Responding to God’s surprises

If you haven’t seen it on tv, you have probably heard the story of the original Van Dyck discovered on the Antiques Roadshow. It will most likely take up a few lines of news print over the coming days. The owner of the masterpiece has already decided on his next step. Father Jamie McLeod is a priest who runs a retreat house. He has decided to put the painting up for auction and use the proceeds to purchase new bells for his church.

Father McLeod is clearly a man with a sense of mission. Even though he had never thought that the painting in his possession was so valuable, he had already worked out what to do with a large sum of money that came his way.

When something unusual or unexpected happens, it can take us by surprise. The Antiques Roadshow story is a positive one of someone being surprised in a positive way. You don’t have to search too hard, however, to find stories of people who won large sums of money only to find that their unexpected “blessing” becomes a curse. 

As we say “Goodbye” to 2013 and “Hello” to 2014, we will find moments when life surprises us. And we will find moments when God surprises us. How can we handle the “surprise” element of life in a godly way?

The kings from the east were people who knew what is was to be surprised. Surprised by a star (Matthew 2.1-12). They were just going about their business as usual when God surprised them. They were attentive.

God’s surprises are often found in the every day. When we are just “doing life”. At work. At school. At home. With our friends. Worshipping. Praying. And all the while being attentive. It does not seem that the kings were looking for something special. They were simply being attentive to what they did day in day out.

If we get on with our lives and stay attentive, we might just find God highlighting things we would otherwise have missed.

Secondly, they acted upon what they saw. They made some plans to go to Israel. They could have sat in wonder at the star until it disappeared. And then talked about it for years and years to come, without ever discovering its true implications.

Admiration is no substitute for action. The celebrity culture that afflicts the western world has sadly crept into the church. Certainly, there have always been famous preachers and leaders; Jesus had to battle with attempts to make Him a  king – a first century equivalent of celebrity culture in action. One of the big dangers with celebrity culture is that our admiration for someone who is doing something three thousand or five thousand or ten thousand miles away undermines our desire to take action in our own neghbourhood.

The whole point of the star was to get the kings moving! When God does something unusual it is to get us moving in a new direction.

Thirdly, they abandoned a plan that didn’t work, but they didn’t abandon their mission. When they turned up at Herod’s palace and didn’t find the new king, it would have been easy for disillusionment to set in. You can almost hear one of them say “We’ve come all this way for nothing, let’s go home.” But they kept going. Only a few miles down the road was the new king.

Abandoning the mission is always a temptation when our plans haven’t worked out. Sometimes our plans and strategies don’t work. I know, I have experienced that many times! But that is no reflection on the mission. Better abandon the plan and stick with the mission, instead of doing what we sometimes do, sticking with the failed plan and losing sight of the mission.

Finally, they accepted a change of direction for their return journey. They had to avoid Herod. They were caught up in something that had big political implications and they needed to act with wisdom.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have a Herod after us. But we do have an Enemy who wants to destroy us. We need to walk wisely. We need the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Often that means that we have to accept a change of direction.

You might not have an original Van Dyck hanging in your front room. You might not want to spend four hundred thousand pounds on church bells. No, but it’s still worth being attentive to what is going on around you. You just never know what surprises God has for you. 

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