I know that I’ve been gone a long time, but here I am with some of my recent thoughts and insights. I hope you find them enriching. I’ll probably post every two weeks. I welcome your feedback.
Years ago I decided to surprise Winnie with a trip to California to visit her brother and sister in law. We were celebrating our wedding anniversary. Our daughter, Jill, secretly pack a suitcase and I got it in the car without Winnie’s knowing. Winnie was under the impression that we were going out to supper. But as we traveled to the airport, “Norm, this isn’t the way to the restaurant. You’re going in the wrong direction!”. When we arrived at the airport, she realized that we weren’t going to dinner, but on a trip. To my surprise she was upset with me! She said, “I like the anticipation of something special, rather than it happening as a surprise.” The good news is that after the initial shock, she enjoyed the trip — I learned something about my wife.
Recently I was reading a book by a violin maker who was talking about what makes a beautiful sound. He said that a beautiful sound is composed of the familiar and the surprise. If a sound is too familiar it is repetitious and we get bored and if we have too much surprise life becomes too unstable, too unpredictable. We need both, but we need to keep them in creative tension.
The more I thought about this I realized that this is an underlying principle connected to our relationship with the Lord. While he gives us the foundation for stable living, he also introduces surprises that can enrich our relationship with him if we see them for what they are. When I thought of my own journey with Christ, I realized that some of the most memorable and life forming times were when the Lord upset my predetermined plans and led me on a new path that gave me a new perspective or taught me something I needed to learn. Let me illustrate.
In 1968 after a season of prayer and sense of the Lord’s direction I resigned from ministry responsibilities in Portsmouth, Virginia and planned to go to Wheaton College to work on a Master’s degree. I was married, with three preschool children and left Portsmouth with all our worldly goods in a UHaul trailer, pulled behind my Ford Falcon automobile. We hadn’t traveled fifty miles when I realized that the car was not capable of hauling the trailer 800 miles to Wheaton. Now that was an upsetting surprise. I had taken my wife and children from safety into a situation that was out of my control. It was an extremely emotionally draining weekend when I recognized my inability to solve the dilemma I encountered. I was scared, confused and emotionally drained.
Without laboring details the Lord met us in a remarkable way and we got to Wheaton through his provision. The surprise turn of events was instrumental as another step in learning to trust him no matter what the circumstances. I cite this example because surprises are not initially welcomed. If you think through biblical events you find consisted situations of positive and negative surprises that the Lord’s people encountered. Yet, when they trusted him they encountered remarkable examples of his provision that marked new levels of trust and intimacy.
If you are familiar with the Bible think of these surprises. Joseph snatched from a loving relationship with his father to live in a godless Egyptian society. But the outcome was foundational to the future of the twelve tribes of Israel. Or consider Nehemiah who leaves the security of being a right-hand associate of the King to follow God’s call to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem amid hostile enemies. Then there is David, looked upon as a national military hero with a promising future to suddenly become a threat to the king and has to flee as a fugitive.
Probably the greatest surprise was when our heavenly Father sent his beloved Son to the earth as the child of a virgin. The people anticipated a Messiah who would come as a reigning King to deliver the Jews from Roman bondage. Instead, they get a humble serving Savior who ends up nailed to a cross. Thank God for this astounding surprise. How much greater was the deliverance from sin and the privilege of becoming a child of the Lord of heaven and earth.
What strikes me is that many of God’s surprises appear as disappointments, defeats, or losses. Yet, the followers of Christ who dares to trust him through the upsetting “surprise,” find this to be one of the most rewarding events in their spiritual journey. David talked about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, without fear, because he know that the Lord was walking through that dreaded valley with him (Psa. 23:4).
Here’s the bottom line for me. I’ve come to see that God’s surprises are what makes life fulfilling and an adventure. Most of the lifechanging lessons I’ve learned have come as a result of unsettling, disturbing surprises. Trials, problems and surprises take us out of our comfort zone. They challenge us to step out into the unknown or the uncomfortable. Without them everything becomes routine and life is boring. The apostle James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas. 1:2–4 NIV).
I must leave a last word of caution. When I don’t believe that the Lord is with me in every aspect of the journey I can become bitter, resentful or even rebellious. I may blame the Lord and never find the blessing that he has hidden under the gift’s wrapping. I judge the most loving person in the universe as mean, forgetful, uncaring, etc. And my life begins to shrivel up into meaningless existence.