I’ve been thinking about how to encounter God in the ordinary moments of my days for a few years now. Looking back over these years, I smile as I consider the reality that quite often, God did the most soul-shaping work in my life in very unexpected places.
I consider these thoughts as I put myself in the shoes of a young man who has tried so hard to do the right things in his life. He is engaged to a special girl, and he’s eager to spend his life with her.
They are preparing for a long life together when, suddenly, the unexpected unfolds in front of them.
She comes to him in a quiet place, and she tells him she’s going to have a baby. He knows the baby isn’t his. The news shatters his heart, crushes his dreams. He decides to send her away secretly. No one needs to know.
He is trying to make sense of this unexpected turn of events when an angel of the Lord appears. The angel confirms that the Child conceived within Mary’s womb is conceived of the Holy Spirit. The Child is the promised Messiah, and he will save the people from their sins.
The Unexpected Savior
The Savior of the world didn’t show up in Joseph’s life according to his expectations. Given a hundred possibilities for how the Messiah might come, Joseph wouldn’t have put this one on the list. But this is how Jesus came. God with us, Immanuel, wrapped in the totally dependent body of an infant, came from an unexpected place. The world didn’t expect him to show up like this, and his earthly dad never saw it coming.
What if Immanuel, God with us, is showing up in our everyday lives in thousands of ways, and we’re missing him because we don’t expect him to come like this?
What if he’s showing up in the concerned expression on a neighbor’s face, in the grief of our greatest moments of loss, in the loneliness of our shattered dreams, and in the eyes of our children? What if he’s here in the midst of our harsh words, our hurry, our escapist behaviors, and our modern-day idol worship?
The promise of Immanuel is that once he shows up on earth, he sticks around to see how things play out. He walks with us through the darkest valleys (Psalm 23:4), and he rescues us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
The problem is not that Jesus ascended to heaven and left us on our own. Before he ascended, he spoke these words, “And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The problem is that our eyes to see him grow clouded by the concerns, distractions, and temptations of full lives. We simply quit watching for God with us.
How to Encounter God in Unexpected Places
Today, let’s praise the Lord that he is in our midst. Let’s take a few moments to look at the unexpected places God often chooses to show up with the greatest power in our lives:
1. God is close when we are suffering
Psalm 34:18 reminds us that God is close to the broken-hearted. It’s easy to buy the lie that God has abandoned us during long seasons of suffering; however, if we will keep our hearts soft, some of the most profound encounters with God often happen in the valley of suffering. In our weakness, God shows up and makes his power known.
2. We can encounter God when we face interruptions to our plans
If there’s one place where I tend to forget about encountering God, it’s when my plans are interrupted. Whether it’s a small interruption in the midst of a full day or a larger interruption that throws the course of our lives off track for months, I often forget to watch for God’s hand in the midst of life’s interruptions. As Henri Nouwen once suggested, interruptions often feel like they hinder my work; however, more accurately, the interruptions are my work.
3. We can encounter God when we are afraid
Nothing leads me to take my eyes off Christ-like a heavy blanket of fear. Sadly, when I let fear become my focus, I worship my fear. Fear dominates my thoughts and preoccupies my mind. You cannot worship God while worshiping your fear.
God waits for us to encounter him in the midst of our fears. Every time I use fear as a prompt to remind me to lift my eyes to the Lord, I encounter God in the midst of my fear.
4. We often find God when we reach our breaking points
Have you ever reached the end of your rope and wondered where to turn next? By the grace of God, when we reach our breaking points, we often find God’s open arms beneath us, waiting to catch us. Sometimes, it takes coming to the end of our own strength to encounter the One whose strength is always sufficient.
Are you at a breaking point in life? Turn to the open arms of God. Ask him for help. Let him lead you through the next open door, one slow step at a time.