Making Space for the Unexpected

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How can you be prepared for something that you can’t really imagine? It’s quite difficult. To be ready for something, we generally have to be able to expect it. We must be able to conceptualize something—to imagine it—in order to know what to prepare for. I often think of the nuclear accident that occurred in Fukushima, after the 2011 Japanese earthquake. A major disaster occurred when a 14-meter tsunami swept over the nuclear power plant. The designers of the plant knew that tsunamis were a possibility, so they built a seawall to stop tsunamis as high as 6 meters. But when the nuclear plant was built, a tsunami higher than 6 meters was considered unlikely; designers did not imagine a 14-meter tsunami to be a realistic possibility, so they did not plan for that. We cannot be prepared for things that we don’t even know that we should expect.

We recently wrapped up a sermon series called “Unexpected Acts of God.” We looked at stories from the biblical book of Acts—stories in which God shows up in someone’s life to do something completely unexpected, and quite often something dramatic! Yet it seems that we vary rarely expect God to be present in our lives in unexpected ways. It is very easy for us to fall into a rhythm, and to think that we know what we can (or can’t) expect from God. Ephesians 3:20 speaks about God doing more than we can ever ask or ever imagine, but it seems we are stuck in that old trap…how can we be ready for God to do something in our lives that we can’t even imagine? How can we be ready to say “yes” to something that we can’t conceive of? How can we take our blinders off and recognize when God is inviting us into something that’s so big and so outside our expectations that we might not even perceive it as God’s doing?

I’ve found one thing that has helped me is to make space for the unexpected. For me, that looks like this: I create time in my calendar to allow something unexpected to happen. Most days I have a to-do list that feels rather full, and it feels like there are many people and groups who have claim on my time. But I take 15 to 30 minutes during work each day to read, to pray, and to wait to hear from God. It has become my small act of resistance—no matter how many phone calls I have yet to answer, no matter how many people in the hospital want to be visited, no matter how many events I have unplanned, I will stop and take that time to open myself to God. Even if the rest of my day is chock-full of things that I expected to do, I’ll at least create a small window where God might be able to do something in my life that I was not expecting.

What about for you? What would it mean for you to create some space for God to act unexpectedly in your life? It might mean creating a space of time, maybe by clearing your schedule to wait on God. It might mean creating physical space, perhaps by serving or volunteering in a setting that you’re not normally comfortable doing. It might mean creating mental space, by reading an author that you would not normally read. Whatever it might be like for you, I’d encourage you to make space for the unexpected. If you’re not ready for God to do something surprising in your life, you’re unlikely to be ready and willing to say “yes” when God does something bigger than you can ask or imagine.

Andrew Garnett, Minister for Serving Christ

Andrew Garnett, Minister for Serving Christ