Day 122

God Wants to Surprise You

Wisdom Psalm 54:1–7
New Testament John 2:1–25
Old Testament Joshua 19:1–21:19


At the age of eighteen I set out to read the entire New Testament in order to disprove Christianity. As I read, I was surprised to find that I became convinced that it was true. The last thing that I wanted to do was to ‘become a Christian’. I thought that would ruin my life and make it boring by stopping me having any fun. Yet, knowing in my heart that it was true, I felt I had no option but to say ‘yes’ to Jesus.

The moment I did so– to use the words that C.S. Lewis chose to describe his own experience of encountering Jesus – I was ‘surprised by joy’. Ever since, Jesus has never ceased to surprise me.

God is the God of surprises. Jesus constantly surprised his followers and he wants to continue to surprise you.


Psalm 54:1–7

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, “Is not David hiding among us?”

1 Save me , O God, by your name;
   vindicate me by your might.
2 Hear my prayer, O God;
   listen to the words of my mouth.

3 Arrogant foes are attacking me;
   ruthless people are trying to kill me —
   people without regard for God.

4 Surely God is my help;
   the Lord is the one who sustains me.

5 Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
   in your faithfulness destroy them.

6 I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
   I will praise your name, LORD, for it is good.
7 You have delivered me from all my troubles,
   and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.


Surprised by God’s help

Even if the attacks are justified or partly justified, it is always surprising when we come under attack from people we do not know. David says, ‘strangers are attacking me’ (v.3a). I remember how surprised I was when I first started to read articles by people I had never met attacking Alpha, HTB and, sometimes, me personally. Surprise attacks can come from neighbours, work colleagues or other sources.

What I have found even more surprising is how God intervenes to help us: ‘Oh, look! God’s right here helping!’ (v.4a, MSG), ‘God is my helper and ally’ (v.4a, AMP); he sustains us (v.4b) and he brings deliverance from our troubles (v.7).

As I look back over my own experience, deliverance has not always been instantaneous; it has sometimes taken months or even years. Yet, I am challenged by David’s response. In the midst of the attacks, he says, ‘I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good’ (v.6).

The point of a ‘freewill offering’ was that there was no condition placed on the sacrifice. David did not say that he would only offer a sacrifice if God rescued him. Regardless of the outcome, he resolved to praise the Lord for his goodness.

If you are facing an attack right now put your trust in God, believe that he wants to help you and praise him in advance.


Lord, thank you that one day I will be able to look back and see that you have delivered me from all my troubles.

New Testament

John 2:1–25

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine

2 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

Jesus Clears the Temple Courts

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.


Surprised by Jesus

The ministry of Jesus was full of surprises. Jesus is constantly calling you to go deeper in your life with him. He wants to surprise you in new ways.

1. Surprising abundance

Some might be surprised that not only were Jesus and his disciples invited to parties (like this wedding banquet), they actually accepted and went along. At that time, wedding feasts lasted about a week. They were times of great revelry and rejoicing – where people put on their best clothes, rejoiced, sang, danced, joked, laughed and had fun. Perhaps what is even more surprising is that rather than condemning those drinking wine, Jesus transformed over 120 gallons of bath water into the very best wine (v.10). Jesus does things abundantly. He wants to give you more and more life and joy.

Simply letting Jesus know what the problem was (‘They have no more wine’, v.3) and then following his instructions (‘do whatever he tells you’, v.5) led to this surprising miracle. Jesus not only answered the need, but he answered it beyond anything they could have expected or even imagined. The master of the banquet was surprised when he ‘tasted the water that had been turned into wine’ (v.9).

This is also true in our own lives; Jesus turns the water of life without him into the wine of life with him. I thought that following Jesus would mean a life that was ‘watered down’. In fact, it is the very opposite. Jesus constantly surprises us by how he enriches our lives. In particular, we see how he enriches weddings and, indeed, marriages. He can turn the water of an ordinary marriage into the wine of an enriched one.

Jesus transforms drudgery and dreariness into fullness of joy.

Through this miracle Jesus ‘revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him’ (v.11). For many this must have been a very surprising revelation.

2. Surprising passion

Jesus amazed everybody when he went into the temple courts and found people selling cattle, sheep and doves and others at tables exchanging money: ‘The loan sharks were also there in full strength’ (v.14, MSG).

He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple area. He said, ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall’ (v.16, MSG). His disciples remembered the words, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’ (v.17).

We are surrounded by commercialism and seductive images. Huge shopping centres are replacing churches. There is a danger of worshipping money and commerce.

