From “What if” to “Even If”

What if this odd symptom turns out to be something serious?

What if I don’t get the job?

What if this investment fails?

What if I bomb this presentation?

What if the scan shows cancer?

We have so many things to be concerned about, both large and small. And some of us are “gifted” with the ability to imagine all the ways something could go wrong.

Ed Welch says in Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, “Worriers are visionaries without the optimism” (p.50, Kindle version).

So we cycle through our worries, scaring ourselves to death, feeling trapped like a hamster in a continuous wheel.

Someone once said that if the thing we worry about doesn’t happen, we’ve wasted all that angst and energy and head space. And if it does happen, we’ve doubled the toll it would have taken by worrying about it beforehand. That helps me put aside worried questions and supposing.

But something else helps me even more: facing those worries full on. What if the worst possibility happens?

If the medical news is not good, some hard roads may be ahead. But God promised His grace and help. And if “the worst” happens, it will be the best—we’ll be with Him without pain and sin. We don’t want to leave our loved ones. But God will give grace for that if and when the time comes. He won’t give grace for illness and parting in this moment because it’s not needed yet.

If this job or investment falls through, God will provide for us in some other way.

We’ll do everything we can to be ready for the presentation and will pray about every aspect of it. God will give grace when the time comes. But if we still fall on our faces—maybe we needed the humbling. Maybe others needed to see our humanity. Elisabeth Elliot once wrote in Keep a Quiet Heart that her daughter, Valerie, got lost in her notes during a talk and got flustered. She finished as best she could and sat down, discouraged. But ladies thanked her for what she shared. She later told her mother that she had prayed beforehand that the ladies would see she was just an ordinary woman who needed His help, and she felt this stumbling was His answer.

When we face our “what ifs” full on instead of running from them, we deplete them of their strength. In every case, no matter what “the worst” is, God’s grace will be there. He may take us down paths we wouldn’t have chosen. But He has things to teach us there that we couldn’t have learned elsewhere.

In Daniel 3, three young men could not in good conscience bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, even when threatened with being thrown into a fiery furnace. They told the king, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (verses 17-18). God is able to deliver us, but even if He doesn’t, we’ll keep obeying and trusting Him.

One concern for many Christians these days is the increasing possibility of persecution. But Peter gives us encouragement:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:14-17).

God is sufficient for all our “What ifs.” I still pray and hope against certain things happening. But even if the “worst” happens, God will give grace and peace and enabling. Even if the outcome is not what we wanted, the better we know our God, the more we can trust Him.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

(Update: I was asked to do a radio interview about this post. My son recorded it for me and linked to it here, if you’d like to listen.)

35 thoughts on “From “What if” to “Even If”

  1. Sitting in the middle of the “worst” over the years, I have taken my protests to God, and he has patiently received them and me. It’s becoming apparent to me that the good that comes from suffering is that I change my question from Why? to What Do You Want To Accomplish?

    • I, too, tend to think the “why” will bring me comfort. But trusting and seeking his will even when I don’t know why He’s allowed certain things honors him and is a big part of walking by faith.

  2. This is so timely for me. I am finally trying to learn to pray, thy will, not mine, be done. I have to learn that God is sovereign and that He will NEVER leave me nor forsake me. And seek what He is trying to accomplish in me for my good. Thank you Barbara!

    • Amen. That’s the rub for me–I know He will be with me and help me, but I might not like what He allows. Then it comes down to “not my will, but Thine” and the trust that He will use for good things that aren’t good in themselves.

  3. It seems God has a theme going Barbara! The pandemic has heightened anxiety to fever pitch across the globe.
    I like your following statement;
    “Even if the outcome is not what we wanted, the better we know our God, the more we can trust Him.” Amen!
    Blessings,
    Jennifer

  4. Changing the “what if” to “even if” is surprisingly helpful in stopping a worry-fest. I love the confidence that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had that their God had the power to save them but if he chose not to they would still serve him. A good lesson for all of us, because we know that “in this world we WILL have trouble” but our Savior has promised he will NEVER leave us or forsake us. May he find us faithful.

