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Oh, the Unexpected Ways of God The April 2023 Prayer Prompt by CCNL
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Provided by CCNL Photo Ben White - Unsplash

Unprecedented – inexplicable – mystifying – unparalleled – extraordinary – overwhelming – unpredictable. These variations of ‘surprise’ words have been used to describe many recent events that have happened over the last few months, years, even centuries! They also capture the surprising character of God, and certainly the remarkable redemptive work of Christ on the cross for you and for me.

If you ask most people, we are split 50/50 on whether we like surprises or not. Especially when we feel out of control, uncertain or in tumultuous moments, we may tend to desire knowing exactly what’s going to happen next, when, why…and well ahead of time! Or we want a miracle that is beyond anything we can imagine.

Yet none of us know what tomorrow will bring. James 4 says “We don’t know the first thing about tomorrow…”. Even today, with all the predictive analytics, scientific data, algorithmic efficiencies, and computational resources we have… some things still seem to happen unexpectedly. We try our best, we acknowledge it is good to plan, and know it is wise to heed patterns, warnings and incorporate new learnings. But we cannot know the future. We need to rely on the One who does know it all - the beginning, the middle and the end - and learn to daily trust our sovereign God who we profess to love and who loves us, even in the midst of many uncertainties, questions, fears and doubts.

As we prepare to pray this month, we encourage you to pause and take time to reread the Easter Narrative in one of the gospels, maybe Mark. Look specifically at the reactions to Jesus by the disciples and followers, by the religious teachers, and by needy people - Jesus was turning their worlds upside down. Words appear like “stunned”, “confused”, “surprised”, “shocked”, “afraid”, “worried”, “taken aback”, “astonished”, “amazed”, gobsmacked (it probably doesn’t say that in any translation but it captures the reaction well!).

God in heaven, as we enter into prayerful conversation with you this month, we ask that you surprise us with who you are, again and again, trusting that you know what we need to shake up our world.

We come first to confess that we too easily grow accustomed to the Easter story and it may become part of our holiday calendar out of habit, an annual ritual, or religious highlight. We are so easily distracted by insignificant things like easter egg hunts and family dinners, or even planning services. We pray that this Easter season, you will amaze us again Father God, with the miraculous, unprecedented act of sacrifice of both Jesus’ death and resurrection. Cause us not to take any of it for granted. It is a mystifying, inexplicable act of powerful divine love that you Jesus, set aside your divinity, identity, and power. Born like us. Becoming fully human like us. Living among us. Suffering and dying on the cross for us. All out of such abundant love – not love that we earned or deserved. May we stop and be simply awestruck by that!

But the story does not end there. The cross alone was not enough. Hope was born in the resurrection, the conquering of death. That is even more miraculous, as it brings purpose full circle to both our living and our dying. Eternal life isn’t about getting to be in heaven with our friends, having a good time forever. Eternal life means that you God have a greater mega-plan for heaven to come to earth and all will be put right in a Kingdom that never ends, beyond our imagination. Incomprehensible. Justice reigns. Love wins. Difficult to fathom as daily evil can seem overwhelming.

We pray that you will open our eyes to see extraordinary miracles all around us that we can easily also take for granted. Healing of diseases. Cures discovered. Lives transformed. People freed from addictions. Families reunited. Grudges forgiven. Peace pursued. Generosity offered. Each time this happens, it is a gift of the Kingdom to be treasured. Let us recognize your divine intervention and inspiration in the world around us and keep being gobsmacked, giving praise to you!

We pray for contrite, humble repentant hearts. At times, the “global church” seems like it is being beaten up by our own sinfulness as stories of abuse, power, greed, and lust are revealed. We lament when your Name, God, is misused and disgraced. May we also identify and be willing to put away our personal pride, racism, intolerance, arrogance and judgement. Search our hearts God to see where evil, indifference and hatred exists. While we do know and celebrate that much good is done in your holy Name, we cannot hide from painful truths when sin is exposed.

