Serendipity. It’s a word that sounds mystical, and I think most people could more easily tell you how it “feels” than describe exactly what it means. It is the title of the 2001 movie where two people meet, fall in love, and then lose track of each other, only to be brought back together by a series of serendipitous events. The movie defines serendipity as “a fortunate accident.” We think of the accidental discovery of penicillin or Christopher Columbus’ unexpected finding of the “New World” when he was trying to reach India. Webster calls it:
“The phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for.”
I don’t believe in fate or luck, but Webster’s definition of serendipity reminds me of God’s amazing ability to give us something of great value when we’re not even looking for it.
Serendipity in History
While sitting in on a world history class today, I learned that Christopher Columbus gave the Holy Spirit credit for inspiring his voyage to the other side of the world. Divine intervention is in God’s wheelhouse, and when He supernaturally crosses paths and aligns moments, it’s never by mistake:
–An Egyptian princess opens a floating basket made of reeds to reveal the face of a child who will one day lead his own people out of slavery.
–Another Hebrew boy is sold into slavery by cruel brothers and, through a series of anomalous events, is positioned to save these same brothers from starvation in a time of famine.
–A young orphan rises through the ranks of the most beautiful women in the land to become the Jewish queen of the Persian king–just in time to save her people from annihilation.
Moses. Joseph. Esther. Three times, God providentially orchestrates events to preserve a nation, and the stories go on.
Serendipity in Threes
It’s only Tuesday, but my week has already been caught up in a serendipitous storm.
On Sunday, I taught children’s church, which I have never done in the six months we’ve been here. I didn’t have much time to prepare, so I picked something I knew: a lesson we’d used on a mission trip in Honduras this past summer.
I tailored the lesson for a smaller and younger group of kids, but basically, we ended up reading and acting out the story of Peter walking on water from Matthew 14. The lights were turned off to represent nighttime, and our elementary students were rowing along in an imaginary boat, when suddenly the boat was hit with great waves (a blue scarf waved up and down by preschoolers). “Peter” sees what the disciples first think is a ghost, then recognizes Jesus and asks to be called out onto the water. “Jesus” (played by an 8-year-old girl, since there were no boys) bids Peter to come.
We all know that the story ends with Peter sinking until Jesus saves him, wondering at how little faith has been shown. I had started the morning with a question and ended it with the same:
“Where is the best place to be if you are in the middle of a huge sea?”
Most people, child or adult, would give the expected answer: “in a boat.” Out of the mouth of a third-grader, though, came the radical reply: “with Jesus.”
The little girl in children’s church was right, and I thought of her wise words later the same day as I was reading Tedd Dekker’s fictional but biblically-based “A.D. 30”–a telling of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of a Bedouin “desert queen.” When Dekker’s book began to recount the water-walking episode, I found myself in the middle of the storm once again–this time seeing it through the eyes of someone who might’ve been there with Peter and Jesus.
A couple of days later, I opened Facebook to find a close friend’s post about being “storm proof,” despite the crushing waves that life can bring. She linked her to post to a recording of “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail),” by Hillsong United.
Three encounters with the same “storm,” told in three different ways within the span of three days. Serendipitous, don’t you think? I might’ve overlooked the significance of it all had the phone not rung a few short minutes later to present my life with its own mini-storm.
My Mini Storm
I call it a mini storm, because the Holy Spirit made the thunder and lightning smaller in my eyes, directing my focus elsewhere, so that I could experience “the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for”:
–I was looking for an easy children’s church message, and I found some of the truest words that can be spoken, uttered out of the mouth of a child.
–I was reading fiction just for fun and found myself experiencing truth vicariously through the characters in a story.
–I was perusing Facebook to pass the time and found comfort in the words of a friend and a familiar song–just before my own storm arrived.
The nature of my storm doesn’t matter. The things I “accidently” found in it do matter:
1) The best place to be when you are in the middle of a great sea, in the midst of a storm, is not in a boat of safety, conformity, the status quo, or trust in men. The best place to be is with Jesus.
2) The litmus test of faith is not in knowing about Jesus or even in believing in Him. “Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror (James 2:19).” Jesus spoke of Peter’s doubt, even though Peter knew and followed Him, even though the disciple got out of the boat.
But Faith doesn’t falter when it trusts in Jesus to the degree that the storm poses no threat.
Of trusting in “the boat,” Dekker writes:
“Perhaps it is better to understand faith by your fears … We put our trust in wood and pitch and flesh and blood and wind and water, and so the storm has dominion over us. Don’t you see? We must let this world go and see no threat. This is what it means to believe in Yeshua! … In the eyes of children who trust their Father, there is no threat. No grievance against the storm (Dekker, A.D. 30 ).”
The storm is real, but the threat is not, because Jesus can be trusted. In fixing our eyes on Him, we find grace to let go of our fear of the storm. We also find the grace to surrender our grievence against anyone or anything.
This is why scripture says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3)”
3) The only way to be “storm-proof” is to turn our eyes to the Master of the wind and waves–listening as He cries out, “Peace! Be still!”
We must get to know Jesus’ sovereignty, becoming familiar with His faithfulness, until He holds His rightful place in our estimation.
Jesus is supreme over everything, the One in whose presence there can be no fear.
This is the God kind of serendipity. How much more of it would I “accidentally” find if Jesus were the focus of all of my searching? (Matthew 6:33)
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.
I will call upon Your name,
and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise,
My soul will rest in Your embrace,
for I am yours and You are mine.
–Oceans (Where Feet May Fail, Hillsong United)