If you had been here…

This is the statement that both Martha and Mary make separately to Jesus when he eventually turned up at Lazarus’s graveside. 

Their words echo the uncertainty, confusion, and lack of understanding we should express in our prayers.

The word “if.” It’s such a small word but loaded with such weight—in this case, the weight of grief, bewilderment.

“If” introduces a hypothetical situation and the possible outcome of that situation.

“If” Jesus had been there, with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, Lazarus would not have died.

Mary and Martha were followers and good friends of Jesus. They had, most probably many times, witnessed Jesus healing strangers and people he bumped into along his journeys. They knew that people in the vicinity of Jesus’ whereabouts would be recipients of the power and authority he had over sickness and disease—a father whose daughter was sick. A woman in the crowd with bleeding.

If you had been here…  We sense deep pain in their words because Jesus was their friend, and Lazarus was the friend of Jesus. Jesus thought the world of them.

Worse than Jesus not being in town or their home when Lazarus took ill, was that Jesus could have been there. Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus. Perhaps they sent another friend on foot or donkey as fast as he could to tell Jesus that Lararus was seriously ill.

I wonder if the sisters took turns standing in the doorway of their home, hoping to see Jesus’ familiar face come around the corner. I wonder if they took turns comforting Lazarus, “The teacher will be here soon.”

Waiting is painful. But the hard realization that the situation you hoped for is only hypothetical. It is a figment of imagination, is even worse.

No response. Jesus could have come. Jesus could have healed him from a distance. Instead, Lazarus died.

The pain of losing a loved one is hard enough. We all live with loss. We all accept loss—until Jesus returns. Yet, when Jesus was on earth, no one who came to Jesus in faith had to accept loss, that’s what was so hard on Mary and Martha.

Our lives can bear the same confusion as Martha and Mary experienced. 

We know God loves us. We have made a commitment to and follow Jesus. We know God can answer our prayers. Yet, they go unanswered. Maybe the little requests, we can let go of but that desperate need—it’s painful when our prayers seem to be ignored. We too find it hard to understand.

Perhaps our prayers to God should be like Martha and Mary…

If you love me like you say you do, then why___________

If you want me to lead like you have shown me, then ___________

If you_______________

We might worry it is wrong to approach God in such a bold way.

But, Martha and Mary’s words to Jesus were different from the other people who asked: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Martha and Mary displayed their deep faith and trust in Jesus.  “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

Martha added her trust in Jesus “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Even though she didn’t understand how her current circumstances could change.

And Mary showed the same deep faith by falling at Jesus’ feet and calling him “Lord.”
Don’t be concerned that the “if” statements in your prayers are an affront to God. Instead, let it be an expression of your faith. And as happened with Martha and Mary’s dedication to Jesus, may God be deeply moved in spirit by your “if” prayers.


  • I never thought of it that way. I have heard and seen so many pray ” if it is your will “, especially concerning healing, almost as a doubt. But look what He went through for us, His promises are more true that ever if that is even possible.

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