    • Amen. I have to remind myself that a trouble-free, easy life is not the goal and not what He promised. But He did promise His grace and peace and presence in any trial.

  5. Love this point about worry: “if it does happen, we’ve doubled the toll it would have taken by worrying about it beforehand.” And I have noticed that rarely does the thing happen the way I worried it would. If I trust God, this action of trust would short-circuit all this worry and what-ifs.

    • Yes–short-circuiting the what-ifs with faith would be a much more peaceful way to live.I tend to think through all the what-ifs first, but what a waste.

  6. As one of those who does have the “gift” of this active imagination, I appreciate this post! I am practical/logical too, so I like the thought that if we worry and the worst doesn’t happen, we’ve suffered needlessly. Also like the idea that God will be with us and guide us through whatever happens, giving grace at that time — not necessarily right now.

  7. I don’t tend to be a worrier but I do find my self every once in awhile (especially regarding my daughters…..) doing the “what if” game…….this is a great post full of wisdom and knowledge. thanks for this!

  8. Just your title reminded me of a dear friend who died several years ago. He and his wife had just come from their oncologist who diagnosed his cancer as a rare and unpredictable one. Mercy Me’s song ‘Even If’ played on their radio and further fortified their strong belief that God is good and has good plans for His children. My friend took the opportunity to share Christ with family members who would never otherwise give him an opening.

    We reflexively recoil from bad news and dire diagnoses. I love your last line — the better we know Him, the more we trust Him.

  9. Having been “gifted” in the same manner as you 🙂 , I have come to love the portion in Daniel. I remember well years ago, sitting and crying in such disappointment and pain. Inside myself I felt the Lord ask me, “If I never did another thing for you, would you still love me?” I have never forgotten the experience and of course my response was, “Yes, even if ….” The Ed Welch quote is something to think on today too. As always, thank you, Barbara!

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  11. Thank you I enjoyed this encouraging post. I wondered where the ‘even if’ would take you! I love Habakkuk’s prayer for when the ‘even if’ become ‘though’ ……

  12. Thank you for this wonderful encouragement today! You make such good points about the futility of worry. I also love to look back on God’s goodness and faithfulness in the past and this helps tremendously.

  13. God is sufficient for all our “What ifs.” Love this! I have lived this truth many times in my life, the last being the loss of my husband.

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  15. I love this reminder in the midst of all the trials that crowd our thoughts in these hard days, it is a gift to remember God’s nearness in the Even ifs and the What ifs ❤

  16. This is a great post! I worry a lot and it is a huge waste of time. As you say, most of the things we worry about don’t happen and even if they do God will give us the grace we need at the point it’s needed and not before. I just need to learn to put this into practice and keep that focus!

  17. Barbara, a mentor of mine used to talk about “right now words from God,” and this post was definitely one of those for me. I needed this message when I first saw it early last week, and I needed it today when I came back to comment. I don’t want to give those what-ifs more power over me than they’ve already stolen. Even if the “worst” thing happens, God will use it for our good. Such a comfort.

  18. God has the “all is well”(2Kings 4:26) plan – even though it might not look like we ideally want. When my husband had his heart valve replaced, a nodule of cancer was found in his lung. We weren’t sure it was cancer until they went in two weeks after the valve replacement. My husband’s faith led the way. He’ll tell you he never asked that it not be cancer – he just trusted that God had the best plan and didn’t want to put Him in a box. It was a season that taught us to more firmly keep our eyes on God – and not all the “what ifs.”

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  20. I was just thinking about the story of the fiery furnace earlier this week! Thank you for this added perspective. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “what ifs”!

    Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!

  21. Barbara, Such wisdom here. I am featuring your post tomorrow on Embracing the Unexpected. Thank you for your consistent participation in Grace and Truth Christian Link-Up. I’m pretty sure I’m in a different time zone than you, and each Friday when I awaken, it brings me joy to see your comment and your post.

    Blessings,

    Maree

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