Recently something surprised me and upset me to tears. It was a small thing, but still “I don’t like surprises,” I told my husband. “Well, I don’t like bad surprises,” I clarified as he was helping me pray about it. I haven’t had many bad surprises in my life, but I go to pieces when I feel ambushed. I sit down and wilt. The Lord began to guide my startled heart and steady me with truth.
Later that day I felt a worthy whisper to my soul, “What about all the good surprises?” I stopped what I was doing and took in the question? I liked it. God was leading me to recollect and recount His goodness.
That evening my husband was giving a live devotional teaching and I sat behind the camera listening. Near the end of his talk he mentioned his mother who recently died and about how God had given him a comforting picture of her. It’s a real picture of her actually. We found it two months ago when we were going through albums. She was younger, looking up and away, her eyes wide, bright and happy. I’ve wondered what caused her such delight in that photo because what she is looking at is out of our view. My husband says this is the picture that God has impressed on his mind. He sees it as his mother’s glad surprise when she arrives in heaven. When my husband uses the word surprise I’m arrested. As he continues to share with his followers, God is speaking to me. “Heaven will be the best good surprise. It will be astonishingly good.”
As I lay in bed that night I have time to recount God’s good surprises. My list begins when I am a young girl with my dad leaving new shoes by my bed during the night, shoes my mom asked him to pick up during his late shift at work. I remember winning a poster contest. I recall a hum drum evening turning on a happy dime with the announcement that we were going to the Dairy Queen. There were many surprising blankets of snow. I remember the day my dad accompanied us ice skating and we arrived home after dark to a cozy supper laid out by mom, a scene etched in my mind. And then, there’s the surprise of Christmas presents. So much kindness wrapped up under our tree… I’ve spent many nights now recounting God’s goodnesses and I’ve yet to make it out of my childhood memories before I fall asleep. I should work the list backwards next time.
As a church we are reading the Bible through. Recently we encountered one of my favorite stories. It’s about David when he was ambushed. David had been through a lot, running for his life from King Saul, living hand to mouth, camping out in enemy territory, trying not to make any mistakes in his conduct. He and his fighting men arrive back at their camp in Ziklag to find it destroyed by fire, their wives and children carried off by the Amalekites. It was awful. The Bible says that “David and his men wept aloud until they had no more strength left to weep.” (1 Sam. 30:4) And that “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him.” They were so bitter in spirit over their loss.
At this juncture David did two important things. First, the Bible says he “found strength in the Lord his God.” This is a habit that David had cultivated. Second, David did not accuse the Lord, but “inquired” of Him. “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” he asked. (1 Sam. 30:8)
“Pursue them,” the Lord answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”
It was an arduous battle but God led David and his men. They fought for and retrieved everyone and everything. Nothing was missing. Plus, there was plunder. So much plunder that David sent some as gifts to those in all the places he and his men had roamed. It’s interesting to note that David did not think, “Surely after all I have been through I deserve this wealth. I will keep it for myself.”
In this story we learn how to handle an ambush, a bad surprise, heartache, despair, betrayal, terrible news, whatever… Here David shows us how true royalty behaves, for we are God’s royal sons and daughters. And with God’s promises and His counsel there is always a way forward when we feel devastated. Strengthening ourselves in God during any trouble, and inquiring of him, these are good things to learn and be practicing.
I think this attack at Ziklag was probably David’s toughest moment on the way to what God had anointed him for and promised him, the kingship. Scripture proves that there is often a great and difficult battle before a breakthrough and a shift in the kingdom.
After this struggle to retrieve their families, King Saul who has hunted David for years dies. And things begin to shift. We see this at the cross of Christ as well. That was a very dark day, a day of betrayal, desertion, abuse, loneliness, suffering… Jesus inquired of the Father and pressed through in obedience, paying for our sins. He rescued us from our enemy. He brought us back home to God. A kingdom shifted. A great and glorious surprise for all mankind.
What has the enemy run off with that belonged to you? Do things appear lost or over? Maybe they’re not. Strengthen yourself in the Lord. Inquire of him. Is he telling you to go after something?
He did me.
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood… Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray…. Ephesians 6: 10-11, 16-18 NIV
For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 NLT