Listenings: Surprise!

Last week we considered the amazing variety of ways we can serve God, pointing out that God normally uses us in relation to the way we are made.  Our aptitudes, interests, and the gifts of the Spirit all combine to call us into service.

But Underhill rightly points out that sometimes, God’s call comes as a surprise…

If we consider the lives of the Saints, we see the strange paths along which they were driven to accomplish the Will to the accomplishment of their destiny; how unexpected and uncongenial were the ways in which they were used to bring the Kingdom in and do the Will of God… (p. 96-97).

If we eliminate the “element of surprise” from our spiritual formation, we may miss the way God wants to use us—even though I stick by my assertion that God usually chooses to use us as we are.  However, it is necessary to note that this is not always the case.

I have had a taste of this myself.  When God called me to preach, I could not stand up in my English class in high school and give an oral book report.  Mrs. Middleton allowed me to write my book reports out by hand, because it was so embarrassing to try to speak about what I had read—even though everyone in the class was a friend.

I had a problem which psychologists call “blocking”—I could hear the word in my mind, but I could not get it to come out of my mouth.

I was a mystery to myself, because I really believed that God was calling me to preach.  But I knew preachers make a living with their mouths.  So, I was floundering to understand the call and my seeming inability to meet it.  As I did this, all I ever received in my pondering was the message, “What I call you to do, I will equip you to do.”  And so it has been.

In the same way, Underhill writes that God will give the heavenly bread needed to make us strong for the destiny we’ve been given (p. 97).  And again, I have found it to be so.  I never took a course in overcoming stage fright, and I was never “healed” (in the technical sense) of my inability to speak in public.  But with the call has come the provision.

The problem is that some people think God works by surprise all of the time—so that the only way to know God’s will is to find something you don’t want to do—or be sent somewhere you don’t want to go.

I reject that as a normative principle, but I do not rule out the fact that there will be times when God’s will comes to us in the clothing of surprise.  When it happens that way, we do well to remember that we are the only ones who are surprised—not God!  And we must trust that with the call will come the means to fulfill it.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to Listenings: Surprise!

  1. Pastor Kim says:

    Steve, thanks for sharing about your call. I suppose I’m in a similar place now. I was the one who had thevangelism contingency and here I’m planting a church! God does indeed work in ways that make me laugh out loud!

  2. Joyce Alexander says:

    Steve, you know that my story is truly one where God surprised me with his call to ministry! At the peak of a successful nursing career, God said “Go to seminary” – I didn’t even know why, what his plan was for me when I got there. But now, in the midst of the ministry that path led me into, I can say that nothing in life has ever been more fulfilling – not always easy; the culture in the Keys is a strange one and the congregation was wounded – but awesomely fulfilling. I appreciate the part you and Asbury had in equipping me to fulfill this calling!
    Merry Christmas to you and Jeannie!

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