expect the unexpected and other silly things we say

not speakI was listening to the radio recently and the interviewer was asking his expert interviewee about the financial crisis in Greece. He asked the expert what surprises lay in store as the process unfolded.

To be fair the expert was not fazed by such a daft question and pointed out that by their nature surprises were impossible to predict. Then he said that we had to expect the unexpected.

I know that the phrase is used to encourage people to be ready for anything but when you look at the bland meaning of the phrase it’s rather silly isn’t it? Unexpected things are, by their nature, not something we can expect. If we expect them they cease to be unexpected.

We say all sorts of things without thinking them through:

“Don’t come running to me if you fall off and break your leg.”

“Close your mouth when you eat your food.”

And so on…

Sadly we also say hurtful and cruel things without thinking them through. Sometimes, if we speak reactively, we can say things that we instantly regret, but we can’t unsay them. Sometimes we might even intentionally say things that we know will hurt.

And we learn to expect the unexpected. We learn to anticipate that someone will not respond well to a suggestion that we make, so we hit them back first by getting in a pre-emptive strike.

Jesus suggests that what comes out of our mouth is based on our heart (Luke 6):

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

So if we want to be more careful about what we say we need to ask for God’s Spirit’s help with our heart, not our mouth. We all need a change of heart.

Be blessed, be a blessing

fancy seeing you here

Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

Yesterday I was at church for our lunch club and absent-mindedly left my briefcase at the church when I drove home. I almost got home when I realised what I had done. So I turned around and headed back to the church where those who were clearing up had found it and were about to put it in a safe place for me. Very gratefully I gathered up the bag and headed back out of the church, when my mobile phone chirped at me to tell me that I had a message, It also chirped at me to say that someone had sent me a Facebook Message.

I walked across the courtyard at the front of the church and as I did I saw one of our congregation. As I greeted her she told me that she had just sent me a text message asking me to contact her. Even before I had read the message I had been able to talk with her.

Just as I finished talking with that lady I noticed a couple nearby whom I am marrying in a couple of weeks. They were able to tell me a couple more details about the service.

I left them and headed towards our church car park. I had pulled my phone out of my pocket and noticed who had sent me the Facebook Message. As I turned a corner I almost literally bumped into that person. As we talked we realised that it would be good for him to talk with someone else. A minute later that person turned up and joined in the conversation!

I was beginning to wonder whether I should buy a lottery ticket (I didn’t). I also wondered whether I have got it wrong all these years and rather than me go to where people are I should just wait around the church and the car park and wait for them to come to me.

It was funny.

It got funnier as each person turned up on cue.

They were lighter moments in the day.

I am not claiming any supernatural intervention in what happened yesterday. I know that when I pray ‘coincidences’ happen (I might call them ‘answers’), but I hadn’t really been praying about any of those things so I can’t say that they were answers to prayer. I don’t often pray for car parking spaces (unless I am running late and it’s important that I am somewhere) but sometimes they turn up in front of me and I am grateful.And perhaps we need to be grateful and acknowledge those moments as blessings. When they happen, to whom are you grateful?

Life throws enough bleak and dark moments at us that we need lighter moments (in both sense of the word) to help us through.

We also need to recognise that God is as much with us in the dark as in the light (but it’s sometimes harder to see him in the dark) so remembering our lighter experiences helps to reassure us that he’s there.

Be blessed, be a blessing

tales of the unexpected

surpriseIt’s sometimes the unexpected things that make the biggest impact on us: the critical comment that came out of the blue; an accident; bad news that shocks us…

I think it is partly because we have to react ‘in the moment’. We have not had an opportunity to prepare ourselves, to think about our reaction, or to brace for impact. We respond with instinct and adrenaline and they are not always the best of partners because they don’t last and afterwards we can feel physically and emotionally shaky because we did not respond in the way that, had we been prepared for it, we would have like to.

Perhaps we snapped back or were rude. Perhaps we got angry at someone else for the accident (even if it was our fault). Perhaps we took the bad news badly and lashed out. I hasten to add that any similarity between scenarios I have sketched above and actual events is purely unintentional and unexpected.

I hope and pray that I might respond with grace, serenity, wisdom and gentleness in those circumstances. I know that this is not always the case. Over-reacting can sometimes do as much damage as the initial unexpected event and we need to ask for forgiveness and set things right if we have not responded in the right way.

But tales of the unexpected aren’t always bad. Following the recent announcement of my new calling I have had some very kind and generous comments from people. I have also had some unexpected cards and letters from unexpected people that have blessed me no end because of the time and thoughtfulness that lay behind the buying and writing and sending. They blessed me no end.

There are those moments when someone tells you that they really appreciate something you have done – something which you didn’t really think meant that much.

There are times when something good happens to you that you might even have hoped for but which you never imagined would happen in reality.

There are unexpected, unsolicited hugs.

There are times when I read parts of the Bible and the words are apposite for me at that moment and it makes me smile.

