By Ray Stites
“Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” Even today I can clearly hear Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle delivering his signature line. TV viewers of yesteryear knew the unexpected had happened—again—to help Private Pyle, or thwart his sergeant, or turn someone’s day upside down.
Surprises can be humorous. They can also be traumatic. The crises I have known began unexpectedly. They certainly weren’t planned. And, thankfully, some surprises can be pleasant.
Recently my wife, Merelyn, and I attended a community theater presentation of Fiddler on the Roof. We were asked later by a cast member what we thought of the performance. Both of us said we were pleasantly surprised. The presentation was very good, with strong vocal performances. It was obvious that the cast had invested time and energy with a passion for doing their best. Surprises can be enjoyable.
The apostle Paul had a lot of experience with unexpected events during his ministry. He started his ministry after an experience on the road to Damascus, something unparalleled in human experience. His plan was to arrest Christians, and—Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!—he became one.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians he was in prison. His arrest may have been expected. But he feared his imprisonment would be devastating to his ministry. He thought the church and the proclamation of the gospel would be ineffective. Instead of the church’s ministry suffering, it advanced.
Paul’s brothers and sisters became “more confident in the Lord . . . to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Others seemed to be envious of Paul and preached Christ to promote themselves; wrong motives did not prevent the hearing of the gospel. Paul was exuberant. A very difficult situation had become a great blessing.
It is unlikely our life stories will be as dramatic as Paul’s, but we will find ourselves in situations that threaten us, and perhaps our loved ones and our ministry. We may have a difficult crisis to work through. But God’s grace can—and usually does—provide blessings when we foresee failure; productivity when we believe nothing good will happen.
The unexpected can overwhelm. But God often reverses the flow of life to meet his purposes and grant us a marvelous surprise.
Ray D. Stites is the CEO of the Christian Churches Pension Plan. He and his wife, Merelyn, live in Tonganoxie, Kansas.