It was 1940, and the German Wehrmacht had the British Expeditionary and French forces surrounded at Dunkirk, on the northern coast of France. The British Navy couldn’t rescue them, and they couldn’t fight their way out. It looked like no one was going to survive.
The British and French would be safe if they could just get across the English Channel and out of France. But there was no time or resources to stage an evacuation. A British officer sent a three-word telegram to the war offices in London:
“But if not…”
This powerful phrase communicated to the people at home the true straits of the men stranded at Dunkirk: As with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the situation looks hopeless, and we pray God will save us. But if not, we will still be faithful.
Under the cover of fog and night, in small fishing boats, pleasure cruisers, and all manner of small watercraft, piloted by the good people who lived on that coast, 338,000 men were saved.
The testimony of those three brave men stepping into Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace still looms large in our collective imagination, and their words still have the power to teach us. Thankfully, God protected those three men from the flames—and the troops at Dunkirk—but both were prepared to die. They knew we serve a God who is greater than kings and armies. Though the powers of this world threaten us, taunting, What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?, we serve the God who can save.
God doesn’t promise to save us from the flames. But He has promised to be with us as we walk through the fire— and either to rescue us in this life, or through death for our eternal salvation (Isaiah 43).
That’s both comforting and scary, right? Those brave words spoken by brave men sound amazing, but I’m a little nervous when it comes to getting my own hair singed.
Lord, give us confidence in your words. Forge courage for us in the midst of a hostile world. Steel our nerves for long, hard days of quiet faithfulness. Resolve our hearts to follow you in momentous decisions and small choices. Build in us a brave resistance to evil.
Then, when the day of testing comes, we can bravely go in the fire and know that whether we live or die, we serve a God like no other—a God who is able to save.
But if He does not, we will serve Him still.