There’s No Surprising Him

galatians-4

When my older girls were preschoolers, we’d keep every activity a secret until the last possible second.

If I planned to take them to the zoo, they’d find out that morning at 8:30 when I put on their sneakers and packed the cooler.

If Grandma was coming for a visit, they found out when she pulled in the driveway.  Maybe, just maybe, I’d be generous enough to clue them in a few hours before she arrived.  But that was it.  No more advance notice than that.

This parental strategy was for several reasons.

  1. Sometimes plans change, so I kept things secret so no promises were broken or kids felt disappointed.
  2. My children would pester me every hour of every day if they knew something exciting was going to happen.  “How much longer?  How many days?  How many hours…minutes….seconds?”

One year, I kept the secret that Grandma was coming right up until the night before her visit when some unforeseen event dragged the news out of me at bedtime.

Disaster ensued.  Huge childhood drama.

My oldest daughter wailed, grumped, and grew outrageously angry at me for keeping the secret.

I had not given her acceptable planning time.  She informed me, “Had I known Grandma was coming, I would have made her a project.  I had time to make a project today. Tomorrow will be too busy and I will not have time.  You should have told me!”

Oh sweet daughter, I understand.

I do truly hate surprises.  I love my planning and processing time. Springing anything on me is just asking for a meltdown and a whole lot of trouble.

Surprises rock our world a bit, even good ones.  We’re thrown off balance and take time to adjust.

And isn’t Christmas all about surprises?

Zechariah was simply performing his priestly duties when an angel appeared unexpectedly and delivered the news that he and his wife would be parents.

Gabriel arrived in the middle of an average, ordinary day and announced to a young girl named Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Joseph was sleeping when the angel told him the news in a dream.

Shepherds gathered on the hills outside of Bethlehem to watch over the sheep just as they did every single night.  But on this night, the angels declared their Savior had come.

A people who had spent hundreds of years praying for the Messiah, searching for the Messiah, waiting and longing for the Messiah were completely surprised when the Messiah came.

It’s altogether an astonishing tale.  Everyone waking up on an average day, going about their average ways, and then the most extraordinary happens: An encounter with an angel.  A miraculous sign.

God at work in their midst.

There’s only one member of this entire Christmas account who isn’t stunned and surprised by the Messiah’s birth.

God Himself.

And this brings me great comfort.

None of this was a surprise to God.

Not our need for a Savior. Not the timing.  Not that He’d send His Son to be born of a virgin in a tiny town.  Not that His Son would die on a cross to save His people from their sins.

He knew all of it.

The very first Christmas verse I can find in the Bible isn’t in the Gospels at all.  It’s in Genesis.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). 

The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God declared the plan of salvation, the war with Satan, and Christ’s ultimate victory.

Sometimes surprises can send me into a mad scramble.  Life takes unexpected turns.  An average ordinary day can catapult me into a crisis with a single phone call.

It feels precarious and frightening to teeter-totter every moment, never knowing when my perfect plan will be bumped into.

But this is what I know:

Even when I don’t have a plan, God does.

Nothing sends Him into a frantic search for a Plan B.  Nothing stresses Him out or tosses Him into crisis mode because He didn’t see that coming.

God knew we’d need a Savior all along and He knew exactly how to save us.

God always knows what we’re going through and what we need.  Even when we’re surprised, He is not.

So we can rest from our vigil of anxiety and loosen our tight-fisted grip on control.

Christmas reminds us that we can trust Him with today and again with tomorrow.

He has perfect plans and perfect timing and we are perfectly cared for by a God who rescues and saves.

Once in a Lifetime

“The soul is nurtured by beauty.  What food is to the body . . . pleasing images are to the soul” (Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul)

I grew up not far outside of Washington, DC.  At the time, a $5 Metro fare and a 20 minute train ride opened up a world of free museums and monuments.

I could easily Metro in just to see one exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library or spend a day slowly walking the halls of the National Gallery of Art or meandering through the presidential portraits in the National Portrait Gallery.

