What Ifs and Even Ifs

Our church just finished a wonderful Bible study written by one of my friends Michelle Booth. It is called Navigating Uncertain Times: Surprising Lessons from the Time of Jeremiah. I highly recommend this study, and I’ve shared with several pastors because it is such a timely study for the world we live in today.

In the study, Michelle talks about how we often suffer from a bad case of the “what ifs” worrying about what might happen, crippled by anxiety and fear. But her challenge to us is to move from the “what ifs” to an “even if” attitude. She says, “When we truly understand God’s character, we too can move forward in our faith. We can change our ‘what if’ thoughts to ‘even if’ beliefs” (p. 31).

Immediately that took my mind to one of my favorite scriptures. It is a prayer and proclamation from Habakkuk:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines;

even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though

the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice

in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is

my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

(Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT)

            The book of Habakkuk starts with a conversation between Habakkuk and God. He is asking God why evil is winning, why violence grows, and why God hasn’t stopped it from continuing. He’s a prophet living through a time of his own people’s rebellion against God and the Babylonians taking over their nation. It is hard to watch evil grow and flourish while those who are living by faith suffer.  

How do we develop an “even if” attitude and lifestyle when life is painful and evil seems to flourish? How do we help our children develop this same tenacity and strength?

  1. Recognize that God has a plan. Like Habakkuk, we hold on to the knowledge that God always has a plan, He is always working, and His promises will come true. We also see that God’s plan is centered on drawing us closer to Himself as He was doing with Judah in the time of Habakkuk.
  2. Live by faith. In Habakkuk 2:4, we are reminded that the righteous live by faith. We must choose faith. Even when we don’t understand what is happening or why something is happening, we trust the One who holds everything in His hands, and we stand in faith and keep following God.
  3. Be aware of my own expectations. Our expectations play a huge role in our attitudes. If we expect life to be a bed of roses (without thorns), we live in a state of disappointment and victim mentality, and we can fall into anxiety and fear. But when our expectations are more realistic, we can take life as it comes. We can handle the disappointments as something that is normal and temporary. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all temporary.
  4. Pray. Like Habakkuk, we need to talk with God. We need to bring our concerns to Him, not run away from Him. Look at the difference between Habakkuk’s approach to a situation he didn’t like and Jonah. Jonah ran, or tried to run, away from God’s plan and calling. Habakkuk takes his heart to His Father. He cries out, he complains, but he prays, and he hears from God.
  5. Be determined to stand. Even with all his questions and grief, Habakkuk stood firm in his faith and trust in God. He was an “even if” believer. We need to be the same.
  6. Repent. The judgment of God was on Judah because they were not faithful and did not repent. In troubled times, we need to start with ourselves. Do we need to repent? Is this hard time because of choices I’ve made or my own rebellion against God. Let’s face it: sometimes the troubles we face are our own fault because of choices we’ve made and attitudes we’ve had. (This may be a little inappropriate to say, but it’s the truth according to Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville.” There’s some good theology in that song.)
  7. Share it all (well, maybe not Jimmy Buffet) with our children. We need to be transparent within appropriate levels depending on our children’s ages. But we need to help them understand that God has a plan and is in control. We need to express our beliefs and our faith. We need to help our kids talk about what they expected to happen and their disappointments. And we need to show our faith by example.

The book of Habakkuk ends with the verses with the “even if” proclamation. If we look at all Habakkuk lists out in this amazing statement of faith, we see he is describing a famine/food shortage, the loss of crops and flocks or the loss of livelihood. The verses right before these talk about a loss of hope and acceptance of God’s judgment on their nation. Habakkuk is talking about the loss of all wealth, nation, and necessities for life. Yet, his faith stands strong. In fact, God is making his faith even stronger than it was. It’s remarkable and encouraging.  

How will we respond to our current events in our world? Will we adopt an even if attitude or wallow in the what ifs? Will we stand firm in faith or walk/run away from God? Each situation we face is our opportunity to make a choice.

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