There was a terrible temptation then, as there is now, for money-making to interfere with the worship of God. Of course, there is a practical side of worship, both in the temple and in churches today. However, when the object of our focus becomes money, we are in serious trouble. Jesus surprised people by how passionate he was about this.

3. Surprising dwelling

Jesus redefines the temple. Jesus’ body is the true temple. Jesus says to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’ (v.19). The true temple will be destroyed, but God will rebuild it again in three days, through the resurrection. They are surprised and cannot understand this – they ask Jesus how on earth he thinks he can rebuild this temple in a mere three days. But John adds, ‘the temple he had spoken of was his body’ (v.21).

The temple was important because it was the symbolic dwelling place of God. It was where God and humanity met. These surprising words of Jesus show us that he himself is the new temple. He is the dwelling place of God on earth.

Through Jesus, you are now called to be the home, the dwelling place of God. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

4. Surprising wisdom

When people saw the miracles Jesus performed and what he was doing, many ‘believed in his name’ (John 2:23). ‘But,’ John tells us, ‘Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need human testimony about them, for he knew what was in people’ (vv.24–25).

It is surprising to read that Jesus did not immediately trust these people – especially when we read that love ‘always trusts’ (1 Corinthians 13:7). Jesus is realistic about human nature. We tend to look for the perfect spouse, perfect parents, perfect children, perfect friends, perfect leaders and the perfect church. But these don’t exist. All of us are flawed human beings.

Recognising this helps us to be more realistic and less disappointed – and more forgiving in our relationships.

We need the wisdom of Jesus in our dealings and in our relationships. We need to balance openness and loving trust with the wisdom and understanding of the human heart.


Lord, thank you for Jesus. Help me to fix my eyes on him today, so he can surprise me afresh with his wisdom, passion, love and abundance.

Old Testament

Joshua 19:1–21:19

Allotment for Simeon

19 The second lot came out for the tribe of Simeon according to its clans. Their inheritance lay within the territory of Judah. 2 It included:

Beersheba (or Sheba), Moladah, 3 Hazar Shual, Balah, Ezem, 4 Eltolad, Bethul, Hormah, 5 Ziklag, Beth Markaboth, Hazar Susah, 6 Beth Lebaoth and Sharuhen—thirteen towns and their villages;

7 Ain, Rimmon, Ether and Ashan —four towns and their villages— 8 and all the villages around these towns as far as Baalath Beer (Ramah in the Negev).

This was the inheritance of the tribe of the Simeonites, according to its clans. 9 The inheritance of the Simeonites was taken from the share of Judah, because Judah’s portion was more than they needed. So the Simeonites received their inheritance within the territory of Judah.

Allotment for Zebulun

10 The third lot came up for Zebulun according to its clans:

The boundary of their inheritance went as far as Sarid. 11 Going west it ran to Maralah, touched Dabbesheth, and extended to the ravine near Jokneam. 12 It turned east from Sarid toward the sunrise to the territory of Kisloth Tabor and went on to Daberath and up to Japhia. 13 Then it continued eastward to Gath Hepher and Eth Kazin; it came out at Rimmon and turned toward Neah. 14 There the boundary went around on the north to Hannathon and ended at the Valley of Iphtah El. 15 Included were Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah and Bethlehem. There were twelve towns and their villages.

16 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of Zebulun, according to its clans.

Allotment for Issachar

17 The fourth lot came out for Issachar according to its clans. 18 Their territory included:

Jezreel, Kesulloth, Shunem, 19 Hapharaim, Shion, Anaharath, 20 Rabbith, Kishion, Ebez, 21 Remeth, En Gannim, En Haddah and Beth Pazzez. 22 The boundary touched Tabor, Shahazumah and Beth Shemesh, and ended at the Jordan. There were sixteen towns and their villages.

23 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Issachar, according to its clans.

Allotment for Asher

24 The fifth lot came out for the tribe of Asher according to its clans. 25 Their territory included:

Helkath, Hali, Beten, Akshaph, 26 Allammelek, Amad and Mishal. On the west the boundary touched Carmel and Shihor Libnath. 27 It then turned east toward Beth Dagon, touched Zebulun and the Valley of Iphtah El, and went north to Beth Emek and Neiel, passing Kabul on the left. 28 It went to Abdon, Rehob, Hammon and Kanah, as far as Greater Sidon. 29 The boundary then turned back toward Ramah and went to the fortified city of Tyre, turned toward Hosah and came out at the Mediterranean Sea in the region of Akzib, 30 Ummah, Aphek and Rehob. There were twenty-two towns and their villages.

31 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Asher, according to its clans.

