• That Little Word, “IF”

    Posted on December 18, 2012 by Dan Beaty in Blog Posts, Podcasts.

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    IF………A small, commonly used word with great implications………..

    Today I would like to discuss a very small word that often has very large implications. It is the word “If.” The very idea behind it can challenge well established, deep philosophical and theological concepts. It can also knock the props out from under the most common excuses people make.

    Let me ask this question: Are you looking for excuses, or are you looking for answers? Are you looking for someone else to blame for your problems, or are you looking for hope, and a way out of them? Do you believe that things in our world can be improved or not? Whatever is your outlook, I hope you will hear me out today.

    On the one hand, we acknowledge that from the earliest centuries of religious thought, people have recognized and affirmed the fact of the supreme authority of God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of this entire universe. Nothing escapes His notice, and never has the universe been outside of His control. I personally take great comfort in this.

    Yet on the other hand, multitudes of conclusions have been drawn from this truth that may or may not themselves be true. One in particular is often harmful and detrimental to our understanding of God, and our place in His purposes.

    The conclusion I am referring to is the one in which many hold that the sovereignty of God and His eternal purposes dictate in some manner or other every aspect of our lives. They hold that our choices, the consequences of our choices and even our eternal destination has been determined by God from before creation.

    That God has the right to plan our lives is not an issue here. But the fact that God has challenged us to make wise choices, and to take responsibility is also well established. In many cases both in recent and ancient times we have truly seen the Hand of God at work, ordering events and circumstances. This might lead us to the conclusion that we really do not have any say as to what has happened to us or what will happen in the future — except for the existence of this little word, “If.”

    The very existence of the word “If,” and the 1595 times it is found in the Bible call into question this fatalistic view we are discussing. Admittedly, there are figurative uses of the word throughout the Bible. For instance when God said, “If you could number the stars” in Genesis 15:5, He did not suggest that Abram could or should actually count all the stars. Yet it is my conviction that a great many times the word is found in the context of a possible choice and course of action that in fact could go in several different directions.

    Consider the choice offered Cain in Genesis 4:6-7:

    Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
    “If you do well, will not {your countenance} be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

    In other words: “It’s up to you — Cain!”

    On many other occasions people were given a choice with the promise that desirable events would follow IF the right choice would be made. Often it was shown that the opposite would follow if the opposite choice was made.

    In Exodus 15:26, The LORD said: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

    Also in Exodus 19:5-6, we read: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

    Consider Deuteronomy 11:26-28: “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse;
    A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day:
    And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.”

    And 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

    Through the prophet Jeremiah, He said:
    “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.
    And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” (Jeremiah 18:7-10)

    Here the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:19:
    “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”

    Joshua later exhorted his people with these words:
    “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
    And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

    Here we see how God’s people whom He had chosen were called upon to make their choice rightly.

    Now it could be said that God knew and even planned beforehand what choices they would make. You decide for yourself if that explanation allows for much sincerity on God’s part. That view, in my opinion reflects poorly on the character of God. In one instance God did say that He would harden Pharoah’s heart. The way in which He did that is not stated, and in other instances in the Old Testament we see how God used both the good and evil choices of people to accomplish His will. Yet throughout we can see Him challenging them — not forcing them — to use their ability to choose Him.

    Now let us move to the New Testament, where this word “if” begins to project even greater possibilities!

    In chapter 9 of the Gospel according to Mark, a man approached Jesus concerning his son. The disciples of Jesus could not help him, and when the father brought his son to Jesus, he continued in the strange behavior that was brought on by the spirit that possessed him.

    The father said to Jesus: “ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

    Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
    And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:22-24).

    Notice that Jesus did not tell the man that the fate if his child was already determined. If that were true, then only one possibility existed, the one that was predetermined. But here we find that little word “if.” It came to challenge this man’s thinking and ours as well. There are more possibilities than one. The disciples might have come to the conclusion that since they were not able to exorcise this evil spirit, that the fate of this child was fixed. Perhaps it was not God’s will for his deliverance.

    But Jesus pressed his disciples and the child’s father. There was a reason that the disciples had failed, and it was not because it was God’s will for them to fail. Their unbelief was the problem. Thankfully Jesus had the answer for that also.

    Unbelief has many sources. Some are simply not willing to believe. Others, like this man, are willing but find it difficult. Perhaps we have been influenced by fatalistic views concerning God’s sovereignty. Perhaps we have seen so many prayers seem to go unanswered. Often the circumstances look so dark and discouraging. But this man in his desperation cried out in what little faith he had. He had at least the faith to ask the Lord to help him overcome his doubts!

    Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of the Lord. Jesus spoke the challenge to faith into this man’s heart, who responded with the call for help in this area. My faith and your faith can grow in the same way. Jesus, the Creator and Lord of all the universe is telling us, IF we believe, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE! And we can clearly see from this example that He will strengthen our faith and dispel our doubts if we sincerely ask of Him.

    God’s greater purpose and plan is not always clear to us. We will happily leave that up to Him. For our part however, we can continue to believe for greater possibilities all around.

    Today I hope you can see that your thoughts, prayers and actions do matter! So what if you offer a helping hand to someone who bites you back. The possibility did exist that your help might have blessed that person. And it still exists! Maybe you fasted and prayed fervently but did not see the outcome you were looking for. Next time you might have a better vision of God’s working and possess the expectation He wants in you!

    Just keep on asking, seeking, knocking.

    Mark 9:25-29: When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.
    But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
    And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

    Matthew 17:19-21 relates it this way:
    Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
    Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

    In Matthew 21:21-22: Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
    And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

    Wherever Jesus went He was not content to leave things the way they were. He brought freedom to the captive, sight to the blind, healing to the broken heart, and good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18). Change for the better was the mark of His ministry, which He passed on to His disciples, and they passed on to us! (John 14:12, 17:20, 20:21)

    So if we can set aside some of our assumptions for a moment and really listen and ponder the words of Jesus Himself, IF we can truly believe what He said — perhaps we can become agents of change in this world also. Agents of change for the better, a change that begins in us and works its way outward towards others.

    Think of the possibilities! IF you can believe, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE to one who believes!




    Written by Dan Beaty

    Dan Beaty

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