Pastor, are you asking “What if ?” Fill in the blank with anxious thoughts, dreams, or visions. What are your “what if” questions telling you about your relationship with God?
Right now I’m asking a lot of “what ifs.” I recently left my position as pastor of a church after almost 18 years of ministry. My wife had a great job offer, which was clearly where God was leading. We bought a home in a new place and began our new life without knowing what I would do next.
Not knowing what is next is sometimes called “liminal space.” The ancient Celts called it “The time between the times” – that period in the gloaming of twilight where it’s no longer day but not yet night. Or maybe it’s the glow on the horizon before the sun has risen. Richard Rohr says it’s “when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.” One ministry is done, the next one is not yet known. And so we wait.
Abraham was in liminal space as he waited for the birth of Isaac. Moses endured a time of waiting before God revealed himself in the burning bush. Liminal space is Elijah under the broomtree, or the disciples in the upper room. Even Jesus waited as he fasted in the wilderness for forty days. This is a sacred space where what God is doing has not yet been revealed, but it’s coming.
Waiting is never comfortable. Abraham tried to move ahead of God’s timing. Elijah wanted to die. Jesus was tempted. Pastors often ask “What if?” Here are some of the questions I’m asking:
What if something happens to my wife? Without her income will we lose the house?
What if I don’t find another ministry? Will I find work that I can do?
What if God wants me to buy a lottery ticket? (Just kidding.)
There are two kinds of “what if” questions we can ask – those that come from anxiety and those that come from faith. These are opposite responses to waiting on the Lord.
Anxious “What If” Questions
Pastor, does your “what if” question reveal a heart of anxiety? Are you tempted to trust in yourself rather than in God? We’ve all been there at one time or another.
What if . . .
. . . my church had more money?
. . . I could find a church that would follow my leadership?
. . . that complaining church member would leave?
. . . someone would just show a little appreciation for my ministry?
. . . we could hire a worship leader, youth pastor, secretary, etc.?
. . . I were in a bigger (or smaller) church?
. . . I didn’t have to deal with years of baggage?
. . . my spouse were more supportive?
. . . I didn’t have to start this church from scratch?
. . . my congregation didn’t place so many expectations on me?
. . . I didn’t have to clean the church again?
What do your questions reveal about your heart? What do they say about your relationship with God? Our anxious “what ifs” are expressing doubt in God’s goodness, God’s timing, God’s wisdom, or God’s promises. Listen to your anxious “what ifs” and you will find a root of doubting God. Some of these questions may also reveal a heart of bitterness, anger, or entitlement.
Faithful “What If” Questions
As you listen to your own “what ifs” and hear your doubts and fears, you can turn these into expressions of faith. Start by finding the promise of God that your are doubting and turn it into a question of possibility and hope.
Instead of “What if my church had more money?” ask “What if I really believed that God would supply all our needs according to his riches in glory?”
“What if that complaining member would leave?” becomes “What if my life is truly hidden with Christ in God?”
Here are some other expressions of faith based on Scripture:
What if . . .
. . . I trusted that God would give me the words to speak?
. . . I valued prayer the way Jesus does?
. . . Jesus were really the head of this church?
. . . I trusted in God’s leading more than my talent?
. . . Jesus modeled for me how to relate to my spouse?
. . . God has given me gifts to serve others?
. . . God has given me limits to set me free?
. . . Jesus bore all my shame on the cross?
. . . I was resurrected with Jesus?
. . . God adopted me into his royal family?
. . . nothing can separate me from God’s love?
Waiting on the Lord can be a fearful place, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead of anxiety, we can choose faith. Faith turns waiting into resting – a chance to be renewed, strengthened, and equipped for the future.
A Sacred Waiting
For now, we wait on the Lord with anticipation. We know that God is moving and he will restore those who rest in him. What if you and I were to look at this time as an invitation to trust God and to wait expectantly for him to move? Are our “what if” questions an invitation into an extended Sabbath rest? Faith turns our waiting into rest.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?Isaiah 40:28-31, ESV
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Sean, this was awesome – I love Richard Rohr, read him during Lent this year. And as my father slowly makes his last journey Home, I think of St. Julian of Norwich (whose real name I do not know), “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well”. (Amy, does the period go before, or after, the quotes?)
Tricia, Thanks for the encouragement. Our prayers are with you and the rest of the family. Your father is a very special man. I say “is” and not “was” because he is with Jesus now awaiting the resurrection. All will be well. Blessings, Sean
(The period goes inside the quotes).
Important reflection. Well said.