As athletes prepare for competition, good coaches will also help their teams or clients prepare for the unexpected. Too many times a team or an athlete will prepare a certain way for a game or competition only to find the opponent has completely changed his game plan or something out of the ordinary happens during the race and left the team or competitor devastated. You can see this all the time in both team and individual efforts where some people or teams seem unphased by the unexpected and others are totally thrown off course. What makes the difference? Preparation!
Life is much like a competition in that we train and prepare for daily happenings and challenges. However, unless we give some thought to the unexpected, we’ll live in disappointment when “things happen,” especially those things that are out of our control. How do we keep from falling in the ditch when things don’t go our way? Prepare for the unexpected!
Philippians 4:10–13 (ESV) — 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
We’ll notice how the apostle Paul considered the blessing of receiving support from the Philippian church. He was most grateful but as he considered their responsibility, he was quick to point out that it was not a manipulation scheme by making them feel sorry for him. Instead, he pointed out a valuable lesson for facing the unexpected – he learned to be content. There is the key phrase when the unexpected happens. Instead of focusing on what is wrong or what is not happening we learn to “go with the flow.” Easier said than done, right? Notice the context of verse 13. He states the fact that he had learned (underline the word “learned”) to be content. Contentment does not come naturally. It must be learned. He goes on to say that in any circumstance he learned the secret which is, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Let’s bring that into your prayer life. You are praying about a situation and are trying your best to be confident in your faith that God will grant you that request. You are claiming the promises of God and are beginning to grow weary because your prayer appears to not be answered. Wait a minute! Could it be God is giving us the “unexpected” because our expectations are our plans which may not be His plans?
Isaiah 55:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Trusting God as we pray means we unload our burdens upon Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) but also means we trust Him to do what is best for us on His timetable and in His way. In other words, to prepare for the unexpected is to learn to be content with Him being in control instead of us. How do you that?
Philippians 4:13 (ESV) — I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) — 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
As you study the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll find Him doing the unexpected, including the way He took His disciples through “learning situations” so they would learn to trust Him, finding their contentment in Him and not in things happening just as they would have expected. Case in point: one of the times they were in a storm on the water.
Mark 4:35–41 (ESV) — 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
How could Jesus have allowed the “unexpected storm?” (Unexpected to the disciples but not to Jesus.) He did so because it was a way to make sure they learned the valuable lesson that He is in complete control and He cares for them enough to keep them safe and to strengthen their faith to trust Him down the road. In other words, to be content when the unexpected happens by finding that contentment in Him.
What is God allowing you to experience that seems “unexpected” or “disappointing?” May you go back and prepare for those moments by learning the lesson of contentment by relying upon the strength that is promised in trusting Him.