Carnivals and Surprises

Hello to those of you visiting from Seeds of Faith today! I am honored to be this week's featured blogger.

The traveling carnival has just rolled into town. The rusty old ferris wheel rises up out of the shopping center parking lot like a giant magnet, beckoning to kids for miles around. No need for advertising. The lumbering carnival itself is its own marketing plan. Parents, hauling their kids in minivans, innocently drive straight into a trap as soon as it comes into view. Of course, it is always strategically set up along the busiest thoroughfare around. Once the sprawl of rides is spotted and the excited chattering begins in the backseat, it is way too late to make a detour. “Mommy, a carnival! Daddy, can we go? Look at the roller coaster! Look at the swings!” I sigh, knowing that my wallet is about to get lighter, my time is about to be monopolized, my energy is about to be spent. But at the same time, as a parent, I delight in seeing the delight of my children.

And soon I find myself there, fighting with the delay on my digital camera each time the kids spin past me on the round-and-round rides, trying my hardest to capture the expressions on their faces – expressions that reflect the exhilaration of being alive. Then I remember what it was like when I was once an amusement park thrill-seeker, before I got older and would rather have a root canal than suffer the dizziness of a tilt-a-whirl. Back then, I would walk away from a roller coaster, intact, and feel like I had conquered something important. I would savor the sea breeze blowing in my face on a summer evening at Panama City Beach as I rode the old-fashioned swings. I would squeal with laughter as I crashed into my friends on the bumper cars. Watching my then 3-year-old ride the children’s roller coaster for the first time, I glimpsed that look on his face as the friendly-looking, green dragon cars rumbled down the tracks – that unmistakable look of joy. It seemed that he was surprised to be enjoying himself so much.

Sometimes God Himself surprises us in ways that shock us. Since we are made in His image, I believe that He delights to see the surprise on our faces, in the same way I anticipate Christmas-morning happiness and carnival joy on the faces of my own kids. In John 21, the disciples are experiencing the discouragement of a fruitless night of fishing. Someone from the shore calls out to them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” They must have been utterly stunned to discover that they were unable to haul the net in – it was completely filled with fish. I can imagine their faces, full of amazement. I can hear the hearty laughter of those weathered fishermen as fish after fish flop around on their little boat. I can imagine their hearts, full of gratitude. And I can picture Jesus, standing over on the shore, surveying the scene with a smile on his face. Peter, ever the eager one, immediately identifies the source of the miracle. “It is the Lord!” he cries out, and jumps into the water, swimming to the shore where the resurrected Christ awaits.

The greatest surprise that the Lord gives us, many times, is Himself. I have sung many an old hymn for the millionth time, when all of sudden, the gripping sense that “It is the Lord!” resonates deep in my spirit. There are times that His presence has been in the midst of our congregation in ways so undeniable and precious that I know the heart of every person present is saying, “It is the Lord!” It really should not surprise us to sense the Spirit of God among us as believers, but the fact is that it does. We grow accustomed to our routines and habits. Like the disciples, we get used to our own fruitless nights of fishing, in our own ways. But Jesus knows all about our routines. He knows us within and without. He stands on the shore. And out of nowhere, at the precise moment He determines, we begin to haul in a catch that we never expected, and our human spirits are perfectly and completely refreshed. Our cups are running over with praise.

God would never need a digital camera. But just the same, I believe he watches us during those moments in which He surprises us…and is pleased, just as any father would be, to see on our faces the exhilaration of being alive in His presence.

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