What IF?

By Barry Johnson

Life is made of many choices we must make. Some of them are easy and others can be very difficult. Yet, our choices can change the course of our day, our year or even our life’s direction. For those who are God’s children, there are times He asks us to make one of those life-changing choices by faith, without really understanding why. Yet we know that God wants us to make it out of obedience to Him, and then walk it out by fully trusting Him. The Father can ask us to do this even when we know others will not understand. I believe that Abraham’s call to leave his home and go to a land he did not know is the best example in the Bible of this kind of “Faith Choice.” It changed his life, and the course of history. For most of us, what we decide to do by faith will not change the course of history. But definitely what we choose can have a major impact on many lives.

“What IF” tells the story of how Ruth and I have made some really hard decisions in order to walk by faith. I hope and pray that our journey will help others who are faced with needing to choose to obey God and then fully trust Him, and those who are in the midst of walking out a direction they have taken and they need to be encouraged because they are in a really hard place. Time has gone by for them, and now they are struggling and saying to themselves as they look back: “What was that all about?”

Our Story

Ruth and I have been married for almost twenty-seven years. When we met and fell in love, we both knew that God was bringing us together so that He could use our relationship with Him, our love for each other, and the lessons from our past to help people. We both made a lot of mistakes and we were determined to not only learn from them, but also to be transparent with others to help them not make the same ones, and to help people pick themselves up after making mistakes.

For the first six years we were married, we thought that using the opportunities we had outside of our careers to love people would be like a part time job. During this period, we were able to minister to many people and saw lives changed.

But in 1997 God showed us that He was changing things. He wanted us to minister on a full-time basis and called us to move from Southern California to the Northwest to start a church. I had just finished getting a degree and had applied at several law schools to become a lawyer. Three of the law schools that accepted me with scholarships were in the Northwest. So, in the May 1997 we took a trip to Oregon and Washington to checkout three law schools. We were impressed with all three of them. The best offer for us was in Salem, Oregon. But about half way through our trip, God made it very clear to both of us that law school was not why He wanted us in the Northwest. He wanted us to live in the Seattle area and focus on starting a church.

So, in August 1997 we moved to Lynnwood, Washington. I continued the computer consulting I was doing, while we started the church. This continued until late 1999. Then things changed again. We found that we were spending most of our time at the church helping people get over hurts from past issues at a previous church and all the people we helped returned to ministry in their original church. There was also much incredible restoration in other areas of their lives.

After a year, we realized that God wanted us to close the church. We helped the few people that were left to find a new church. But we did not understand what God had for us next. We just knew we were doing what He wanted. By March 2000 we were very lost and discouraged. We wondered if we made a mistake in my not pursing law school. I was still doing computer consulting and even got a good job offer in Seattle. But I struggled with accepting the job and eventually turned it down.

Ruth and I did a lot of soul searching about what was next. We knew that God had called us to be in full-time ministry. But there was nothing happening. We decided to wait on Him to show us what He wanted. That was very hard decision to make. Yet it gave us peace.

We did not have to wait long. By the beginning of April, we were invited to go to Uganda on a mission’s trip. While we were there, God spoke to us that we were to become missionaries and in 2001 we began going to Africa for three to six months each year. Over the next nine years, we saw God move in miraculous ways.

Now it’s March 2018 and we find ourselves in another transition place. Just like in 1999, what we have been doing in ministry is winding down. We have had to deal with health issues for the last few years and we have both wondered where this was going. For a while we were not even sure the health issues would end. Praise the Lord they have! I am now almost sixty-three and Ruth is almost seventy-five and we both feel physically stronger than we have in many years.

Since she was fifty-six, Ruth asked God for the same gift that He gave to Caleb who said: “I am eighty-five years old. But I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me (when I was forty-five). As my strength was then, so my strength is now.” Joshua 14:10-12 NASB/NCV God has done this for Ruth. Those who know her and have not seen her for quite a while, even for ten years, have said with wonder that she looks so much younger than she did the last time they saw her.

I have not always had the same faith about this as Ruth. Yet I am glad to grab on to her faith and I also “feel as young as I did at forty-five.”

So we are energized as we anticipate what is ahead. Yet we are often discouraged because we do not see what that is, or even how it could possibly happen. For the last few weeks I have found myself asking if things would be better for us if we had made different choices back in 1997, such as me going to law school or in 2000 me taking the job at the computer company that offered me a high paying position. As I wrestled about all this, I was not regretting making those decisions. I was just asking, “What IF.” In other words, how would our lives be different, and a lot easier for us both, if we had gone a different direction.

