A couple of weeks ago I shared how God uses the unexpected to bring about His ultimate plans. Learning to trust in Him and often His unexpected ways, and releasing the desire to control things for myself, is a lesson I am constantly in need of. I would guess you need that teaching as well.
When I shared this idea of expecting the unexpected as a theme for 2021, a colleague of mine took it a step further. She encouraged me to consider embracing the unexpected. “Many unexpected things become some of the greatest blessings when we fully embrace them as the true gift they are.”
Boy, do I work with some really smart people! I love this thought and I know of many instances in Scripture where God’s people had to learn to not only expect the unexpected but to embrace it!
One of the clearest examples for me is in the life of Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. We know that Saul was a persecutor of Christians. He tells us in his own words from Acts 22, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women… and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.”
To followers of Jesus at the time, Saul was ruthless and despicable. He sought out those who professed Jesus Christ and made sure they were punished to the full extent of the law, even unto death. In his own estimation, though, he was simply being zealous for God.
In his mind, the plan was to punish Christians while making a name for himself among the Jews. I’m sure he never expected what God had planned for him.
One usual day, as he made his way to Damascus to find and persecute more Christians, he was blinded for three days by a great light from heaven and he heard a voice say “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
This experience would lead to his conversion and complete transformation and Saul would soon be renamed Paul. For Christ followers, he is better known as the apostle Paul and he authored a majority of the holy manuscripts in our current New Testament.
From the apostle Paul, we have countless precious words to live by: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1), and “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Who would have ever expected a persecutor of Christians to become a Christian himself? I’m sure it was the last thing on Saul’s radar, but we know from reading further that he actually embraced the unexpected.
We see his passion as a Christ follower in the fact that many of his letters to the churches were written while he was in prison for being so outspoken in his testimony. He continued to proclaim the gospel of Christ even though it led to his own persecution.
In 2 Corinthians 11 he writes, “Are they ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool – I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned…”
Paul obviously learned for himself that God works in ways that we do not expect.
What I love about Paul’s story is that what he never saw coming, what he never expected, became the one thing in his life that he was able to totally embrace. It changed things not only for him, but for millions of Christians throughout the centuries.
We have studied his writings and recognized the Holy Spirit using Paul’s pen to give words to what God himself wants us to hear.
I’m guessing your story, like mine, is not as extreme as that of Paul’s. I do hope, however, that I can come to embrace the unexpected in a way like he did. I can certainly pinpoint things in my life that I never expected to happen.
The fact that little ol’ me would be given opportunity to lead an amazing ministry for the last 10 years is beyond me!
And the fact that even still, after 21 years of marriage, this Kentucky girl would actually root for the Buckeyes during football season is pretty impressive.
What I hope for in this year to come, is that I’ll not only have an attitude of expectancy because I know my God can accomplish things I could never fathom, but that I will be able to embrace what He is going to do.
My prayer for you is that you’ll learn to embrace as well!
May God prepare us for whatever is coming and may we look forward to the things He wants to do in our lives!
Sherry Weller is Executive Director of New Life Clinic in Wilmington.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.