Disrupt us Holy Spirit, when you surprise us with unexpected news of your moving in the world around us. The astonishing reports of the recent outpouring of the Spirit of God at Asbury College in Kentucky can give hope when at times, it seems the Christian message is faltering. An event seemingly not orchestrated by leaders nor driven by emotional intent but rather directed by the Holy Spirit in people worshiping you. We pray together with others around the world for revivals of sincere passionate seeking after you, however or wherever it happens. Whether this particular event as some are saying could be another “Great Awakening“ as happened in some past generations of church history, or if it is simply a momentary glorious glimpse of your Kingdom to come revealed, please open our hearts and minds to your work in us that should result in actions that make a lasting productive difference in the lives of those involved as they live in ways where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given a drink, the stranger is invited in, the naked are clothed, the sick and those in prison are visited (Matthew 25:31-46). Reports say that the leader at Asbury college started by sharing these verses about the experience of God’s love for them from Romans 12… May we suggest we can make it into a more personal prayer for ourselves and for each other this Easter season by changing the pronoun "you " to "me":

“Take my everyday, ordinary life—my sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before You God as an offering. Embracing what You do for me is the best thing I can do back for You. Don’t let me become so well-adjusted to my culture that I fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix my attention on You. I'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what You want from me, and then may I quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around me, always dragging me down to its level of immaturity, God, may You bring the best out of me, develop well-formed maturity in me.”

Later on in Romans 12, in contrast to a radically poor love that can easily become narcissistic, abusive, manipulative or selfish, verses 9-21 offers some great ideas of what God’s transformative love may look like in our everyday lives:

“May I love from the center of who I am; don’t let me fake it. May I run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be a good friend who loves deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep myself fuelled and aflame. Be an alert servant of You the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t let me quit in hard times; may I pray all the harder. I want to help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless my enemies; no cursing under my breath. Laugh with my happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. May I get along with others; don’t be stuck-up. May I make friends with nobodies; and don’t try to be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If I've got it in me, may I get along with everybody. Don’t let me insist on getting even; that’s not for me to do. You tell us God “I’ll do the judging, I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if I see my enemy hungry, I should go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. My act of generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of me; may I get the best of evil by doing good. " Once you have prayed that for yourself, maybe pray it again for the Christians you meet with, by name or by group or by church. With hearts wide open God, we invite you to transform our churches here in London according to these words.

We pray for new efforts at communicating about Jesus. . One of these is the rise of the “He Gets Us” message over the past few months online and in media across North America. They explain on their website and promo material that “This all started with a diverse group of people passionate about the authentic Jesus of the Bible. While much has been said about him, much is still misunderstood. But we’re confident that as people clearly understand, read, and learn for themselves about who Jesus is, they’ll find wisdom, hope, and peace unlike any other offered. We simply want everyone to understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love...” Common purpose. We thank you God for those who step out with boldness to attempt to proclaim the truth of who you are to people in fresh ways who do not know you. CNN reports that “The campaign is arresting, portraying the pivotal figure of Christianity as an immigrant, a refugee, a radical, an activist for women’s rights and a bulwark against racial injustice and political corruption. The ’He Gets Us’ website features content about of-the-moment topics, like artificial intelligence and social justice. ‘Whatever you are facing, Jesus faced it too,’ the campaign claims. It’s getting noticed.”

And it is of course also being criticized by some. We should pray for this group of people – for much integrity, for an abundance of transparency, for diverse wisdom, for protection from evil, for growing credibility as they continue to engage into the culture in congruence with what they profess. As people of faith, we need to acknowledge that many people, and probably quite reasonably so, especially younger people, are quite cynical of religion, wary of marketing, cautious of possible hidden political or social agendas, suspicious of allegiances…the list is long. We ask that the authenticity of Jesus shines through. We pray those same things for ourselves and each other in our daily lives. Hold us accountable God.

Finally, it is appropriate that we thank you Creator God for those very gifted creative souls who express your truths so beautifully to our souls: A 2020 poem by poet Malcolm Guite reminds us of both the poignancy and magnificence of the resurrection ...may we suggest you read it aloud:

And where is Jesus, this strange Easter day?
Not lost in our locked churches, anymore
Than he was sealed in that dark sepulchre.
The locks are loosed; the stone is rolled away,
And he is up and risen, long before,
Alive, at large, and making his strong way
Into the world he gave his life to save,
No need to seek him in his empty grave.
He might have been a wafer in the hands
Of priests this day, or music from the lips
Of red-robed choristers, instead he slips
Away from church, shakes off our linen bands
To don his apron with a nurse: he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.
On Thursday we applauded, for he came
And served us in a thousand names and faces
Mopping our sickroom floors and catching traces
Of that corona which was death to him:
Good Friday happened in a thousand places
Where Jesus held the helpless, died with them
That they might share his Easter in their need,
Now they are risen with him, risen indeed.

AMEN. He is risen, He is risen indeed. Be a surprise to others this Easter because of Jesus.

And if you want to end your prayer in music, listen to “How great is our God” from Chris Tomlin click HERE Or Keith green’s joyous “Easter Song” click HERE.

We are really looking forward to the Week of Prayer taking place May 15-19. For more information check out