If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that my first book, If Only, has recently been released by The Good Book Company. It is about contentment, and how we can find it in the big and small ‘if onlys’ of life.
I experienced the pang of a common one on Friday, when I saw the chart below in this tweet by journalist Ed Conway.
It shows the dramatic rise in UK house prices since 1982. Now, I was 10 in 1982, and not really in a position to be thinking of my property portfolio, but at the bottom of the next big dip, in 1995/96, I had left uni and was looking for work but also sensing that God was calling me to become a missionary (specifically, a teacher on one of the two ships then operated by OM (Operation Mobilisation)).
Other than some part time work, and a few stints as a supply teacher, I didn’t get any of the many jobs I applied for so, in an obedience born mostly out of a lack of any other option, I raised support and joined MV Logos II.
I missed that opportunity to buy property, and by the time I left missions, in 2006, prices were almost at their peak.
The thing is, I see a chart like that and my instant though is, ‘If only I’d stayed in England for another year or two, got a decently paid job and bought a low-price house somewhere, I could have rented it out while I went abroad, and be nice and secure now.’
In my head I know, of course, that it was better to follow God’s will for my life. And of course I know in my head that he promises to provide for his children, and that worrying about the future won’t do a thing to change it – and fretting over past decisions won’t change them, either! But my heart takes a bit more convincing!
The world tells us that we must rely on money and financial investments to keep us safe from whatever lies ahead. But the Bible teaches that this is a false security. It will either let us down or draw our hearts away from loving God and loving others (or, more likely, both).
So how do we stop the cycle of ‘if onlys’ in situations like this? You’ll have to read the book for the full picture, but it includes things like:
1) Focus on God and his goodness. The more I look at that chart, the more depressed and dissatisfied I’m going to be. I need to take my eyes off it and focus them on God’s character and attributes. I recall that he is good, that he created everything and that he works miracles. He could give me a house tomorrow if that’s what I need, so I don’t need to be anxious about the house I didn’t buy 25 years ago.
2) Remember how he has preserved and provided for me and others thus far. This is linked to the previous one, but slightly different. In this step I recall all the amazing things he has done for me – his incredible provision every step of the way, the way in which the path he’s got me on has led me to wonderfully exciting things at just the right time. And if I didn’t have stories like that of my own, I could ask others what he has done in their lives, recall Bible stories of his provision, or read some of the classic Christian biographies. If he can do it once, he can do it again – and he has done it countless millions of times in ways large and small meeting needs big and small.
3) Talk honestly with him about my fears. Sometimes these ‘distraction techniques’ work straight away – it’s just a blip, and I’m able to quickly reset my brain. Other times it takes longer and the nag is deeper. On those occasions I often need to go to him and lay it all out. I know he knows it already, but somehow I think we often try to pretend it’s not on our mind. Or we tell ourselves that because he knows already we don’t need to – and even shouldn’t – talk about it. But there is something about laying it all out before him – maybe saying it out loud or writing it down that helps you get it out of the whirlpool of your mind. Then when you can see or hear it, somehow it puts itself into its proper perspective, and you can see what the issue really is.
What am I really worrying about with the house thing? I’m worried that one day I will be old, unable to pay rent any more, and homeless. I’m afraid that I was foolish to follow him, and that when I need him most, he will let me down. That pretty much covers the three big questions I address in the book: Is God good – will I be able to trust him when it matters? Is God enough – do I really believe he is sufficient to meet all my needs, even if I am homeless and alone? Is God worth it – was following him better than owning a house?
Recognising and naming the root fear makes us better able to ask God to help with it, and better able to search the Bible for truths that answer the questions.
4) Choose to trust him. There comes a point where we have all the answers we’re ever going to get to any of our questions, and we can’t argue it out any more. And we have a choice. We can choose to trust all the previous evidence, the content of God’s character and the promises in his word, or we can say, ‘I just don’t think he can or will do it for me in this situation. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.’ Step of faith, or step of fear? The one leads to contentment, the other leads to an endless cycle of dissatisfied ‘if onlys’. Which will you choose?