Speaking of Life 2034 | When You Least Expect It
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Expect it when you least expect it.” People sometimes say this when they’re talking about romance or maybe some sort of financial blessing. It’s like they’re saying that when we stop looking for something or stop trying to control a particular outcome, the situation resolves itself. Maybe you’ve found this to be true in your own experience.
You might find it interesting that the Bible records experiences of people who found this to be true about God. In the Old Testament, we read the story of Jacob and his brother Esau. When Isaac, their father, was old and dying, he wanted to give his special blessing to his firstborn, Esau. But the younger son, Jacob, disguised himself as Esau and tricked their dying father into blessing him instead.
As you might imagine, this created a big conflict between Esau and Jacob. In fact, Esau said he was going to kill Jacob, so their mother Rebekah sent Jacob away to hide out at her brother’s house. On his way there, Jacob stopped for the night. He used a stone for a pillow, and that night, he had an incredible dream where God said he would bless him lavishly. Here’s what Jacob said after the dream:
Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it.
Genesis 28:16-18 (NLT)
Jacob wasn’t expecting to meet God in a dream, especially when he had lied and tricked his brother out of the traditional firstborn blessing. Yet God showed up when Jacob least expected it. Jacob’s response was fear, OK, he might have been feeling a little guilty about what he did, but he took that stone and created a memorial pillar. He poured oil on it as an offering because he wanted to remember that God showed up when he least expected it, and according to some, when he least deserved it.
If we think about it, we can probably come up with a few times when God showed up for us. It may have been a much-needed or wanted blessing, or it may have been simply a special sense of God’s presence. If we follow Jacob’s example, we can memorialize these times in our minds to help us remember how God showed up when we least expected it. These memories can encourage us and others when we encounter difficulties again.
How has God shown up for you when you least expected it?
May you consider those memories today and share them with friends who could use some encouragement.
I’m Heber Ticas, Speaking of Life.
Genesis 28:10-19a • Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 • Romans 8:12-25 • Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The theme for this week is “Where is God?” In Genesis 28, we read the story of Jacob and how he found God where he least expected it. Psalm 139 affirms that God is within us always. Our sermon outline titled “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” features Romans 8, where it discusses how God has chosen us and that suffering is not an indication that we’ve lost that “chosenness.” Last, Matthew 13 uses the parable of the wheat and the tares to show us that God can still be in the midst of a situation even where there is suffering.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
If I say the phrase “Signed, sealed, delivered,” you probably will respond with….”I’m yours.” Many of us are familiar with the song, and some of us might even like to dance to it. But do you know where the phrase “signed, sealed, delivered” came from?
It comes from the process of transferring property where a legal deed was validated by being signed by the seller, then sealed with a wax seal, and ultimately delivered to the new owner. This was before digital signatures and public records, so having a proper legal deed meant these steps had to be taken.
This idea of an official legal commitment can apply to our Scripture reading for today. God is committed to us, though sometimes we allow circumstances to make us doubt that truth. Let’s take a look:
[Read Romans 8:12-25]
What are the key takeaways from this passage? Let’s focus on three:
- Our choices don’t have to come from our human selfishness.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)
We don’t owe our fleshly egos anything because we know (from experience, unfortunately) that the choices we make from our human selfishness negatively affect us and anyone around us. We “put to death the misdeeds of the body” by understanding how the choices we make impact ourselves and others. And this is key; if we follow the new commandment to love as Jesus loves, we view people differently. We pay closer attention to how our responses, words and actions affect others. And we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, who will help us choose a more loving path.
- Our relationship with God enables us to choose wisely.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:14-18)
We have been adopted and chosen by the Father through the Son (i.e., signed, sealed, delivered), so we don’t have to succumb to our selfish and fearful tendencies. The Spirit in us helps us choose differently and affirms our relationship with God. Jesus suffered when he chose love over hate, and we may also. But choosing love over hate will ultimately bring glory to both God and us. We will never lose our chosenness through suffering.
- We are connected with each other and that connection impacts creation.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)
Creation waits for us to fully embrace the new commandment—to love others as Jesus loves us—a way of love that is led by the Holy Spirit. Our love for others impacts creation—we don’t overfish the seas, we don’t deforest the landscape, we don’t pollute the waters because of our love and concern for others. We suffer now as human beings, and creation also suffers. Paul’s point here is not to get us all to be tree huggers, but to see the relationship between what we do and how we treat each other and creation itself. What we do and how we treat each other matters.
Hope gives us patient endurance.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24-25)
Our hope in God gives us patience when we’re faced with difficult circumstances. It’s this same hope that helps us endure suffering even as we do our best not to cause others to suffer.
- Know you are chosen and loved by God, and this truth undergirds your life. It is unchanged by your circumstances, your health, your relationships, your struggles. God is for you and wants you to believe that you are never alone.
- Accept life’s pattern of loss and renewal. Everyone endures seasons of suffering, but we also experience love, beauty, and joy. Sometimes, if we’re paying attention, we will find love, beauty, and joy in the midst of great suffering. That love is the presence of God, affirming that we are never alone. Even Jesus suffered, but as we know from scripture, he was never alone.
- Look for evidence of God’s presence. While we might think that evidence of God’s presence should look like a miracle where our problems are removed and our situations are healed, often God’s presence appears in small ways: the kindness of a stranger, a call from a friend, a sense of comfort and peace. This evidence is no less impressive despite its lack of pizazz. In fact, developing an awareness of God’s presence transforms us and deepens our relationship with God much more than an instantaneous miracle ever would. Remember how quickly the Israelites forgot how God parted the Red Sea. That’s us, too.
You are “signed, sealed, delivered” by God. Your position of being chosen is not reduced or diminished by the suffering you experience as a human being in this world. Jesus’ example of suffering helps us understand how we can approach pain in this world by knowing—as a deeply held truth—that our loving God is with us through all of it.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Can you share a short story about how you found God in a place or situation where you would not have expected it?
- Read Genesis 28:10-19. Sometimes we might not think we “deserve” God’s presence and blessing, as Jacob’s story illustrates. What does this say about our view of God’s character and love?
- As we experience suffering, we often are surprised to find a greater awareness of God’s presence and blessing in our lives. Why do you think that is?
- Have you ever considered the cycle of loss and renewal (or death and resurrection) in nature and in our lives? Where have you seen this evidenced in your own life?