Surprise! That word has come to mean something fun, hasn’t it? Perhaps it is a surprise birthday party, or it could be a gift, or it might be some good news. But when Peter used the word xenizo, translated as “surprised” in 1 Peter 4:12, he had something completely different in mind. And we would do well to heed his warning.
You see, when Peter used the word translated as surprised, he was saying that Christians should not be shocked or astonished “by the strangeness and novelty of a thing.” In other words, he wanted Christians to expect persecution and difficulties in this world. He knew that when we are surprised in that way, we act like scared, insecure people without faith. But if we expect the fiery ordeal, we will (hopefully) react with the dignity of Christ.
Yet, as I see Christians interacting in the world, one thought repeatedly strikes me: “Why are you still so surprised at the fiery ordeal?” I’m surprised that you are still surprised.
Don’t get me wrong; I get it. It is frustrating to look out in the world and feel like everything is against your way of thinking. This is especially true when you were sold on the idea that this is a Christian nation. I understand.
But that is never an excuse for Christians to behave like scared, insecure people without faith. If the media shows a bias toward publicizing one shooting and downplaying another, don’t be surprised! If people are praising one football player’s “taking a knee” despite having condemned another for “taking a knee,” don’t be surprised! You see where I’m going with this?
“Surprise” leads to negative, hateful, vitriol that spews forth from the Christian, lashing out like a frightened, wounded animal. Rather, as Christians, we need to follow the advice my old science teacher used to give. When asked if there would be a test the next day, he would say, “pray for the best, but expect the worst.”
When we do that, we will be less overwhelmed. When a fiery ordeal happens, we are prepared. Then, we actually leave room for a true surprise – delight when things go better than expected! Jesus experienced this kind of astonishment when He saw faith among the Gentiles that exceeded the faith of Israel.
Caleb Engle, the usher who stopped the shooter at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, is a good example of what I mean. After being hit in the face with a gun, and after wrestling the gunman from further killing and shooting, he asked people to pray for the church, the first responders…and the gunman. Now that is a delightful surprise to hear…and (by the way) an example of what Jesus would do.
Of course, Caleb is a Christian so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet, it is always a delight when God’s people act accordingly. Let’s try to be that kind of surprise for the world this week and leave the scared, wounded animal talk behind.