It has been a full quarter-century since the long-haired clergyman with the ukulele drilled the church's children in singing, "God is a surprise, right before your eyes, God is a surprise." But the words stayed with me because, now as then, they match my own vivid experience.

The high spots of my life present themselves in retrospect as a series of surprises —happy surprises, from the hand of a very gracious God. Is that unusual? I doubt it. But I also doubt that we dwell on the happy surprises as often and as thoughtfully as we should. There is great wisdom in the elderly children's chorus, "Count your blessings—name them one by one—and it will surprise you what the Lord has done."

Recently, at only a few minutes' notice, I realized that I was expected to reply to some kind things being said about me by saying something personal and also devotional. Off the cuff I listed some of the happiest of the happy surprises that have come my way, and the story came out more or less as follows.

It was a happy surprise when God made me a Christian, after two years during which I had kidded myself that I was one already, since I went to church and argued at school for the truth of the Apostles' Creed. Jesus Christ broke into my life, claimed me as his own, and made me a different person, all in the space of about 20 minutes during the second half of an evangelistic sermon. I remember the experience as if it were yesterday. At the time it was a shattering surprise, but happy is my word for it now.

Happy too is my word today for the surprise of realizing, about a year after my conversion, in my second year at university, that God was calling me to a life of ministry, as an undershepherd for his sheep. Being in those days an ...

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March 2008

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