Day 16: Lord, Surprise Us
A few years ago, a rather routine staff meeting turned into a prayer meeting. All of our staff ended up on their knees. I ended up on my face on the floor. And I prayed a prayer that has been repeated hundreds of times since then. IN fact, it has become a prayer mantra: Lord, surprise us.
In one respect, this feels like a dangerous prayer because we have to put our plans on the altar. We have to relinquish control. We have to trust God’s timing. But that prayer was motivated by a genuine desire to see God do something unprecedented – something that superseded our plans, something that we could not take credit for or control. And God has answered this prayer a thousand times in a thousand ways!
One of the most dramatic surprised happened a few weeks after praying that prayer for the first time. Our family was vacationing at a friend’s cabin at Lake Anna, about ninety miles south of Washington, D.C. On the first day we heard a knock on the door. It was a neighbor named Harry, who asked if he could see the cabin. He looked harmless enough so I invited him in. Within five minutes Harry had offered to let us use his pontoon boat for the week. When we went to his cabin to get the keys, I noticed a book his coffee table written by a former senator who attended our church. I had a hunch when I saw the book that he might know the senator’s good friend and my mentor, Dick Foth. Sure, Harry knew Dick. So I told Harry I would send him a copy of a book I had dedicated to Dick titled Wild Goose Chase. The week after our vacation ended, I sent Harry a copy, and he liked it enough to recommend it to his friend Tom.
Nearly a year after meeting Harry, I got a call from Tom, a deacon at Glen Echo Baptist Church. He introduced himself and explained that GEBC was once a thriving witness in their community but had dwindled to a dozen members. Then he told me they wanted to consider giving their two properties, valued at approximately $2 million, to National Community Church. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d said I’d won the lottery without even buying a ticket. And that’s what it felt like.
What profoundly impacted me was the fact that GEBC was courageous enough to recognize that the church was dying and generous enough to give its building to another church. We were surprised and humbled beyond words. Then I remember our prayer: Lord, surprise us.
Can I make an observation? And I mean this with all due respect. Baptist churches don’t have their churches to non-Baptist churches. To the best of my knowledge, it’s unprecedented. But God always has a holy surprise up His sovereign sleeve. And when we pray, God throws surprise parties!
Every miracle, every blessing, every diving appointment has a genealogy. If we trace tem back, we’ll find a genesis prayer that set in motion the sovereign act of God. Am I saying that God cannot do it without us? No, I’m not saying He cannot; I am simply saying He will not.
In His omniscience and omnipotence, God has determined there are some things He will only do in response to prayer. The Bible puts it bluntly: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2) If we don’t ask, God can’t answer. It’s as simple as that. The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked. I don’t pretend to understand where the sovereignty of God and free will of humans meet, but it motivates me to work like it depends on me and pray like it depends on God. And if we do these two things, God will keep surprising us.
God Knows Every Tom, Dick and Harry
Our family has a handful of saying that have been passed down from generation to generation. They are part of our family folklore. I’m not sure where this one originated, but I remember my grandma stating it more than once: you can’t never always sometimes tell. That tongue twister is a mind bender, so here’s the translation: anything could happen!
Now let me redeem this saying and give it a prayer twist. When you circle a promise in prayer, you can’t never always sometimes tell. Anything could happen. You never know when or how or where God will answer it. Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than a surprise party or surprise gift or surprise romance. In fact, prayer turns life into a party, into a gift, into a romance.
God has surprised me so many times that I’m no longer surprised by His surprises. That doesn’t mean I love them any less. I’m still in awe of the strange and mysterious ways in which God works, but I have come to expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable. The only thing I can predict with absolute certainty is this: the more you pray, the more you will experience holy surprises.
I love the reference to the wind in John 3. I can’t think of a better description of the way the Holy Spirit works. He is uncontrollable, unpredictable – which can cause angst or excitement. The choice is ours. About the wind, Jesus states, “You cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” So it is with the Holy Spirit, says Jesus. In other words, you can’t never always sometimes tell. But one thing is certain: if we follow Jesus, our lives will be anything but boring.
When I think about the degree of probably of what happened, it’s mind-boggling. I have no idea what promoted Harry to knock on our door that day. If he hadn’t knocked, I would not have gove over to his cabin, seen a book on his coffee table, mentioned Dick Foth, or sent him a copy of Wild Goose Chase. And, of course, I didn’t know Tom from Adam! But God knows every Tom, Dick and Harry! And He can orchestrate diving appointments with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Lord surprise us!
The New Birth
3 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.[a] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but[b] have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
John the Baptist Exalts Christ
22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.23 Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.24 For John had not yet been thrown into prison.
25 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”
27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Pride Promotes Strife
4 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet[a] you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.4 Adulterers and[b] adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”[c]
Humility Cures Worldliness
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Do Not Judge a Brother
11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver,[d] who is able to save and to destroy. Who[e] are you to judge another?[f]
Do Not Boast About Tomorrow
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will[g] go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.