The Biggest Little Word in the World   


Greg Austin


There is perhaps in the English language no word so small that looms so large in the minds of those who consider it. The word is “if.”


Allow me to illustrate: Tonight as I logged into my Online account, I noticed the lead news story entitled, “Planet Could Hit Earth.” I don’t normally pay much attention to news items that are emblazoned on that page, but “Planet Could Hit Earth” really caught my attention.


Reading the title I thought to myself, “what, in a million years?” But I was intrigued and so I clicked the banner and read the story. Here’s a portion of it verbatim:


(June 10) - Our solar system has a potentially violent future. New computer simulations reveal a slight chance that a disruption of planetary orbits could lead to a collision of Earth with Mercury, Mars or Venus in the next few billion years.


. . . Results of the computer model show a roughly 1 percent chance that the elongation of Mercury's orbit will increase to the point where the planet's path around the sun crosses that of Venus. That's when planetary pandemonium would ensue, the researchers find, and Mercury could be ejected from the solar system, or collide with the sun or a neighboring planet, such as Earth. The potential smash-ups, however remote, are detailed in the June 11 issue of the journal Nature.


"I see the results as a case of the glass being 99 percent full and 1 percent empty," said Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "While it's possible that a collision could occur billions of years from now, it's actually very unlikely."


So here’s what we have: “Planet Could Hit Earth” followed by “reveal a slight chance” and “in the next few billion years.”


Ah, that indefatigable, incessant “If” Factor. “If” Mercury experiences an elongation of its orbit, “If” there is a disruption of planetary orbits” and it all could happen in just the next few billion years!


But somewhere, somebody surely read that article and is awake tonight worrying, “What will I do if Mercury slams into Earth?”


Well, I for one am not planning on hanging around for “the next few billion years” to find out if the computer simulations are correct.


This silly story, however, points to a reality in a lot of lives and minds: We humans spend entirely too much time thinking about the “If Factor.”


“If” I lose my job.

“If” I am diagnosed with cancer.

“If” I lose my eyesight.

“If” a drunk driver smashes into us on the highway.

“If” the house burns to the ground.

“If” North Korea launches a nuclear attack against America.
“If” a giant earthquake swallows our city.


If, if, if. It’s all an impossible game of chance when we move into the territory of the “If Zone.”


Consulting a dictionary gives us the following regarding the little conjunction “if.”

“in the event that b: allowing that c: on the assumption that d: on condition that”


“If this or that happens,” “making room for the possibility, however remote” (as in “a few billion years”). In every case, the single largest factor is an unknown and even an unlikely event.


Here’s what Jesus had to say on the subject of “if” and the ensuing worry that always follows. “. . . do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt. 6: 31-34).


Before motivational speakers Zig Zigler and Deepak Chopra, there was Earl Nightingale. Nightingale categorized the things people worry about – play “if” with as follows:


Things that never happen:  40 percent

Things in the past:  30 percent

Needless worry about health:  12 percent

Petty, miscellaneous worries:  10 percent


If you’re paying attention, you noticed that Nightingale only covered 92 per cent of the things we play “if” with, so if you really love to worry, to play “if”, there’s 8 per cent left for you to enjoy! Nightingale and life teach us that this 8 per cent is made of actual and  legitimate issues to be concerned about.


While noting Nightingale, let me use his own life – his personal experience as an illustration:


On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, sinking the greater portion of our Pacific Fleet, and most famously, the U.S.S. Arizona sending one thousand, one hundred and seventy-seven sailors and marines to their deaths. Of the 1,216 souls aboard the Arizona, only 39 survived that aweful bombardment.


On the eve of World War Two, Earl Nightingale was a 17 year-old American boy. With war escalating in Europe and with Japan pushing from the East, Nightingale might have thought, “If I’m drafted into the military, and ‘if’ I’m deployed overseas, and ‘if’ I find myself in combat, and ‘if’ I’m hit by enemy fire, I could die.”


He could have thought those things. But here’s what actually happened to Earl. He joined the U.S. Marines at 17 and was sent to Hawaii. He was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, and on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, he was aboard ship when the attack began. Following the battle, Earl Nightingale was only one of thirty-nine men, and one of twelve fellow Marines to survive..


No amount of “if” playing could have changed what happened that morning aboard the Arizona. Men died by the multiple hundreds, while others escaped death. Worrying or entering the “If Zone” could not have and did not change one single statistic.


Our lives, because we have trusted in Jesus, are in God’s hands. What happens tomorrow, what happens a year from now is beyond our control or ability to determine. Yes, we can pray, we can ask God to alter the obvious, to intervene in life’s events: We ought to ask God to heal, to deliver, to change minds and circumstances. But in the final analysis, we are asked to walk by faith, to trust in Jesus, to give to God our today and as many tomorrows as He has planned for us. We don’t live according to the dictates and dimensions of this temporal world. We are citizens of another Kingdom, an eternal, undiminishable, concrete and superior domain which moves outside and in greater breadth than this earthy condition we call “life.”


God’s word assures us that our days are numbered by a loving, caring heavenly Father. He has declared that there is a season and a time for everything under the sun, which includes the ebb and flow of our individual lives.


Nothing, God assures us, takes place outside the venue of His awareness, his knowledge and His consciousness.


Playing the roulette wheel of “if” engenders nothing of value, importance, meaning. Trusting in God invokes blessing, joy and peace.


One of my favorite poems comes to mind whenever I hear people dwelling on the “If Factor.”

Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”

I don’t personally choose to wander in the realm of the “If Zone.” I would rather live with an awareness of my Heavenly Father and His care, His foreknowledge, His plan for my life. I would rather be a citizen of the Kingdom of God than the Soveriegn of the kingdom of men.


Since I brought up the whole “If Factor,” let me give you a new way of using the little two-letter word “If”. Think of it as an acronym: “If” – “In Faith.” There is a sudden shift to my reality and what might happen when the sun rises again tomorrow:


“In Faith” - If I lose my job, the God who clothes the flowers of the field will take care of all my needs.

“In Faith” - If I am diagnosed with cancer, God is my healer and heaven is my home.

“In Faith” - If” I lose my eyesight, I will walk by faith and not by sight.

“In Faith” - “If” a drunk driver smashes into us on the highway, God has given His angels charge over me, to keep me in all my ways.

“In Faith“ - If” the house burns to the ground, this world is not my home; I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.

“In Faith”-  “If” North Korea launches a nuclear attack against America, Jesus has prepared a place for me, that where He is, there I will be also.

“In Faith” - “If” a giant earthquake swallows our city, seeing that all these things will be dissolved, I will live my life in holiness and in godliness.


But remember, “if” the planets of our solar system experience a “disruption” in their orbits, and “if” the planet Mercury realizes an elongation of its orbit, in the next few billion years, we could be in serious trouble right here on planet earth!


“Have a good night!”


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