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The God of surprises

October 10, 2015

I love most sea food. I say most because there are some fish that I just haven’t been able to bring myself to try, at least not yet. Jellied eels are one food that still defeats me, they just look ‘wrong’ and all of that jelly just repels me. One thing that I do love are anchovies. I remember when they seemed to come with every pizza. I miss them but usually forget to ask for them specially. I love them but the ones in the tins are just so salty. The other day I was in the delicatessen in our little town. It is always dangerous for me to go in there: Well it is mostly dangerous for my wallet and my waistline. This time I spotted a pot of anchovies in oil and asked to try one. The assistant (who hates fish) carefully ‘fished’ one out for me. I held it by the tail, dropped it into my mouth whole and stared at her in shock. I think she thought that I was about to throw up, but then I smiled. The taste was so completely different from what I had expected. There was no saltiness at all. I could taste the fish and an intense sweetness that I was just not expecting. Never in a million years did I ever expect to be able to describe a fish as sweet, but there was the proof on my tongue.

I love it when life throws up surprises for me like that anchovy. I particularly like it when I discover something that I could never have imagined before. It thrills me that God has filled this created world with such variety, wonder and freshness. At the very least it can be a partial antidote to all that is wrong. I have found God to be the God of surprises. The more I think that I have got to know him the more I discover something new about God. It is this that, at least in part, keeps my relationship with God vibrant. It is this that makes it a relationship rather than merely an academic study of the strange concept of ‘God’.

The fact that God is the God of surprises should be no surprise. It is very much the experience of Jesus’ followers and of the early church described in the New Testament. The disciples were utterly shocked when Jesus said to them,

“It’s hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom!” The disciples were shocked to hear this. So Jesus told them again, “It’s terribly hard to get into God’s kingdom! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.” (Mark 10.23 -25 CEV)

The disciples new that it was only God who could bless someone, so it followed that it must have been God who blessed the rich with their riches. So no wonder they were shocked at Jesus’ words. If the ‘blessed’ couldn’t get in to God’s kingdom then how could anyone get in? What chance was there for them? They were shocked by this, but eventually realised that Jesus was saying that getting into the kingdom of God was a gift that only God could give, not something that anyone could buy with money or even with good living.

The disciples had many more surprises to come to terms with, not least that Jesus would have to suffer and even die if the way into this kingdom was to be opened to anyone at all. Then later, after the resurrection, almost everything that they had taken for granted about how God wanted them to live was changed:

The Sabbath – gone very quickly. Indeed, the first Christians considered the Jews lazy for taking Saturday off.

Food laws – again these went in the first few years of Christianity as all foods were declared clean.

Circumcision – the central mark of Jewish identity for any man. But this quickly went too.

Jesus – God and human – something blasphemous to most Jews.

The Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – again blasphemous to most Jews.

So what surprises has God go in store for me now? What is God trying to show the people here where I live? What is he trying to get us to see? It could be valuing again something that has been considered to be old fashioned. Here I think about how the old 1662 Prayer Book worship attracts people even today, and its use seems to be growing again.

Surprises, by definition, are a surprise so how can I be sure that I hear God and respond? Honestly, I don’t have any guarantee. But I have found that taking time to listen and respond to God makes it that little bit easier to be ready for His surprises. Listening to and with others helps too. I’ve found so many times that the things that I get confused about are crystal clear to others around me.

I get this feeling that God is saying something surprising and challenging about the refugees, about the natural world, and the climate, about family life, what it is to be a Christian, and so much more. I once wished to be one of those early Christians, right at the start of it all: With all the changes, challenges and surprises around at the moment, perhaps I have been granted my prayer.

God is the God of surprises, so be careful what you wish for, God might just answer your prayer.

  1. Love your posts, did you buy the jar of anchovies I wonder???

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