After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
-1 Kings 19:12
Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
Last week I became aware of a glaring error in my parenting. With two 11 year old boys and an 8 year old girl, my children had never been exposed to the classic 1990’s sports movie, Little Giants.
So four dollars later, I took care of that omission. I hadn’t watched the film for years, and if any of you haven’t seen it, it follows the path of a classic underdog story. A small crew of rejected kids get passed over for the new hot shot pewee football team. They form their own squad and challenge the bigger, stronger, and meaner all-stars to a showdown. They are severely outmatched in every way, but they have heart and creativity.
To cap off an unlikely comeback during the defining game, the movie culminates in a last-second trick play called “The Annexation of Puerto Rico.” The kids snap the ball and then put it on the ground and no one notices. Everyone chases after the star running back until they realize that’s not where the ball is… but by then it’s too late. One of the big, slower lineman boys had picked up the ball secretly and run it all the way in to win the game. That was the plan all along.
The play became so infamous that an NFL team even borrowed it a few years later.
What I found most interesting as I watched with my kids was the reasons everyone missed what was going on:
They made an assumptions about where to look, and they never considered the unlikely people who would be involved.
The same thing happened 2,000 years ago, and people totally missed Jesus among them.
I’m learning more and more that following Jesus in my life requires me to check all of my assumptions about where to look. Our conversations and prayer lives are often filled with our own ideas of exactly how and where God should work. And it can lead us to overlook the moments and opportunities that don’t fit into our boxes. Over and over, the gospels use the imagery of having eyes to see. We need eyes to see Jesus, and we need Jesus to give us eyes to see our world. Sometimes that means checking our assumptions at the door and simply asking God to help us see the “on-the-way” opportunities to love God and love others in each of our moments.
Recently that a friend of mine was hit from behind in a fender bender… but his initial frustration quickly gave way to God opening a door for him to offer compassion and kindness rather than anger toward the driver. I wouldn’t be surprised if that interaction becomes a life changing moment that the driver looks back on. If we are keeping our eyes open, God will use unexpected moments to bring his kingdom to come into our world. And he’ll often use unexpected people in the process.
Last week I heard a leader give a helpful perspective on our own formation as disciples. He said that although people make the conscious choice to be formed into the Imago Christo (image of Christ), everyone is born with the Imago Dei (image of God). Therefore, if we are looking, there is something that God wants to teach us about God’s character… through every single person we interact with. Even those who aren’t Christ followers yet.
What does God want to teach you through your neighbor? How will you see God in the face of the next homeless person you interact with? What about in a person with a different gender/race/orientation/economic background from you?
Do we expect that Jesus is just as able to speak to us during a time of morning stillness as during our morning commute? Do we expect that Jesus can use our children to reveal himself to us as much as our pastors? We should. And if we are keeping our eyes open in expectation, we won’t accidentally miss those unexpected moments to be shaped and sent by Jesus.
Jesus, keep me open to the unexpected movement of your Spirit today. I know it may involve people and places that don’t always fit into my boxes.