If Only

If Only

20 March 2021

Jim Stephens

Reading: Joshua 7-8; Psalm 69; 1 Corinthians 5

Then Joshua cried out, “Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! (Joshua 7:7 NLT)

The Joshua story tells how Israel had crossed the Jordan River by God’s power, conquered Jericho by God’s power, and now, in the battle for the little town of Ai, thirty-six Israelite soldiers died in a shocking defeat! We know their defeat was because of Achan’s sin at the conquest of Jericho, and we know there are some great life-lessons to be learned from this story. However, Joshua didn’t know what had gone wrong, and his immediate reaction was, “If only we had been content to stay in the wilderness!”

When things go badly, I tend to default to the “If only!” mode. I micro-examine everything and get tangled up in thinking, “If only I had..!” or “If only she hadn’t..!” The other thing I’ve especially got to watch out for is “What if!” mode. That’s when I find myself looking forward anxiously thinking, “What if that doesn’t work?” or “What if it all goes wrong?”

“If only’s” and “What if’s” will paralyze me! Looking back with hopeless regret or looking forward with fearful anxiety get me stuck. When I’m bogged down in “If only’s” and “What if’s”, it renders me ineffective as a leader or as a follower and keeps me from taking steps of obedient faith.

Overcoming “If only’s” may require repentance and recalibration, or forgiving and forgetting. Overcoming “What if’s” requires careful attention to what God has told me to do and what he has promised to do.

God is helping me to better learn to live in the moment—to think, feel, pray, and act in the present moment where there are no regretful “If only’s” from the past, no anxious “What if’s” from the future. In the present moment, I am free to ask “What now, Father?” Then I’m free to respond to his direction as Mary and then Jesus did, with a simple, faithful “Yes Father! May it be to me according to your will and your word!”


Father, Please forgive me for the sins that cause me to look back with regret and think “If only!” Free me from the anxiety that causes me to look forward and think “What if?” Please fill me with your good Spirit and remind me of your good promises so I can push past the “What if’s” and walk in hopeful, joyful, obedient faith. Amen!

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