Allotment for Naphtali

32 The sixth lot came out for Naphtali according to its clans:

33 Their boundary went from Heleph and the large tree in Zaanannim, passing Adami Nekeb and Jabneel to Lakkum and ending at the Jordan. 34 The boundary ran west through Aznoth Tabor and came out at Hukkok. It touched Zebulun on the south, Asher on the west and the Jordan on the east. 35 The fortified towns were Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Kinnereth, 36 Adamah, Ramah, Hazor, 37 Kedesh, Edrei, En Hazor, 38 Iron, Migdal El, Horem, Beth Anath and Beth Shemesh. There were nineteen towns and their villages.

39 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Naphtali, according to its clans.

Allotment for Dan

40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of Dan according to its clans. 41 The territory of their inheritance included:

Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, 46 Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Joppa.

47 (When the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem , took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor.)

48 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Dan, according to its clans.

Allotment for Joshua

49 When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, 50 as the LORD had commanded. They gave him the town he asked for—Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he built up the town and settled there.

51 These are the territories that Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel assigned by lot at Shiloh in the presence of the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And so they finished dividing the land.

Cities of Refuge

20 Then the LORD said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. 4 When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. 5 If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbour unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”

7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron ) in the hill country of Judah. 8 East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. 9 Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

Towns for the Levites

21 Now the family heads of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the other tribal families of Israel 2 at Shiloh in Canaan and said to them, “The LORD commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock.” 3 So, as the LORD had commanded, the Israelites gave the Levites the following towns and pasturelands out of their own inheritance:

4 The first lot came out for the Kohathites, according to their clans. The Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priest were allotted thirteen towns from the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. 5 The rest of Kohath’s descendants were allotted ten towns from the clans of the tribes of Ephraim, Dan and half of Manasseh.

6 The descendants of Gershon were allotted thirteen towns from the clans of the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan.

7 The descendants of Merari, according to their clans, received twelve towns from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Zebulun.

8 So the Israelites allotted to the Levites these towns and their pasturelands, as the LORD had commanded through Moses.

9 From the tribes of Judah and Simeon they allotted the following towns by name 10 (these towns were assigned to the descendants of Aaron who were from the Kohathite clans of the Levites, because the first lot fell to them):

11 They gave them Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron ), with its surrounding pastureland, in the hill country of Judah. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 12 But the fields and villages around the city they had given to Caleb son of Jephunneh as his possession.

13 So to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron (a city of refuge for one  accused of murder), Libnah, 14 Jattir, Eshtemoa, 15 Holon, Debir, 16 Ain, Juttah and Beth Shemesh, together with their pasturelands—nine towns from these two tribes.

17 And from the tribe of Benjamin they gave them Gibeon, Geba, 18 Anathoth and Almon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

19 The total number of towns for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, came to thirteen, together with their pasturelands.


Surprised by humaneness

As Pippa and I have travelled around the world, we have often visited the local prisons. In some countries the justice system seems to be relatively humane. In other places the prison conditions and penalties imposed seem inhumane.

We are often surprised, even shocked, by parts of the Old Testament law. The Israelites would also have been surprised, though in a different way, because these laws were surprisingly humane by the standards of the time.

If a situation arose that seemed to be an accidental homicide, a person could be admitted to a city of refuge. Thereafter they could stay if, after the trial, the avenger failed to prove it was murder. The city had a duty to protect them until it was time for them to return (Joshua 20).

These laws preserved the sanctity of human life. Every human life is of infinite value to God. When a person’s life is taken, even if accidentally, it is a very serious matter. On the other hand, there is a humaneness about these laws that protects the person who has killed accidentally. This humaneness would probably have surprised people at the time.

As God’s people today, we should, of course, seek to ensure justice, just laws, deterring and reducing crime. But we should also be passionate about ensuring that our justice systems are humane.


Lord, help me in my own life, and also in society, to work towards just and humane laws. Thank you for your love, compassion and mercy.

Pippa adds

John 2:1–11

I love weddings. Now all our children are married. There are so many preparations to organise a wedding day. But this passage in John 2 reminds us that the only thing that really matters is that Jesus is there. (And he cares even about practical things like the wine running out).

We also see here the interaction between Jesus and his mother which is very touching. And we see already Mary’s faith in her son.



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Surprised by Joy is the title of a semi-autobiographical book by C.S. Lewis which looks at his early life and his conversion to Christianity.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (commentary formerly known as Bible in One Year) ©Alpha International 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Compilation of daily Bible readings © Hodder & Stoughton Limited 1988. Published by Hodder & Stoughton Limited as the Bible in One Year.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers.

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