Rarely does God work in ways in which we expect that he will. Even the non-religious among us may admit to believing that God does indeed work in “mysterious ways.”
From Genesis to Revelation we see clearly (thanks to hindsight) that God pretty much always works in the most unexpected ways. He told Abraham he would make him into a great nation, then waited until he was 100 years old to give him a son. God revealed to Joseph in a dream that he would lead his brothers one day and that they would bow to him in reverence. How could he have expected that would indeed happen, but only through being sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and long forgotten in a prison cell?
When Moses first led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, and they found themselves literally between a rock and a hard place, how could they ever have imagined he would actually open up the Sea, that they would walk through the waters on dry land. When they cried out for thirst, how could they have imagined that God would command water to pour forth from a stone? When they cried out for bread, how could they have imagined that they would wake the next morning to find the ground covered with the bread of heaven?
How could the giant Goliath ever have imagined the small shepherd boy David would destroy him with a pebble from a slingshot?
How could young David, chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to succeed Saul as Israel’s king, ever have imagined it would take decades of running for his life before he would realize his calling? When he was taking refuge in the caves of Ein Gedi, would he have ever imagined that, when given a chance to slay his greatest enemy, he would spare him instead?
The law and the prophets and the poets of the Old Testament wrote of a king that would come, from the house of David, a hero who would free the people and establish an eternal kingdom. Yet never did they really expect that their king would be born in a dirty old barn among stinky animals, and be trained, not as a battle-tested warrior, but as a humble carpenter in practical obscurity for 30 years before making himself known to the people he was sent to lead.
Even upon beginning his ministry, Jesus continually surprised the people he met, working in ways they could have never expected. I’m not just talking about the miracles either. Of course no one expected him to raise the dead, heal the lame, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and cleansing for the diseased. Absolutely no one expected him to feed over 5000 people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, calm storms with a word, and literally walk on water. And ultimately, even his closest followers, his people whom he loved dearly and who loved him in return, did not understand that he would bring death to its end and raise himself to everlasting life. Even though he told them in so many ways that he was going to do the very most unexpected thing they could imagine! He was coming to fulfill and finalize laws that had been strictly adhered to for thousands of years. He would put an end to the sacrificial system, he would put an end to death, he would put an end to eternal separation from God, making a Red Sea road for us, through an endless sea of sin, he would become our sure footing, our strong foundation — literally the only way, the only truth and the only life — upon which we can cast the entirety of our lot and enter into the presence of the only Holy God. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works so that no man can boast. A free gift, freely given and freely received. Seriously? No one and I mean NO one expected anything that Jesus did. Ever hearing, never perceiving.
Jesus always operates counter-culturally. Jesus preached “love your enemies and bless those who curse you,” “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me, whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.” He tells us that when we are persecuted because of him we are blessed. He welcomed little children to come to him, he talked openly with women, even those of other races which was very taboo, pushing cultural norms. When he was first resurrected, it was not the disciples he appeared to first, it was the women who went to his tomb, clearly expecting to find him there — dead — because they were carrying the spices and incense with which to anoint his dead body. Yet instead of his dead body, they found an empty tomb and after hearing from an angel that he has risen, they saw Christ himself asking them to go tell the disciples to head on to Galilee and they would see him there. Despite being told, again and again, no one really understood that he would rise again, and I am willing to bet that none of those disciples expected that he would appear first to the women!
Shall I go on about God working in the unexpected? We are commanded to rejoice when we meet trials of various kinds and exhorted to remember that his power is perfected in our weakness. God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
I am part amused and part bewildered with myself for thinking that I could ever attempt to predict the ways of the Lord. Not only does he work in the unexpected, he weaves circumstances and people together in such a way that, no matter what, the outcome will be for His glory and our good — for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
God works unexpectedly. Why? I imagine because he wants us to trust him. When we find ourselves facing circumstances or needs that only God can orchestrate, our faith grows as he provides for our needs — as he says he will! Perhaps he wants us to understand that apart from him we can do nothing, but that his invitation is to abide in him, to bear much fruit in keeping with repentance, and that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I believe God also works unexpectedly because he wants our praise — in fact he deserves it!! — but he works in the unexpected circumstances of our lives to remind us that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7
In my little corner of the world, we have had some very unexpected things come up in our lives toward the end of our lenten season. We found ourselves faced with what would appear to be very tough choices. But by God’s grace we saw these tough choices as an invitation to follow God into an unexpected place where we can experience a mighty work that only he can do, where he can demonstrate his faithfulness and steadfast love to us, and strengthen our faith that his word is true.
Sometimes God asks us to step into the waters before he parts them. And other times, he invites us to step out of the boat and follow him out upon the water towards him. For me, this may be the most unexpected experience of them all. But in these unexpected circumstances, he offers us the opportunity to live like we actually believe all of this is true… to live dependent on his word being true — not just in theory — but in our day-to-day lives, where the rubber meets the road.
May we all learn to lean into the unexpected, to look for the Red Sea road when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, and believe what I recently learned from A.W. Tozer “not since Adam first stood up upon the earth has God failed a man or a woman who put their trust in him.”
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
~ “Oceans,” Hillsong United