done’. The prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. ‘If only this didn't have to be this way’. Jesus was in effect praying. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Hell the rich man is saying ‘if only I had lived my life differently and not ended up here, if only Moses could go and warn my brothers’ (Luke 16:19-31). The children of Israel who ended up forty years in the wilderness for their lack of faith; ‘if only we had believed Yahweh when He told us to take the land’ (Numbers 13 and 14 and 14:33)! Paul speaking to the crew and passengers of the ship before it was shipwrecked in Acts 27:21 ‘men, if only you had listened to what the Lord told me and I told you, you would not have suffered this danger and loss’. The scenarios are numerous and serve as warnings and examples to encourage and challenge us to obey and exercise our faith in walking with the Lord. Although some ‘if onlys’ are necessary, inevitable, and sometimes for our learning and growth, others are not – we bring them upon ourselves. Even here though, the bible has guidance to help us know what to do. Before we go there let me explain why I was drawn to choose ‘if only’ topic for a blog.
The second ‘if only’ was not to get caught out by not putting right what we know to do, or being found in a place of disobedience when the Lord starts to move. Hasten to put right what is wrong and be obedient in the matters where we have been resisting the Lord's will. We do not know when the Lord will hold us to account and the scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:31 ‘But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment’. The Lord warns us; ‘Don't be saying ‘if only’ on the day of the Lord's visitation’ - we may miss out or we may be tried by fire and found wanting; 1 Corinthians 3:13 ‘their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work’.
As I have said before, the Bible has some guidance to help us with the regret associated with ‘if onlys’. Here are some examples: Avoid them in the first place - how often did Adam and Eve have occasion to ponder 'if only' about partaking of the forbidden thing? (Genesis 3). Was their heartfelt cry ‘if only we hadn't done what we were told not to do’. Let’s not knowingly flirt with disaster by putting ourselves in temptation’s way. Proverbs 6:27 challenges us; ‘Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned’. Yet so many of us have experienced the consequences of flirting with things from which God had delivered us or our tendency to repeat known weaknesses – ‘if only I hadn't I wouldn't be feeling like this again’. Remember Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17, who for one bowl of soup gave away his birth-right … and later found no place of repentance although he sought it fervently with tears’.
‘If onlys’ often have two parts; one towards God and one towards ourselves or others. We often need to put both right. We need to forgive ourselves or others for offences; ‘forgive those who have trespassed against us’ and restore where and what is necessary. We remember Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8 ‘……..if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’. Forgiveness and restoration for ourselves and others comes in many forms from financial settlement to emotional healing and sometimes it can be costly and painful. In Psalm 51:10 David said, ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’. David’s Godward response was prayer and repentance, the same response given by Jonah ‘out of the depths I cried unto the Lord... I will pay what I have vowed...’ (Jonah 2:2 and 9). In that prayer, meeting the Lord challenged me about something that has niggled me for years. This was something that I contributed to at the time which I thought was a Godly act. Later I realised that it was an arrogant act filled with pride that brought some practical disadvantage to another person. I often regretted this deeply and thought that I should do something about it but never acted. What I thought in the meeting was ‘when I come before the Lord face to face is this un-dealt issue the thing that I really want on my mind’? Let’s hasten to put right what we know the Lord has an issue with and let us listen to what He has to say more carefully so that our ‘if onlys’ are less.
Author: Chris Pearson
May God bless and enrich your life
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