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The Gracious Rescue of Surprise

When you scan the biblical story you can’t help concluding that following God brings a life of surprises. Whatever plans God’s people made and however they tried to figure out God’s plans, they were constantly greeted with surprises. They faced turns in the story that they never would have anticipated. God’s plan again and again included things that would not have been included in the story if his people had been doing the planning.

One of the reasons for this is that we human beings tend to focus on outcomes. We simply want things to go well and turn out right. God surely does care about the end of all things, but he is graciously at work in the process as well.

The surprises along the way are God’s surprises. He is never caught off guard or unprepared. He calls us to follow him beyond the boundaries of our wisdom, strength and character. The waiting we have to do and the surprises that we face are meant by him to be tools of grace. They are designed to release us from our self-reliance and the hold our dreams for our lives have on us.

In those moments of surprise, it is important to remember that you may be confused, but God isn’t. In this moment when you are not sure what is going on, you haven’t been abandoned. No, the opposite is true: you are being rescued. But living this way is hard for us.

As pseudo-sovereigns, we hate waiting, disappointment, obstacles, and failure. We struggle to accept the fact that these things exist in a world that is under the wisest and most benevolent rule possible. C. S. Lewis comments that a hardy belief in the truths of Christianity actually makes your experience of pain more painful. It is bad enough to have to endure pain, but as a believer you must say that it was not an accident and that it was sent by a God who declares himself to be good!

To us, often God’s order looks like disorder, and his wisdom looks like foolishness. God’s lovingkindness often seems to be anything but loving, and definitely not kind. All of this has to do with one humbling thing that we all have to admit: as sinners, we want our own way. We want life to work according to our plan. We don’t want to have to face the unexpected or deal with disappointment. We want life to be smooth and predictable. And we want all of this because we are more concerned about our comfort and ease than we are about the processes of grace that are at work in us.

It is hard to rest in the rulership of the King when our hearts and minds are so preoccupied with the success of our own little kingdoms.

Life surprises us with the reality of who is king and how different his will and way are from ours. We have lived day after day, month after month and year after year in the world of our needs, our wants, and our dreams. We have nurtured the illusion that if God really does love us, he will give the things that we have determined are good to us.

We have convinced ourselves that if we obey, God will keep his part of the bargain and send “the good life” our way. We thought that if we parented well, then all of our children would turn out the way we hoped. We thought that if we worked faithfully then we would harvest the seeds of our investments in our later years. We thought that if we kept our bodies under subjection then the Lord would bless us with good health. We thought that if we followed the Lord in personal devotion and public worship and ministry, then our lives would be spiritually rich.

Remember, you are not alone, God’s people have always struggled with the shock of his rule. The kingdom of darkness is being destroyed by the kingdom of light, and none of us can escape being affected by the carnage.

Deep beneath every struggle of doubt and confusion is a collision of kingdoms. The theology of God’s unshakable sovereignty is easier to verbalize than it is to live. The truth that a God of relentless grace is after the total transformation of our hearts, is easier to conceptualize than it is to rest in at street level.

Require yourself to be brutally honest in this moment. What is it that you really want out of life? What is it that you want from God’s hand? What is the true dream for which you have been working? What are the joys that captivate your eyes and control your heart? What is your, “If I only had , then I would be happy?”

How much have your dreams been personal, earthbound, physical, and here-and-now? Have you been motivated by your kingdom more than God’s Kingdom? How is your present discouragement, disappointment, confusion or grief a window on what has actually captured your heart? Have you really wanted God to be your wise and loving Father who brings into your life what he considers best, or have you wanted him to be a divine waiter, the all-powerful deliverer of your dreams?

Could it be that you have prayed for grace, but that you don’t really like the grace that you have been given? Divine grace doesn’t always make your life simple or your pathway clear. God’s grace doesn’t always provide you with release or relief. God’s grace often brings you hardship, confusion, and surprises. These things are sent to you, not by a God who is messing with you because he’s more powerful than you, but from the hand of a God a glorious grace, who is exercising his power for the purpose of your transformation.

So, the next time God surprises you, don’t doubt his goodness, faithfulness, and love. No, lift your hands to the heavens and celebrate. You are being rescued. You are being loved. You are being delivered. You are being transformed. And be thankful that since nothing can separate you from his love, there are more gracious surprises to come!