When it comes to faith-related surprises, to God's surprises, I'm afraid most folks have simply lost nearly all expectation. You see it in the eyes of so-called worshipers at church and you feel it in the predictable answers of those in small groups and you see the yawns in Bible classes or hear it in the flatness of the forced praise phrases where they are an expected part of the Christian lifestyle.
If that sounds cynical, look at surveys, churches, and the many people who confess to be Christians. Their lives, values, and sense of God's presence are not much different from their unbelieving neighbors. Where are the "greater things" that Jesus promised us (John 14:12)? Where are the grand surprises of the book of Acts, God's brief look at life in the earliest believers in Jesus? The early followers of Jesus had all sorts of surprises, both good and bad. These surprises help create the expectation that Jesus would be present with them no matter what happened and no matter where they went!
Peter and John went to the Temple one day. A beggar who had never been able to walk looked to them for alms — a little money to help him make it through another day. Instead, these two poor men said: "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!" (Acts 3:6 NLT — for the whole story read Acts 3:1-16).
The newly healed man was thrilled, jumping up and down as he ran around through the Temple's outer courtyard. The people who had seem him for years with his withered body were amazed and rejoiced. The religious leaders who had Jesus crucified were mortified that the name of Jesus was again being shouted with joy by the people. This was one grand SURPRISE!
A few chapters later, the meanest persecutor of the early church, Saul of Tarsus who would later become Paul the apostle, was on his way to Damascus to arrest and persecute other believers in Jesus when he got a huge surprise. A bright light shined and the Lord spoke to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4 NLT — for the whole story read Acts 9:1-22).
Saul was shocked, blinded, and then turned his heart fully to follow Jesus by being baptized and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias, a believer who knew Saul's reputation of trying to hurt and destroy Jesus' followers, ended up leading Saul to the Lord rather than being thrown in prison for his faith. Those who expected Saul to help them persecute Christians were unable to refute Saul's testimony as he tried to convert them. Again, this was a great, big, SURPRISE from God.
A big part of what opened the door for these great surprises can be found in the conviction of the early believes. They believed Jesus' promises to be present with them and do "greater things" through them than they could even ask or imagine (John 14:12; Ephesians 3:21). In fact, the New Testament part of the Bible is full of this kind of expectation of Jesus' presence and power:
- Through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; 5:42; Ephesians 1:17-20; Ephesians 3:16).
- Through the work of Immanuel, God with us in the story of Jesus (Matthew 1:23), in authentic community (Matthew 18:20), through service to those in need (Matthew 25:40), and through efforts to cross cultural boundaries to share Jesus' life with others (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Through the proclamation, prayer, and pursuit of life in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12 — this concept is found at least 35 times in the book of Acts).
To pray, proclaim, and pursue life in the "name of Jesus" is to live in holy expectation of Jesus' presence, power, and authority being released among his people! The "name of the Lord" was their assurance that Jesus would empower them through life's struggles and enable them to do the will of the Lord and accomplish his mission in the world! Living in the power of the "name of the Lord Jesus" invites Jesus to invade all of life and bring his purpose and power to bear in every circumstance:
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17 NLT).
So how do we live in expectation of God's grand surprises?
Sorry, I don't have a paint-by-numbers kit for us. There is no magic recipe, book, chant, or slogan. But, a great place to start would be to go read the book of Acts and start asking God to do in our day what they did in their day, using us to his glory as we seek to live all of life "in the name of Jesus"! And as we do this, why not begin by adding a few intentional times to recommit to this purpose each day?
- Let's start and finish each day by asking God to help us live "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
- Let's stop and pray during the pauses of our day and pray that God will refocus us on living for his glory "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
- Let's live in expectation of God's surprises as we recognize Jesus' presence and power in our lives as we seek to live each day "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
One of the saddest moments in all of the Bible is when Jesus returned to his hometown and he could not do any great things there because those who had seen him grow up would not believe he could do anything great (Mark 6:1-6).
Unfortunately today, many in the family of Jesus no longer expect him to surprise them with anything great because they do not expect his presence and power to be at work in them and among them. Let's change that. Let's remember that Jesus' promise to do "greater things" in us is tied to our asking "in Jesus' name" for his presence and power to be released:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:12-13).