A World of Unexpected Blessings

man holding baby s breath flower in front of woman standing near marble wall

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We shouldn’t find it odd that people struggle to appreciate blessings hidden in unwanted situations: often, we don’t even appreciate desirable things when they catch us off guard. Perhaps you know (or are) a person who thinks surprise parties are the worst idea ever conceived by humanity; grumbles when opportunity knocks without an appointment; and believes God made time because to-do lists needed something to be sorted into.

There’s nothing wrong with being an organized planner–provided you don’t make an idol of your plans. Determination to keep things on schedule can lead to all sorts of undesirable consequences:

  • When unwilling to accept plan-changing circumstances, people walk (or drive) into dangerous situations with their eyes wide open. How many fender-benders, cars stuck in windshield-deep water, and who-do-you-think-you’re-blocking fistfights are due to someone’s fear of missing an appointment?
  • Attitudes of “let’s get this out of the way so I can go back to what I was doing” frequently lead to our answering new requests with “no” when we should have said yes–or “yes” when we should have said no. Not to mention grumpy responses that do our human relationships little good.
  • Hurry and resentment rob us of rest, peace, and the ability to see anything beyond our obsessive thoughts of what “has to” be done.

At the root of it all, of course, is a craving to be like God: the idea that if we just plan hard enough and work hard enough, we’ll eventually gain full control of our worlds, and then we’ll have peace of mind. In this process of trying to do the impossible, we deafen ourselves to the real God, Who is trying to tell us that if we just trust Him to be in control, He’ll gladly give us peace of mind right now. Even in the midst of endless demands and chaotic news.

One way He does this is through unexpected blessings:

  • Freshly sprouted wildflowers and glorious sunrises, which we so often hustle by without a glance, are God’s gifts to assure us He fills even a fallen world with beauty.
  • A “chance” comment, which we tend to treat as background noise, may be God’s way of telling us exactly what we need to hear.
  • The requests that interrupt our schedules aren’t always toxic distractions–they may be God’s invitations to bless others for our good and His glory. (As Henri Nouwen put it, “I used to complain that my work was constantly being interrupted, until I realized that the interruptions were my work.”)

Of course, not everything that breaks into our routine deserves our attention. In many cases (as with people who can’t resist the beep of an email, the buzz of a phone, or the flash of a popup), a distraction is just a distraction, and we’d be better off closing the email window or hanging out a “Do Not Disturb” sign until our immediate work is done. But if we stuff every hour with “must-dos,” if we’re always hurrying in pursuit of the well-ordered, “controllable” life, we become so tired, so frustrated, so irritable that we can’t tell the difference between good and bad distractions. And that largely because the first thing to go from our overloaded schedules is attention to God (maybe from subconscious fears He’ll tell us to change our plans and forget about control?)–and without His guidance, all reliable discernment goes out the window. Planned daily time with God is what frees us to rejoice in the best of the unplanned.

Jesus has already promised that the greatest blessing of all–His return to earth that will finally issue in the stress-free eternity we crave–will come as a surprise. Why should we expect any different from everyday blessings?

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On the Edge of Your Seat–For Better or Worse

Last Tuesday evening, I saw a Bible-study speaker stand up and say, “I’m praying that all of you will be on the edge of your seats waiting to see what the Holy Spirit will do next.”

Somehow, I reacted less than joyfully to the prospect. I live most of my days “on the edge of my seat” all right–but the driving motivator is usually fear of not finishing, fear of being interrupted, fear of disappointment or spoiled plans or failure or all of the above. I’ve had far more than my share of rained-out events and last-minute requests over the past several months, and the last thing I feel like doing is making myself not only open to but eager for more of the same.

So here I sit, fuming because the Creator and Master of the Universe won’t let me instruct Him on how to orchestrate things. I don’t care about becoming a spiritual giant, a prayer warrior, or a joyful-in-all-circumstances person. I don’t care about loving my neighbor who may be flooded out of house and home, terminally ill, or surviving by street prostitution. I care about being spared the frustration of unexpected technical glitches and traffic delays.

And I feel that if I take the trouble to make a comprehensive to-do list and say a quick prayer every morning, having everything go according to plan is no more than my due.

At least the Holy Spirit has gotten through to me far enough that I no longer can maintain that attitude without feeling guilty. Stepping onward to the “James 1:2” attitude (“When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy”) is something else again. Fear grips me at the thought–the fear that “joyful” means “I’m okay with this, and I accept that You probably don’t intend to ever change it for the better.” The fear that joy really means resignation and that God considers anything good enough for the likes of me.

On the edge of my seat? More like slumped in the chair with major depression imminent.

When it comes down to it, guilt is a lousy motivator, rooted in fear and knowing little of gratitude. How often do I bother to look on from James 1:2 to the promise in verses 3 and 4? “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Does that sound like I can’t trust God to change the important things for the better?

Letting go of the desire to control is more than a hard thing to do. It’s one of those things I can’t possibly do without accepting God’s help. My “I know best” pride is really fear of the unknown. There are times I can almost taste the joyful life of standing strong and complete, unfazed by anything and brimming with gratitude over all God has done for me. Still, the path between here and there is a wide bayou where I can see only the fast-flowing surface, every step forward whispering the terror of being swept off my feet or plunging into bottomless depths.

With the help of the Spirit, can I trust the One on the other side to show me where the firm footings are?

And the only answer is: I must. For a life lived in caution and anger and obsessive planning is a living death, the epitome of what Jesus warned of in Matthew 16:25: “If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it”–not just “life” as measured from time of conception to time of last breath on earth, but life in the sense of functioning to the maximum, of getting and giving everything I can during my years here.

A couple of millennia ago, a very busy apostle planned a visit to Jerusalem thinking he knew how long he would be there and where he would travel afterward. Instead, he wound up spending several years in jail, first in Palestine and then in Rome–and even his trip from the former to the latter was interrupted by a shipwreck and the need to winter in Malta. All that time, Paul lived with little idea of what would happen next or when it would happen, with no word on whether he would ever be able to pick up his original plans where they left off. He could easily have justified himself in fuming, “God, after all I’ve done for You, this is the thanks I get!” Instead, he wrote to his friends in Philippi:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. … Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:6-8).

Nothing fits that description better than God. Why not lean forward in your seat, eager to see what He’ll do next?

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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