As 2021 comes to its conclusion, I know we all agree that it’s been another challenging one, full of surprises and many ‘suddenlys’, made all the more overwhelming because we were still reeling from 2020.

As the ongoing interruptions, shock waves and ‘suddenly’ moments continue as our new normal, how do leaders cope, navigating ourselves and others through unknown territory? The truth is, as organised as our lives and leadership may be, life and leadership will always surprise us, whether in the good or in the tough.

Henri Nouwen says this about these moments –

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.
Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise. Whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
~ Henri Nouwen

Dictionary definitions of the word ‘suddenly’ include done quickly, without warning, unexpectedly. The word suddenly occurs more than 167 times in the Bible.

I am massively encouraged that the story of Advent – Jesus arrival on this earth – is built on multiple ’suddenly’ moments. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the magi all experienced incredible ’suddenly’ moments which turned out to be good news but began as very troubling news. Each was faced with a ’suddenly’ that had personal consequences as well as wider consequences for the world. How the news would be received was a challenging issue for each of them.

Mary, the virgin teenager faced with being socially ostracised and possible death, responded with faith rather than fear.

Joseph, a husband-to-be who battles with his response to his obvious conclusions about his pregnant fiancé, and then the obvious damage to his own reputation.

Outcast shepherds are struck with terror at the sudden appearance of an angelic choir, who risk their jobs to accept the invitation to come and see the new-born King of the world.

Middle Eastern astrologers, baffled by the sudden appearance of the brightest of stars, choose to travel hundreds of miles to worship a King they never expected.

What can we learn from people who, faced with sudden challenges they couldn’t comprehend, were still willing to go out into the unknown, following the purposes of God.

  1. When a suddenly arrives, don’t yield to fickle feelings. Rather, remind yourself of the faithfulness of God.
  2. Make a choice to lean in to look and listen to what God is up to. Even when the suddenly is painful, God is not powerless. Eric Liddell says: Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love.
  3. Make the choice to respond, rather than react. Pause and pray, consult people you trust. Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary set backs. We don’t know the implications of any suddenly, but God does.

Suddenly moments remind us that our times are in God’s hands, They teach us to battle. We need these moments. They are part of our training, preparing and normalcy. They come with a jolt because often we need it. Sometimes we need a Suddenly moment to recorrect our course.

Let’s give God permission to surprise us; who knows what adventures await us. Let’s pray that we can relax and free God to bring whatever suddenly moments He chooses, into our lives. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future, and we can trust Him. Surrender is to our benefit.

Luke 2:9,10 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.