There are so many ways in which we are blessed by the unexpected. And because they are unexpected, unsolicited, unplanned, we have not been able to prepare for them or work out how to respond. For that reason I think they sometimes make a bigger impact on us because of that.

If you want the ultimate in unexpected positive outcomes look at the reactions of Jesus’ friends when he met them after his resurrection! Words like ‘overjoyed’, ‘astonished’, ‘amazed’ and so on don’t really begin to do justice to that experience.

Because we are familiar with it we can sometimes downplay Jesus’ resurrection (heaven forbid!). Why not re-read one of the narratives and put yourself in the sandals of his friends who had seen him crucified, thought it was the end of the film and weren’t expecting there to be a sequel? How do you feel?

And perhaps today you can bless someone with an unexpected positive moment. You may find that it makes a bigger impact on them than you expected. And in doing so you may well find that God has used you too!

Be blessed, be a blessing

d-e-r dum, d-e-r dum, d-e-r dum, dum dum, dum dum, dum dum dum dum danaaah!

[a poor written representation of the Jaws soundtrack!]Smile

Just when you least expect it, when your guard is down, when you are looking in the other direction… he leaps out and knocks you sideways.

No, I am not talking about some sort of predator or assassin. I am talking about God.

Perhaps I should explain a bit more. I don’t mean that God assaults you, or that he attacks you or hurts you. What I mean is that his grace is so abundant and he is at work in ways beneath the surface of life that you never expect (and often don’t know) that when it bursts forth it takes you by surprise. We shouldn’t be surprised because we should expect the unexpected with God (except that if it is unexpected you can’t expect it). But he is a God of surprises.

I have experienced that and heard others talk about that this week:

Radios playing in two different public places at two different times (perhaps even two different stations) both playing the same song with words that speak grace into a person’s life.

An unplanned conversation that deepens a relationship and ministers grace.

An email received (following a mistake that caused someone to be upset) oozed grace as God ministered to that person who had been upset, despite the mistake.

A requested opportunity to visit someone in hospital outside visiting hours that is warmly received by the staff allowing an unexpected encounter with grace through sharing bread and wine.*

Unsolicited words of affirmation that gently rubbed grace into wounds of disappointment.

You can be part of God’s surprise squad today. How might he use you to share grace? Be prepared to be surprised yourself too!

Be blessed, be a blessing


*grape juice – no alcohol on the ward!


Phone calls can be disconnected when the lines are cut

Phone calls can be disconnected when the lines are cut

I had a surprising phone call last week. It was from the hospital that has been helping me with my brain (and it needs a LOT of help). The battery pack that is supplying electricity to keep my migraines at bay is causing me some discomfort (I won’t go into details here in case you’re squeamish) and needs to be ‘re-sited’ (again, details omitted for the sake of the squeamish). The call was to say that they have a space for me to come in and have the operation.

The call was surprising for several reasons. First of all I was not expecting it. Secondly I was not expecting to be given relatively little notice in advance of going in (next Sunday afternoon!). Thirdly I was not expecting to be prepared to be in for up to 5 nights for what I was told is a minor procedure. Fourthly I was not expecting the Spanish Inquisition (cue Monty Python sketch)…

I think the thing that floored me most was how much potential disruption this causes when it happens at short notice. I was due to be preaching on the Sunday evening (I am very grateful to one of our members for standing in at short notice). I have several important meetings that week for which I will have to give my apologies. I have to prepare this week for the service on Remembrance Sunday, which throws out some of my planning for this week.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that it is going to happen, and to all those at the church who have accommodated this short notice call up. But it would have been a lot easier with more notice.

And there’s the thing. I think that we are not so much floored by unexpected things as those unexpected things that arrive with little notice. Today the country is recovering from ‘The Great Storm’ that swept across us. We have had a few days’ warning of it and any precautions that could be taken were taken, as well as planning for coping with the aftermath. The famous non-existent Hurricane* in 1987 that swept across the country without warning was of a similar magnitude but seems to have had a greater impact because we weren’t ready for it.

I hope I am neither naive or insensitive to people who experience tragedies, especially the unexpected kind. But I have found that sometimes we are like Jesus’ disciples in the boat on the lake that was being swamped by an unexpected squall. They were panicking while Jesus slept in the stern of the boat, apparently unconcerned. They had not realised who he really was (which is why they were astonished when he calmed the storm) and were overwhelmed by their circumstances.

For those who are followers of Jesus we are not immune from being overwhelmed by circumstances, especially if it seems that Jesus is asleep in the boat while we are being buffeted by the storm. But I have found that it helps me to get perspective if I pause and reflect on who he is. Have a read of one of the gospels if you have time. If not try John 1 or Colossians 1:15-23. When we recognise whose in the boat with us, even if he seems to be asleep, we may not be as panicked or freaked by the storms of life.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Have a look at this Wikipedia entry if you don’t know about it: the BBC Weatherman Michael Fish famously said that there was no hurricane on the way…