Expecting surprises

In yesterday’s reading in ‘New Daylight‘, our Bible passage was John 11:38-44, which is a portion of the story of how Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead:

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (NIV 2011 translation)

In her comment on this passage in ‘New Daylight’, Veronica Zundel points out that, although Lazarus’ sister Martha was a woman of faith, she was nevertheless fairly sure she knew what would happen when that tomb was opened: there would be a stench! Common sense told her so; they lived in a hot Mediterranean country, and Lazarus had been dead four days.

How often I am like Lazarus! I’m a person of faith, but I protect myself from disappointment by not expecting too much. There have been times when I have been more expectant, but (like many people) I’ve often experienced the disappointment of not having my prayers answered (or at least, not in a way I wanted or recognized). If you live with this for long enough, eventually it becomes emotionally safer not to expect anything.

Except that then you don’t take risks. Then you live your Christian life on the assumption that it’s all up to you. And maybe you even stop praying altogether, except as a sort of Christian stress-reduction technique. Yes, I feel better after I pray, but do my prayers actually have any effect on the circumstances?

The subject of unanswered prayer is a big one, and I’m not likely to solve it in a short blog post this morning. I do want to come back to this issue of knowing what we’re going to find when we open the grave, though. Veronica says (and this really struck me) that a good definition of faith could be ‘expecting surprises from God’. And I think that’s exactly right.

I’ve seen people come to faith in Christ, at least in part because of words of witness I had spoken to them. What a beautiful surprise! Often I wasn’t expecting anything like that, but God did the unexpected, and it was lovely. Those experiences have made it easier for me to step out in faith and speak words of witness to other people, because, in that one area of my life, I have come to expect God to do the unexpected.

So, God, what you have done in one area of my life, would you please do in others too? Maybe I’m not at the ‘raising Lazarus from the dead’ stage yet, but it would be nice to walk through life with a little more hopefulness, looking forward to the next time when you will surprise me!

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Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

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