Someone once said that "life, at it’s best is unpredictable." As a follower of Christ, I think that this quote can be better expressed as "Life is at it's best when it is unpredictable." Jesus Himself put this truth on display in His life.
As we read the Gospels we regularly come across situations where we think we may know what Jesus is about to do, and low and behold, he surprises us by acting completely contrary to what we expect. In John 8 He is presented with a woman caught in sin and His response is "I do not condemn you", He heals a blind man by using His saliva, and in the most unpredictable act known to humanity, he overthrows His greatest enemy by dying on a cross. If one thing is clear as we read the Gospels, it is that the work of Christ is not subject to situational perfection or checklists.
In John 4 Jesus acts somewhat unpredictably by having a conversation with a Samaritan woman in the middle of the day. During that conversation, she questions Him about the "right way" to worship.
"The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
The woman was very caught up on the conversation of the day, it was an ongoing debate between Samaritans and Jews around where and how to properly worship God. If you boil down the argument, it's the basic question is "what box does God fit in?"
We can read this passage and very quickly identify where this woman has missed the mark. It's easy for us to see that she is operating out of a false understanding of God. But do we as easily identify these things in ourselves? In what ways do you and I assume that God works? What does your checklist look like?
We are entering into a season of recalibrating to schedules and routines as Fall kicks into full swing and students of all ages and teachers go back to school, and we know that these routines serve a purpose. The same is true in our spiritual lives as we uncover routines and practices in our lives that help us get close to God and to hear Him as He leads and instructs us. These routines are important as they help to structure our days around our relationship with God and although they become tools in meeting with Him, we must remember that He is so much bigger than our routines and He is not interested in being confined by our ideas of how we will meet with Him.
I distinctly remember taking our students on a trip to Rimouski one year where we all slept in a church building for the week. During our orientation, I asked the students not to leave the building without another person, preferably someone with a phone in case of an emergency. One of the students pulled me aside and asked if she could be exempt from this guideline as it was important for her to run in the morning "that's how I meet with God" she said, and she explained that a running partner was not an option as that would "defeat the purpose". After a lengthy discussion, my challenge to her was "Is God capable of meeting you in a different way this week?" She understood what I was getting at but she wasn't particularly pleased with my decision. Later that week we were having supper at the pastor's house who's backyard is the mouth of the St. Lawrence River where the tide rises and falls quite significantly. When we were at his house, the tide was out and the sun was setting beautifully in the distance All of us took time to explore, hopping from rock to rock and uncovering multiple treasures along the shore. This student later pulled me aside grinning from ear to ear as she told me how she had just met wonderfully with God as He was speaking to her through the beauty and majesty of His creation! She was experiencing a truth that she had already heard many times at Bible School but had not quite internalized - The problem is never that God is not speaking, but rather that we aren't listening. And we do this when we set up our systems and checkboxes.
Do we expect God to show up when we've fulfilled the required steps? Attend the right church, say the right prayers, assume the proper physical posture? Likewise, do we assume that He won't show up in a certain situation because we've never seen Him work that way before? What are the limitations that we place on God all because we have certain expectations of how He works? And when we limit God this way, aren't we just like the woman at the well?
Henri Nouwen said "The real enemies of our life are the 'oughts' and the 'ifs.' They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now."
How can you be encouraged to step into the unpredictability that a life in Christ offers? It is in that unpredictability that we find the fullness of living a life that is truly led by Christ who is Himself led by the Father.