We could day-trip in for the Cherry Blossom Festival exactly when the cherry trees around the Jefferson Memorial were in full bloom.

And I did all those things.

Everything was simply so accessible, so convenient, so inexpensive, and perfect for someone like me who finds these experiences to be spiritual and a refreshing deep breath for my soul.

Our Creator God designed beauty and placed in human hearts the longing to create beauty ourselves.  So, I worship God amidst art and architecture.

Yes, I had access to a spiritual retreat with little effort or cost and I didn’t even know it.

Then in middle school, we watched an episode of one of our favorite shows, Saved By the Bell.  The show’s heartthrob, Zack, desperately wanted to win a contest with a fabulous grand prize— a week-long trip to Washington, DC.

This was unimpressive to me.

Who chooses a grand prize that is just 20 minutes away from my house?  Why not Disney World?  Hawaii?  London?

Of course, we don’t often appreciate what we have, not until it’s gone anyway.

Now, I live just far enough away for a trip to DC to be inconvenient and easily deterred by a busy life and tired children.  A week-long trip to the city would be fabulous!

When we live close to something, when it’s easy, when it’s inexpensive and effortless, it’s easy to overlook it’s value, becoming complacent and unappreciative.

That’s true about time in God’s presence, too.

For us, being with God is as simple as a one-sentence prayer while driving or singing praise songs while washing dishes.  When I’m worried, I pray about 100 times a day over one particular problem.

But it used to be far more complicated and rare than that.  In Luke 1, a priest named Zechariah was chosen by lottery to burn incense in the temple.

He won the grand prize.

Priests were the only ones who could perform this job, the only ones allowed beyond the outer area into the holy places before God Most High.

Even Zechariah, who God declares was “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6) would only burn incense before the Lord once in his entire life.

One chance to be in God’s Holy presence.
One opportunity to stand before Almighty.
One moment of intimate communion with Him.

Beth Moore writes:

“The responsibility of the priest on duty was to offer a corporate prayer.  Furthermore, the priest’s intercession for the nation undoubtedly included a petition for the Messiah, Israel’s promised Deliverer and King” (Jesus, the One and Only, p. 4)

Zechariah prayed for the nation, prayed for a Messiah, and maybe, just maybe took his one and only chance before God and prayed for his own family’s brokenness.

He and his wife Elizabeth were childless and “very old” (Luke 1:7).  Their dreams for a family seemed hopeless now.

But an angel appeared in that private moment between God and this aging priest.  The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 7:12).

Which prayer?  The one for the nation?  For the Messiah?  For himself?

Yes to all of them.

He and Elizabeth became parents to John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, the hope of the nation.

One powerful moment in the Lord’s presence brought Zechariah the answer to all he had sought for so long.

If we only had one brief opportunity to be in God’s presence, how would we act and what would we do?  How would we worship and what would we request?

David knew exactly what he desired:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple (Psalm 27:4).

God’s presence was his “one thing,” the deep longing in his heart.

Praise God that because of Jesus we aren’t limited to one single moment in God’s presence!

We have access to the throne of grace at all times and anywhere we go.  We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, communing, comforting, counseling, teaching, convicting and bringing peace.

But let’s not let easy access breed complacency.  Let’s treat our times with God as precious as they really are, remembering that it is only because of Christ that we can come before God at all.  Let’s thank Him for the that.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

And then what happened?– Part I

“Nothing, you see, is impossible with God”
(Luke 1:36, MSG)

I’m not a big fan of surprises and hate suspense.  With the end of the regular TV season upon us, I’ve recorded the season finales of a few shows and will let them sit unwatched until September.  That way I can watch the season finale in all of its suspenseful glory and then immediately watch the resolution that typically occurs in the first 5 minutes of the new season. Spending an entire summer not knowing how a story ends is not my idea of a good time.

I do it with books, too.  If a character is in jeopardy, I’ll flip ahead a few pages to see if his name still occurs in the text (he must still be alive) and then turn back to continue the story from where I left off.  I’ve been known to read the last page of a book first and then flip back to the beginning.  In most cases, I’ll still read the book the whole way through, but I can do it without tension or nervousness and am therefore more able to enjoy the story with some leisure and appreciate the actual writing.  At least, that’s my excuse.  My husband, however, says “I destroy the dramatic integrity of the author.”

