John 11:21 “Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When I was little my sister and I begged and begged for a dog. Finally, my parents relented. They bought us a mutt. He was a mixture of different browns and breeds, short, definitely part-beagle. We named him Snickers.
He was playful, energetic, great with kids, and he was already house-broken. Unfortunately, because he wasn’t a puppy, he also had a number of ingrained bad habits. He was always digging all over the property. He was always sticking his nose and paws in things I’d rather not mention, and he was always jumping up on whoever walked into the house.
I loved that dog! Every day I looked forward to coming home from school and playing with him. I loved seeing his reaction when I’d come in the door. He was almost smiling! He’d race back and forth with excitement, then come running and jump up on me. I loved watching him jump. He could leap so high! I often found ways to encourage him to jump higher and higher by offering him a treat, etc.
My mom couldn’t stand this. “Gwen,” she’d say, “we are trying to teach Snickers not to jump up on people and not to jump around the house. Don’t encourage him. Don’t make him jump up on purpose.”
I didn’t like this rule, didn’t agree with it, and often didn’t follow it, particularly when my mom wasn’t in the room.
One day, when I was 10, I came home from school and happily greeted Snickers. Knowing my mom was busy in the kitchen, I began lifting my hands in the air, encouraging him to jump as high as he could.
My back was turned, and I didn’t see my little 4-year-old brother come running into the room. He rushed by me just as Snickers was jumping into the air. As Snickers came down, his nail in his front paw scratched my little brother right by his eye. His skin started bleeding, and my little brother started crying. My mom came running from the kitchen, grabbed my brother, and cleaned his eye the best she could.
Naturally, she was upset with me and gave me a firm “talking to.” My brother’s eye got a bit swollen, but he seemed okay and was happy again and back to his old self by the end of the day.
My disobedience seemed to be a minor incident, but it was to have major consequences.
Two weeks later I came home from school to find out that my little brother had been rushed to the hospital. His skin had become pale. He was lethargic, and his urine was brown. There was blood in it.
“What happened?” I wanted to know. “What was wrong with him?” Apparently, Snickers had stepped in something that day two weeks prior when my brother’s eye got scratched. Bacteria had gotten in through the cut. It then traveled down to his kidneys.
My brother was in bad shape. The hospital admitted him. He stayed one day, two days, many days. My parents took turns visiting him and staying with him. Soon his kidneys shut down. The doctors weren’t sure if he was going to make it.
I was devastated. My little brother was in the hospital because of me! I couldn’t even go visit him to tell him I was sorry. (No children under age 12 were allowed in.) If only I hadn’t made Snickers jump up that day, my brother would be home and all would be well. If I only I had listened to my mom. If only he hadn’t walked by just then. If only things had happened differently. If only!
In John chapter 11 the bible tells us that Mary and Martha had sent a message to Jesus. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (vs. 3) They were referring to their brother, Lazarus, who was more than just sick. He was dying. The sisters expected that Jesus would come right away, but he didn’t. When he finally arrived Lazarus was dead and had been in the tomb for 4 days. They were upset. If only Jesus had come right away. If only things had happened differently. “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!” (vs 21) If only!
But, Mary and Martha had forgotten that God was in control. They had forgotten that Jesus can take terrible circumstances and turn them into something wonderful. Jesus’s response to Martha’s “If only” was perfect. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies …. Do you believe this?” Jesus took an “if only” situation and turned it into a miracle. He raised Lazarus from the dead, and as a result, many more people put their faith in him. (vs 45)
Two weeks after my brother went in the hospital, God, in his mercy, brought him home to us. Today he is alive and well and has started a family of his own. But, I’ve experienced many other “if onlys” in my life and in my homeschooling career. If only I had spent more time reading with my son. If only I hadn’t pushed her so hard. If only I had tried this before. If only I hadn’t made that decision. If only I had gotten there sooner. Each time I’ve failed, I’ve messed up, I’ve sinned against my kids, I’ve utterly ruined things, a little piece of my heart has died.
But, I serve the same Lord who loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. And he asks me the same question he asked them. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies …. Do you believe this?”
I do. If he is the kind of God who can raise the dead, then he is also the One who can turn my sin, my failures, my poor decisions, my “if onlys”, and my heavy burdens into something glorious.
Child of God, is your heart full of worry? Are you burdened with guilt? Are you in the midst of an “If only” in your life? Jesus wants to bring new life to your burdened heart as well!
May these passages be an encouragement to you today:
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Proverbs 16: 3 “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”
Genesis 50b – 51a “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”
2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
Ephesians 3:20-21 “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.“
Scripture taken from NIV, NLT, and ESV.
Copyright March 13th, 2014 by Gwen Fredette