Every day I receive emails from folks who have been called to God’s work. Oh, whether they feel like they are supposed to start leading a small group or writing a blog or teaching a Bible study or nurturing a group of younger women doesn’t really matter. Most of the emails are asking for one thing. Advice on how to begin. They typically write something like:
“I’ve surrendered my life to God and I know he wants me to ___________. How do I start doing that?”
How well I remember my first response to God’s call to write and speak. I wish I could tell you it was full-on obedience, military-style, “Yes, Sir.” But it was more like “God, are you sure you’ve got the right girl? I don’t have any experience. My husband and I are living by faith; we don’t have anything extra.” I loved Jesus with all my heart and really wanted to serve him. But to be honest, the church nursery seemed a much more comfortable place to serve than bearing my heart online and in book form for all the world to read.
Moses and “If Only”
When God called Moses to be the leader of His people, Moses offered a similar response. He said, “But Lord, the people won’t listen to me.” And when God blew down that excuse, he said “If only I had some speaking ability.” So God provided Aaron as a spokesperson. I felt like I fell in Moses’ boat. I hadn’t murdered anyone like Moses did, but yes, I had things in the past for which I was not proud of. I didn’t feel I had the right background or qualifications for the work he was calling me to do. In fact, I wasn’t completely sure what the work consisted of. Yet God pursued my heart in his holy way and my spirit was convicted. I had to follow through on what he called me to do. But how? And at this point, the “if-only” outlook clouded my mind.
If only I had more money (any money would have been good!)…
If only I had more time…
If only I had a particular talent…
If only I had a stronger education…
If only I had a better skillset…
I begged God to show me the way. I needed him to make each step crystal clear. I’m not the only person to have trouble with “if only” thinking. Neither are you. Two women in the Bible who were very close to Jesus struggled with these thoughts and you may be familiar with their story in John 11.
2 Women and their “If Only’s”
Lazarus, Mary and Martha loved Jesus and he loved them. They were all very close friends so when word was sent to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, of course his sisters, Mary and Martha, just knew that Jesus would come asap. After all, he loved them, there was no doubt. But in the NLT, John 11:4-6 says
4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days.
Mary and Martha were just a little upset with Jesus for this. The first thing Martha said to him when he showed up 4 days too late to work a miracle was “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Now Mary didn’t hear Martha say this to Jesus, because she stayed in the house. But when Jesus asked Martha for Mary, she actually greeted Jesus with the same words as her sister. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
I would encourage you to read the entire chapter of John 11 if you are unfamiliar with this story. But what happens next is one of the greatest miracles of the New Testament. Jesus had the stone rolled away from the tomb and he shouted Lazarus’ name. And Lazarus, with the grave clothes still wrapped around his entire body, walked out of the tomb- ALIVE AGAIN!
If Mary and Martha had received the answer to their “if only,” Lazarus would not have been called out of the grave. One of the greatest New Testament miracles would have never been recorded.
You already know what your “if only” is. You’ve been thinking about it in the last few minutes. You’ve said to God “Lord, if only you’d send some help to me.” “Lord, if only I had more opportunity.” “Lord, if only you’d give me more resources.” And you’re asking a few questions at this point:
- How then do I obey in recognition to God’s call?
- How do I know what to do?
- If I’m supposed to ditch the “if only’s”, then what do I do instead?
Instead of “If only”
In John 10:27(NLT), Jesus tells a story, a parable that explains the spiritual on a practical level. He tells his disciples that he is the good shepherd and compares them to the sheep.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
A few times, my husband and I have needed to drive separate vehicles to the same place. I follow him and I follow him closely. I don’t want any cars to get between the two of ours, especially if I’m not 100% sure of the destination address. I want to see clearly if he should choose to turn on the left signal or push the brakes.
I hope you’re still reading at this point. Because the key to following through with the assignment you believe God has given you to do isn’t discovering more time. Or gaining more money. Or gathering more resources. No. The key is straightforward.
Follow Jesus as close as you possibly can.
When he turns on the left signal, you’ll see it. When he taps on the brakes, you’ll know it’s time to slow things down. Don’t let anything get between you and him.
When things get between us and Jesus, we can’t hear what he is saying to our hearts.
Moses had his “If only.”
Martha had her “If only.”
Mary had her “If only.”
I had my own “If only’s.”
Right now, you may be fighting your “if only.”
In Psalm 95, God offers to us an “if only” of his own.
Psalm 95:6 & 7
Come, let us worship and bow down.Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!
I can’t express to you the conviction of my soul in this area of listening to God. Whatever follows your “if only”, my prayer is that you would fill it with listening to the voice of the Master. He is the only one who knows the path he has planned for you.
Get as close to him as you possibly can.
By his grace,