Astonish. I really like that word and how often it is used in the gospels, when there was so much shock going around. Jesus was astonished at faith but mostly lack thereof; the disciples were astonished at Christ’s incredible statements; the crowds were astonished at His teaching. It seems clear that when one is walking with God in a remotely serious way there will be astonishment, probably on both sides.
I was reminded of this truth recently while skimming my prayer journal from several years ago. In the midst of a confusing wilderness period, I turned to the journal to see what loose ends I might find there, what issues I might set to work on again in hopes of hastening the end of a trying time. I didn’t find what I was looking for. What I found were forgotten prayers from the previous year, prayers I uttered before things turned ugly.
I'm usually careful with my prayers knowing that if invited, God will come like a bull into the china closet of my well-ordered life. He shows a surprising disrespect of valuables! But I had gotten desperate and prayed grandly: “Make our marriage what it should be,” “Transform me into a woman after your own heart,” “Do whatever it takes to make me like your Son,” that sort of thing. Be careful what you ask for.
My journal pages revealed that God answered the heart of those prayers, though he discarded the packaging I subconsciously offered them in. He answered in ways I didn’t intend and with methods I wouldn’t have consented to. God’s answer was the very wilderness I’d been moping through. His “yes” meant going without a regular paycheck for an entire year; it meant moving home with my parents in our thirties while peers climbed the social and corporate ladders; it meant living in the rural country as a proud urbanite. It meant not understanding anything yet gaining everything. Astonishing.
God’s answer to my prayers was an old rugged cross that I wanted no part of. Among other things he needed to kill my sense of entitlement, an unarticulated belief that if I lived according to his ways he would play fair and provide the American dream. It’s obvious that A.W. Tozer wrote from experience when he said: "It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free." All of us want the promised abundant life, but none of us is eager for the Golgothas that must precede it.
Tozer encourages us, "The cross is rough and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever.... After (death) is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for the joy that the veil (of self) is taken away...." At the end of the day, I’m grateful that God did what I needed and not what I wanted. I’m glad he bade me come and die and I've no doubt he’ll do it again. Today I can ask in faith, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). But now I expect to be astonished.