I still have enough “Indiana” in me that I don’t think of March as a month for snow. March is a month for basketball, budding flowers and trees, chirping birds, and a fair bit of rain. Imagine my surprise when we woke up to half a foot of snow this morning! Yes, the weather forecast told me this would happen ahead of time, but it still caught me a bit off guard.
It strikes me that surprise is a very human experience. Some people enjoy surprise birthday parties; some like movies or books with surprise endings. Other people dislike any kind of surprise because of their emotional or physical reactions to surprises. So the ability to be surprised is a pretty common human characteristic. But what about surprise in the life of the Christian? What do our scriptures say about surprises?
In the Old Testament, we read that we should not be surprised when we see injustice in the world, because that’s just the way the world works (Ecclesiastes 5:8). In the teachings of Jesus, we read that we should not be surprised by his call for us to be “born again” (John 3:7). And in several New Testament letters, we read that we should not be surprised by various trials or by the return of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, 1 Peter 4:12-16, 1 John 3:13).
As human beings, we will always be surprised by one thing or another. However, when it comes to matters of faith, we are to have confidence in our Lord: in his faithfulness to us, in his promised return, in his strength that enables us to withstand any trial. And this confidence extends to our mission, as well. We are called by the Lord to meet the needs of those who are in need in our community, so we should face that call, those needs, and the people who are involved with confidence rather than with surprise. The Bible and the course of human history teach us that injustice, poverty, abuse, and all kinds of social ills will always exist in our world – and every generation needs to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Our work is ongoing!
The difference between surprise and anticipation is the difference between being caught off guard and being prepared. In time, I will learn to anticipate snowfall in March (and April? and May?!). In the life of the church, the difference between surprise and anticipation is as great as night and day. I believe that moving toward an attitude of anticipation is part of the process of becoming more like Christ, who always seemed to anticipate the next step rather than to express surprise at a new development in his life. What would our fellowship look like if we lived in constant anticipation of the Lord’s return? What would it look like if we anticipated the needs of our community, both physical and spiritual, before we learned about specific problems facing specific people? I think these attitudes can transform our relationships with each other and with the Lord. What do you think?