God answered this struggle the night of March 25, 2018 when He spoke to me in my dreams. They were among the most real dreams I have ever had. First, I saw myself as a successful attorney. I could see that I was enjoying being good at what I did. I was very focused on winning every case. I had a beautiful home and I was set to have a great retirement when I decided to end being an attorney. But God told me to look very close at what I was seeing. “Barry, are you happy?” He asked. When I looked closer, I could see that I wasn’t happy at all.

Then God said to me, “Do you even see what is missing?” I didn’t. So, again I looked closer. It was then that I realized that Ruth was not part of my life. She was gone! That was a shock to me! The most important person in my life was gone and I didn’t even see it. What could make me miss that?

God spoke to me and said, “Barry, I didn’t want you to become an attorney because I knew that it would make you return to the selfish, demanding, ugly person you were before I broke that off of you before you met Ruth. If this happened, I knew that it would destroy the most precious thing you two have together – the love between you. And you would have lost that love because I put the two of you together to be an example of My love and what a marriage could be. By showing you not to become a lawyer I was protecting you from making a choice that would have destroyed Ruth and your marriage.

Then the second part of my dream started. I was working at a large computer company. Over the eighteen years I had been there, I was promoted to a very good management position. Once again, I had a beautiful home and I was set financially. This time God did not have to ask me to see what was missing. I knew that Ruth was not there. So, I asked Him, “What happened to Ruth?”

He reminded me of the two times during the last eighteen years that Ruth had serious health issues. During those two periods, I was very aware that I could lose her. God told me to think about what it was that got her through those times. I realized it was her steel like determination to “take that mountain” that God promised us when we first fell in love. This gave Ruth the will to go on, no matter how seriously ill she was, because we were living our dream together of giving love to people and seeing their lives change, whenever, and where ever He wanted us to pour out our lives.

Then God spoke to me again.

“I have called you two to take this walk of faith so that you can be a blessing to many people, in many places. Without that dream, Ruth would not have had the strength to make it through those bouts with her health. You would have lost her.”
Then the third part of my dream began.

God showed me the many people whose lives had been changed because we were willing to give up everything for Him. He said to me, “These are the people I want you to see who were never the same because of what you poured into them:

Those who were in your little church who thanked you for how much they grew and changed.

Those who have come to the years of home meetings you’ve had and experienced the same love and miracles that happened in the Book of Acts.

The ones who came to the worship times that you and Ruth have led and were miraculously affected by those intimate encounters with My presence and My glory.

My precious children that you have given counsel to and it changed their lives.

The women who came to the retreats you had. Several were saved from suicide.

All these people in Africa would have never been the same if you had not laid down your lives and gone to them.

The Pastors in the bush that you taught about loving each other and how to love their wives. This transformed their lives, their callings, and their marriages.

Saul was an evil, dangerous witch doctor and he would still be lost if you had not shown him My love for him. But he became my son, Paul because you went to him and told him about My Son and that I was his loving Father.

Pastor Stephen on Mt. Elgon would have died without you being willing to help him. This one man has continued to powerfully affect lives all over the Mountain.

Hundreds of Christians on that Mountain would still be fighting each other. Consequently, the unsaved who became born again when you went to Mt. Elgon would not have come to Me, because they didn’t get to see what happens when Christians stop hating each other and learn to love one another. You taught them that.

So, Barry you ask, ‘What If.’

I tell you that I led you and Ruth to make hard choices so that these people, and so many others, could learn what I have taught you two. I know it has been hard on you at times and sometimes you have not understood.

That is why I am showing you that the answer to your question is that all these people needed you to make those choices.

IF you made different ones, then these lives would not have been changed.

Now you two find yourselves in another transition place and a few weeks ago I told you that I will not fail you. I have given you promises and I will keep those promises. I told you that everything that has happened over that last many years has been a preparation for what I have for you to do in your latter years. I, your Abba Father, will do what I have said. You will be blessed because you believe that.”

As I pondered these dreams and what God showed me, I remembered this story I read a long time ago:

“A survey was done in a convalescent hospital for the elderly. They were all so ill that they would never be going back home again. When they were asked what they wish they had done differently, as they look back over their lives, many of them said:

‘I wish I had taken more risks. Then, at the end of my life, when it’s too late to do anything about it, I wouldn’t be feeling so much regret that I didn’t even try the new things I wanted to do. Instead, I limited myself by not taking risks because they may not work out. All this regret is such a discouraging way to feel, as I look back on my life, and now I can’t do anything about what I missed out on.’” Author Unknown

For a child of God, “Faith Choices” are the risks that He asks us to take because He wants us to fulfill His purpose for us, and He wants us to be able to make a difference for Him in the lives of others.

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