Sometimes God breaks in and surprises us

By Curtis K. Shelburne

It’s not the kind of cartoon that makes you fall down and roll in laughter, but the cartoon I saw recently did make me stop, think and whisper a heartfelt, “Amen!”

I don’t remember all the specifics and I can’t put my hands on the cartoon itself right now, but as I recall, a preacher is on his knees in his study, evidently just before he is up to bat for one more Sunday morning, and he prays simply, “O Lord, please do something that’s not in the bulletin.”

“Amen!” indeed.

I know. There is a particular kind of, well, faith-weakness really, that manifests itself in a need to see something in our lives every morning akin to the parting of the Red Sea. We catch ourselves wanting a big-time, heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping miracle once a day to keep doubt away. And in worship, we want to start with an earthquake and work up from there in emotional intensity. If we don’t see those miracles almost every day and have mountain top worship experiences almost every Sunday, our fervor cools, disappointment mounts, and we begin to act as if God is nowhere near because we haven’t seen pillars of fire appearing right in front of us recently.

And that’s an extreme. Faith that must always be propped up by outward show and emotional intensity is very weak faith indeed and is probably pretty short of practical value. Churches that need fireworks every Sunday usually get them in the form of explosions that regularly blow people up and end up hurting everyone nearby.

But the temptation I often find myself facing is at the other end of the spectrum. Far from expecting an eye-popping miracle to suddenly appear behind every coffeepot, I find myself expecting far too little, and I catch myself living life and “doing church” as if God had set the world spinning and then retired or settled down for a long gazillion-year nap.

I work hard to plan worship (and I should), but I should also remember that the most important things that happen in worship are not things I can plan. When God breaks in and astounds me, I’m so surprised that one wonders why I even bothered to come if I really didn’t expect him to show up.

I pray, and then I’m surprised when God rocks me on my heels with a wonderful answer.

I plan and organize and work for “church growth” and almost despair when for long spells not much seems to be happening. Sometimes the things I’ve worked at hardest seem to be accomplishing the least, and then God breaks in and does something far more wonderful than I could ever have planned or imagined.

Dear God, help me to remember that you are God and that your job is to work and my job is to trust in you, which is for me a job I do pretty poorly and is definitely all the job I can handle. Forgive me when I’m actually surprised when you do something that’s not in the bulletin. But thank you for doing it!

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at