Outside of the fictional world, I’m still no fan of cliffhangers. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I can live with my eternal future already determined.  I can easily skip to the end of The Book, read the final chapters and then happily mosey through the rest of the story, looking forward always to the “blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

In some ways, though, my eternal destination is the easy part.  It’s the suspense of day-to-day living that makes me want to “skip to the end” at times.  Once in middle school I lost my math book for a few days.  Fearing my teacher’s wrath (this mild-mannered, soft-spoken Algebra teacher of mine), I prayed at night, letting God know that it would be a great time for Jesus to come back and requesting that He please end my misery by whisking me off to heaven.  The rapture obviously did not occur in order to meet my middle school needs.  Instead, I had to tell my teacher that my book was missing and all of my nightmares and worst fears abated when my math book reappeared on my desk the next day, having been discovered in the school lost and found.

That night I spent without my math book, though, was a horror of suspense for me.  What exactly would happen?  How would this all work out?

Maybe you, like me, have asked some of these questions, no longer about lost math books, but now about your children, your marriage, your finances, your job, your ministry, your future.  Is everything going to turn out okay?  What is going to happen next?  Will things work out the way I want them to?

When I find myself asking these questions, I’ve learned to stop and ponder these things:

Part I: Put It In Perspective:

As a teacher, I had occasional extra duties outside the classroom, including morning drop-off.  One morning, a petite third-grade girl ran up to me in hysterics.  I thought someone had died, certainly some horrible tragedy had occurred in her home.  It seemed like a true crisis.

She had forgotten her lunch.

“Oh, baby girl,” I said as I held her hand and dropped to my knees so I could look in her eyes, “it’s okay.  Maybe we’ll call your mom for your lunch.  Maybe we’ll get you lunch from the cafeteria.  Either way, you don’t need to worry.”

Immediately, I felt that deep prompting of the Holy Spirit asking me, “How often have you cried in despair over a crisis that is as easy-to-fix in My sight as a forgotten lunch bag?”  This little girl didn’t have any hope, she couldn’t see any remedy or solution on her own, but when she gave the problem to me, I resolved it within seconds.

It’s not that God brushes aside our pain as childish or that the trials that leave us broken and hurting are foolish and unimportant to God.  Not at all.  Yet, it’s so easy to lose perspective because the issues we face in this world are sometimes big, certainly too much for us to handle and it’s hard to have hope when circumstances seem hopeless.

Consider some of the “cliffhangers” in Scripture for a brief moment:

  • Moses and the entire nation of Israel stood on the banks of the Red Sea, rushing water in front of them, Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit behind them.  Would God rescue them from the enemy and bring them to freedom?
  • Daniel spent all night alone in a dark den of hungry lions and the king himself burst out of bed at the first light of dawn and rushed to the cave to see if Daniel had survived the night.  Was he still alive down there?
  • The three men stood before the fiery furnace, watching as the guards carrying them to the edge of the flames burnt to ashes.  Would God save them from the furnace?
  • Esther marched into the throne room uninvited by the king in order to beg for mercy for her people, knowing that her boldness could get her killed.  Would the king allow her to live and grant her request?

These aren’t scenarios of lost math books or forgotten lunches.  They are life and death matters in the worst possible physical circumstances.  They were impossible situations with insurmountable odds.  So then what happened?

What happened was God.  Yes, these problems weren’t trivial or small, petty or frivolous to the people in them.  But, as difficult as our life may be or as dark and scary as the unknown appears, what happens in our Christian walk will always be with God. 

When we stand on the precipice of unknown, feeling the knots in our stomach, fretting at night rather than sleeping, wondering what will happen next, we hand that situation over to God and then remember:

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us
(Ephesians 3:201-21, MSG).

“Nothing, you see, is impossible with God” (Luke 1:36, MSG)

Even in the biggest trials, we must remember how big our God is.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King