The shock of an unexpected surprise can be invigorating. While invigorating, an encounter with Christ should be no surprise.
My husband and I like to surprise each other. I'm not talking about leaving little unexpected gifts on each other's pillow (although maybe we should try that sometime because it does sound nice ...). No, we like to jump out unexpectedly around the house and scare the pants off each other. Call it the delightful anticipation of total terror, if you will. Obviously, we don't get out much. But to us, it's sheer fun.
I'm not even sure how it all got started. I think I accidentally surprised Jeff while coming around a dark corner one night. When the surprise-induced pains in his chest and left arm dissipated, we both laughed our heads off. He made a point to "get me back" later that night ... and I recall he hid in our pantry. I remember innocently reaching for a Fig Newton on the shelf and discovering the devil instead. Jeff quickly performed CPR on me, and as soon as I regained consciousness, we laughed ourselves silly.
We've been doing this for years. We even have a little ritual dance where the surpriser twirls around and sings, "I gotchoo! I gotchoooo! I gotchoo!" while the surprised jumps in utter horror and curls into a fetal position ball in mid air. As time goes on, we've realized it has become more and more difficult to perform a high-scoring surprise on the scare- o-meter. That's because we're expecting it.
For instance, if I haven't seen Jeff around the house in a while, I would never nonchalantly waltz into a dark closet without expecting him to jump out of a hamper. You've got to be ready. Similarly, Jeff's learned that just because I tell him I'm going up to take a shower before bed doesn't mean that I've haven't turned on the water to trick him and I'm actually hiding under the bed waiting to grab his ankles in the dark. (Boy, that one was a doozie!)
It seems as I've gotten older, I've started to expect surprises. Not just from Jeff hiding in the armoire, but from life in general. I've discovered that if you're ready for anything, you're just not as fazed by the unexpected. An emergency c- section? I'm ready. A cut in my husband's salary? We'll improvise. We're out of coffee? Hm. Well, now that could be a problem.
While I can usually handle most of life's curve balls without being too caught off guard, I wonder at times if I'm more focused on being ready to face the hardships in this life than I am to face the glory in the next. I pride myself on my ability to cope through difficult times. So rising above tough circumstances isn't my problem. What I need to remember is that God wants to use difficult times to draw me to Himself, not draw me into feeling good about my own self-sufficiency.
The apostle Peter reminds me that this life's surprises really aren't "all about me" when he writes, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). I like how The Message finishes off this thought in the next verse, "Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner." It's incredible for me to realize the glory Peter talks about us sharing is Christ's — that's what I need to be ready for. That's what I want my life to reflect: eager anticipation of sharing the glory of Jesus.
Jesus said, "So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (Matthew 24:44 ). To be honest, there are times when I've I said, "Come Lord Jesus, come ... just let me get married first." Then it changed to "Lord could you wait until I experience the joy of having a baby?" And I shudder to think that I recently thought, "Jesus, please come ... just as soon as I enjoy my new carpet for a bit longer." OK, aside from the carpet, can you relate? Why is it so easy to let the worries — or even pleasures — of this world take our focus off the eternal glory for which we were made?
I am ashamed to admit that there are days when I know Jesus' second coming would literally surprise the socks off me. I'm not expecting it at all. Most of the time I'm not even thinking about it. I'll think more about whether or not I have time to hit the sale rack at The Gap. Or I'll feel sorry for myself because I have to clean toilets. Can you imagine the joy we'd feel in our hearts if we were to keep Christ as an ever-present thought from day to day? If we lived as if we expected Him to come at any moment? During traffic? During a job interview gone south? During a not-so-fun phone call with your mother?
The fact is, Christ does come to us now, in the day-to-day moments, and in a very real way. While I know there are many days when I'm not expecting His second coming, it's even more humbling for me to admit that I often forget that Jesus comes to me now when I'm not expecting Him. How much richer would our faith be if we trusted — and expected — Christ to show us His presence in any given moment of our lives? He is ready to surprise us with a still small voice. Are we ready for those encounters?e
My first year out of college I worked full time in a shelter for homeless people. One day a homeless man named David drew me a beautiful picture of praying hands that I've saved to this day. On it he inscribed, "Jesus is here watching our blind surprise." It's as profound a thought to me now as it was back then. Imagine the possible scenarios with me: You find out you did not get the job you knew would be perfect for your career. And you get angry. Confused. Anxious. Jesus is there, watching your blind surprise, knowing that you haven't the faith to realize that God has a purpose for you. That He, Himself closed the door to this job to protect you and direct your path. Or the woman you thought would be perfect for you doesn't think you'd be perfect for her. And you feel hopeless. Lonely. Forgotten. Yet Jesus is there, watching your blind surprise, knowing that you have forgotten God wants to give you the desires of your heart in the timing that He's planned for you.
I love how A. W. Tozer tells it like it is. In his powerful book, The Pursuit of God, he wrestles with the question of why we, as ransomed children of God, suffer with blindness or "numbness toward spiritual things." He answers with the humbling truth that we struggle with "chronic unbelief." He writes, "Sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible; the temporal, of the eternal."
But there is hope for the blindness. Tozer encourages believers to focus upon God and His Word "and the things of the Spirit will take shape before our inner eyes." When we see our lives with this eternal perspective, we won't be surprised by the hardships of this world. We'll expect Christ to come and meet us in them. And He will. He will surprise us with joy and peace now. He won't dance and sing, "I gotchooo! I gotchooo!" But He will say, "I've got you. I've got you and I'll never leave you."
Copyright 2005 Kara Schwab. All rights reserved.