By Steph Nickel
Surprises are fun- or maybe not! Extroverts and introverts respond differently, but we all face surprises in life. Steph reminds us of the Apostle Paul’s surprises.
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You walk into a room. It’s pitch black. You flip the switch and … SURPRISE! Balloons. Cake. Gifts. Friends. Family. And it’s all for you.
If you’re an extrovert, like I am, you may be thrilled at the opportunity to spend time with everyone. If you’re an introvert, like many of the gracious people who call me friend, you may want nothing more than to turn and run from the room.
But no matter who you are, what your personality type, or how old you are, your life has likely held several surprises already. And I can pretty much guarantee that not all of them evoked joy and gratitude—at least not at first.
The Apostle Paul’s Surprise
This is how he describes himself in Philippians 3:4-6: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (ESV).
Before his conversion, the apostle was known as Saul. And Saul would have been proud of each item on this list.
But SURPRISE! God had other plans.
Acts 9:1-5 tells a truly amazing story.
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (ESV).
And as we discussed last time, the change in this man didn’t lead to a life of ease. He was struck blind for a time. He was isolated. Those who cheered him on in his quest to rid the world of the followers of Jesus would turn their back on him—at the very least. And believers would doubt his sincerity, likely wondering if it was merely a trick to infiltrate their ranks. Over the course of Paul’s public ministry, he was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked … The list goes on.
All For the Sake of Christ
How did Paul respond to all this hardship? After he gave his list of credentials in Philippians 3, he went on to say this in verses 7-11:
“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (ESV).
I don’t know if Paul ever surprised himself when he thought back over the course of his life, but I do know that the Lord surprised him when he was on the road to Damascus—and likely many times afterward.
Can you see yourself counting all your accomplishments as nothing more than waste, garbage, sewage?
Can you see rejoicing in your suffering—especially if that suffering included even a small fraction of what the apostle endured?
Can you see caring desperately for your brothers and sisters in Christ in the midst of it all? Honestly, I can’t even begin to image this being the case in my life.
It’s likely our challenges, our “surprises,” will be less extraordinary.
Will we remain faithful to the Lord’s call on our life when someone we dearly love dies long before we’re ready to be without them—like the elderly lady in my congregation who recently lost her husband?
Will we accomplish much even if we face physical challenges—like Paralympian Deb Willows, who continues to face health challenges with grace and determination?
Will we learn to forge ahead when the weight of depression and other mental health issues press down on us—like many in my circle of friends?
I have seen evidences of God at work in many individuals—and in myself. And should we face more intense challenges in the days to come, we can rest assured that He will remain trustworthy—no matter what surprises we face.
Learn About Other Treasures
Stephanie is a freelance writer and a contributor to our Christian internet radio station, HopeStreamRadio. Read and hear more from Steph Nickel on the contributor’s page or at Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests.
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Images courtesy of:
Birthday – pepalove
Balloons – rawpixel
Conversion of the Apostle Paul – Michelangelo
Night shadow – JClovesu
HopeStreamRadio has been a huge blessing to me. Since I moved away from an area that had a lot of good Christian radio I have been looking for a station that I could listen to and be encouraged by. HSR has filled that void and it has also been exciting to be a part of the team that contributes to HSR.Mike from MS