But If Not

Once upon a time...And they lived happily ever after.

Ah, the bookend phrases for every good fairy tale.  I’ve always been a daydreamer and a bit of a romantic.  I love fairy tale endings, and I had always firmly believed that even though my knight in shining armor may show up in a plaid shirt driving a compact car instead of atop a glistening white steed, I could assuredly have my very own fairy tale ending.  As long as I can remember I wanted to be a wife and a mother and thought there was no higher calling for a woman.

So, I met my knight, we were married, and we looked forward to the blessing of children.  We prayed eight long years for a baby.

Then there was a miscarriage …

then an extramarital affair …

then a divorce.  

It seemed all of my starry-eyed notions had instantly crumbled to bits that I didn’t even recognize.

What part of your fairy tale has crumbled?  Your circumstances might look totally different from mine, but they’re real and they’re painful and they’re things that most people couldn’t imagine bearing day after day after day, but you silently endure.   

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego endured a day like that.  The choice they faced was bow down to a false god or death in a fiery furnace.  Here was their response to the circumstances:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.  But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. 
— Daniel 3:17-18

Their response was that God is powerful and can save us, but if He chooses not to save us, we will still serve Him and not false gods.  Spoiler alert: God does show up in an incredibly powerful way, and He does save them! But that positive outcome doesn’t change the amazing stance they had before they knew the result of their unwavering commitment.

So what about when God doesn’t change your circumstances?  What about the but if not moments in life?

Your eyes don’t know the whole story.

Don’t trust just what you can see or what you feel.  I am the first person who will rely solely on what is in front of my eyes or the emotions that tug on my heart in a circumstance, but instead of giving into that sin, I remind myself that my eyes and my heart are deceitful and desperately wicked and even though they’ve been my constant companion all these years, I do not even know the depths to which they’ll sink to convince me to lean on my own understanding and not on the Lord.

I am reminded of Elisha and his servant facing the Syrians.  They were surrounded and far outnumbered, and the outcome seemed bleak.  The servant despaired and cried out, “What shall we do?”

Elisha answered,

“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, and said, ‘Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw.  And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” 2 Kings 6:16-17

That young servant trusted with his eyes until the man of God stepped in and asked God to show him the truth.  God had sent provision in this battle, and the servant would have missed that had he relied on what he could see.

God is faithful.  Trust His plan.

“Let your conduct be without covetousness, be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6

I’ve read that verse so many times, and the promise that God never leaves us nor forsakes us has been a tremendous comfort over the years.  But I recently re-read that verse, and for perhaps the first time, I grasped the context of it - contentment.  It’s not just that God won’t abandon us, it’s that we have need of nothing except Him.  

Him alone.

Period.

I struggle with that so much some days! Just to rely on Him alone, trust His plan, trust that He’s a good father who gives good things to His children, trust that he won’t give a stone when we ask for bread.  I know life may not look like what you thought, hoped, or dreamed it would be, but trust His provision and His plan, because He’s going to stick it out with you. He’ll be there when life is good and when it’s bad. He has made that promise.  Learn to rest in the contentment of His presence alone.

Joy comes in the morning … and in the night.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:5b

I’ve always clung to this verse in hope.  If you learn to lean on Jesus and let Him sustain you, one day the night will be over and morning will come and joy will abound.  I always looked at this as enduring the trial until God changed your circumstances and then you could happily pick up your fairy tale right where you left off.  To me, joy was always still dependent on a change of circumstance.

But the best news ever is that God can restore joy, even if He doesn’t change your circumstance! Dare I say … especially if He doesn’t change your circumstance?  

Paul and Silas had been imprisoned, beaten, and thrown into jail, but instead of complaining and questioning why God had allowed this when they were serving Him, they were praying and singing praise to God at midnight.  

"But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”  Acts 16:25

I’m glad that the detail of midnight was included to show that we can have joy and praise God even at the midnight of our trial, even as your chariot is turning into a pumpkin and you’ve lost your glass slipper!

In a broken fairy tale, when God keeps you in that trial or hardship for a while, the joy He gives you is easily recognizable as purely from Him!  He can restore joy, and that joy will then be a beacon of a testimony that has nothing to do with you at all - the glory will all be His.

I have three phrases hanging up on the wall in my bedroom.  They come from one of my very favorite hymns: “Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side”; “Leave to thy God to order and provide”; “In every change, He faithful will remain.”  Every morning I wake up with the reminder that I can trust God more than I can trust what I see or feel and that He is faithful, even in the changes, even in the hurts.

Let Him come beside you and remind you of the same truths, especially in the “but if not” circumstances of life!

Guest author, April Cline, may not have a magic wand, but she often finds that her personality magically changes with coffee.  If given a few wishes in her fairy tale life, she would request woodland creatures that are handy with housework and a really long nap until her prince arrives (hopefully with a coffee in hand).  April's wit and skills on the piano are just a few delights she brings to the family of Christ the Word church.  Her tender heart is a testimony of God's grace at work in her.