“But if Not”
Just three simple words really. Alone, they mean little. Most commonly we might use this phrase to be flippant, as in the worn phrase of the current day, “whatever.” Just three simple words…but if not! More than two centuries ago, three “young men” from Judah, who were taken captive and far away from all they knew and loved, uttered these words to profound effect:
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If that is the case, 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. 18 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
Ever prayed for God to take away a dreaded illness? Or prayed earnestly for the health of a dear loved one? We pray in faith knowing that God will hear and answer our prayers. And why wouldn’t we? For we are told:
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. - James 5
Truly, God answers each and every prayer of the righteous, but as we have heard many times before, there are three answers to prayer: yes, not now, and no. We pray with firm conviction for God to heal, bless, or save. But what if the answer He provides is not the healing that we seek? Does our faith withstand disappointment? Are we allowed to bargain with God? We often end our prayers with the sentiment: “not my will, but Thy will, God, be done.” Do we really mean it?
Three Hebrew boys in a foreign land among hostile strangers were presented with a simple means of escape from a terrible fate. Yet, they refused the easy way and chose to stand tall in the face of a ferocious angry king, who had the power of life or a gruesome death in his words. Did they believe that Jehovah God could save them from death in a fiery furnace? Indeed they did, as the scripture confirms their faith that God had the power to save them! And yet, they also accepted the possibility of a different outcome, that God could have chosen to allow them to perish, certainly not the fate they had prayed for but an answer equally accepted to all three. These young men’s resolve was to continue obeying God, no matter the cost, in essence saying: even if God chooses not to save us from the fire, we will not bow to Satan; rather we will continue to serve the true and living God. These young men from Judah understood that regardless of whether they lived or died, God loved them and would seek their eventual good.
Strong faith demands trust. Faith is our knowing, though we do not always understand, that a loving God controls events…our fate. Our rational mind, educated through study of His word, accepts that our loving God does understand and seeks our best outcome. Our power is limited, but His power is not! Does our emotional thinking, however, accept the path laid by God’s providential plan for us, even though it not be the one of our choosing at the time?
It is all about submission. We pray that God will answer our plea, but if not… we still serve a good God. Our faith must allow God’s sovereignty to rule. Through prayer, we should tell God the desires of our heart, but we also must be willing to submit to the will of God. God's ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts: 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
- Isaiah 55
Our dear brother Robert Turner had a folksy but direct way of saying things. When we found ourselves testing God’s providence, God’s wisdom, Brother Turner would say, “You’re whittling on God’s end of the stick.” In other words, trust in the wisdom and knowledge of God.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! 34 “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?” - Rom 11
When we pray for a cancer to be removed, are we willing to boldly accept an outcome which we fear, dread, and pray against? We should pray: “But if not, God you are great and good, and I have faith that your wisdom reaches beyond mine. Help me to be bold and full of faith so that others may know your goodness and blessings through me and my suffering.”
The next time you pray in supplication to God, be sure to add a “but if not” to your pleading! Three brave Hebrew boys did long ago, so can you!