That tiny, two‑letter word if can either make us or break us. It offers spectacular possibility or eternal regret: What if I were to grasp all that life had to offer me? or If only I had taken that opportunity!
Nehemiah wasn’t an “if only” regretter, but a “what iffer,” someone who said, “What if God were to use me?” Let’s look at four questions he asked in Nehemiah 1 and see how they apply to us today.
- What if you don’t like the answers? When Nehemiah asked, “How are my people faring in Jerusalem?” the answer broke his heart: the city walls were broken down, its gates were burned with fire, and its people were bruised and broken, vulnerable to enemies (see Nehemiah 1:1-3).
How are the walls around your heart and home? Are the gates keeping the enemies out—those certain things on television and the Internet? To find out, we, like Nehemiah, need to ask the right questions—even if it’s hard, and even if we don’t like the answers. So be a Nehemiah to your family and friends. Don’t wonder one day, What if I would have asked them, “Are you really doing okay?”
- What if life gives you lemons? When Nehemiah heard the bad news, he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (v. 4). First off, bravo to him for not being afraid to weep over the things that make God weep. Life handed him a lot of lemons, and he responded by mourning, fasting, and praying. So if life gives you lemons, go ahead and cry, but then try to make lemonade—see what God will do with your tears and prayers.
- What if at first you don’t succeed? This is where we find the nation of Israel: they had broken the Mosaic covenant (see v. 7), and Babylon had taken them off into exile. So Nehemiah prayed a specific prayer, looking up, in, and around.
First, he looked up. He remembered who God is and what He had done (see v. 5). God had kept His promises to Israel before, and He would keep them again.
Second, Nehemiah looked in (see vv. 6-9), saying, “I know why we’re in exile: we worshiped false idols. But if we turn around and repent, the blessings are ours once again.” When we get real and repent of the sins we’ve committed—sins that contribute to the decline of our nation, by the way—and say, “O God, we’ll return to You,” do you think revival could happen in our country once again? I believe it with all of my heart. But it starts by looking inward.
Finally, Nehemiah looked around (see v. 10). This was the hopeful part of his prayer: he realized he was part of a nation that could play a big role in God’s plan. Ladies, each one of us are bricks in the wall of God’s holy temple. We need to look around and find other women who are ready to lock shields with us and get their hands dirty in the Lord’s work.
- What if the shoe fits? Nehemiah ended his prayer by simply saying, “Let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (v. 11)—his boss, the heathen king of Persia. He resolved his “what if” pretty easily, didn’t he? What if God could use me in this situation? Well, I’ll just ask the king and find out.
So what about you? Are you content to be filled with the regrets, with “if only”s? Or are you ready to see God bring spectacular results by stepping out in a few “what if”s?