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Sheridan Voysey on building resilience in your life

The One born in Bethlehem leaves us wide-eyed with wonder, says Sheridan Voysey ...

The One born in Bethlehem leaves us wide-eyed with wonder, says Sheridan Voysey ...

Sometimes I wonder what it was like just before creation sprang into existence. Were the angels surprised when God sketched out plans for a universe he didn’t need?

They must have been – as surprised as when they saw the first waters rush forth and the mountains burst up through the seas. As surprised as when they watched the first bird take flight and saw the first humans open their eyes.

God surprised Abraham with a promise, Sarah with a child, and Moses with a flaming bush that never burned up.

All Israel walked in wide-eyed wonder as they followed the cloud and the fire, marched beside walls of water, and fled to a new land.

God surprised Isaac with a wife and Jacob with a dream. He surprised Samuel with a voice and Elijah with a whisper.

God surprised David with kingship, Solomon with wisdom, Hezekiah with life, and Isaiah with a vision.

And then one day God surprised a teenage girl with an angelic visitation.

The child born to that girl surprised the learned with his knowledge of God. After coming of age and learning a trade, he surprised those around him by setting off on a mission.

On that mission he surprised blind men by opening their eyes and the demon-afflicted by casting their tormentors into swine.

He surprised crippled women by straightening their backs and wedding hosts by turning water into wine. He surprised the poor with his attention, children with his affection, the leprous with cleansing, and sinners with restoration.

It was a surprise when this Lord returned to life after death and offered to forgive the very ones who betrayed him.

Full of surprises was this Christmas child! Even his teaching brought gasps of astonishment.
Climbing a hill to give his famous Sermon, he surprised all who listened. Because in his very first words he blessed the poor and troubled, not the rich and well, and said little people like us are the salt and light of the world.

He said conflicts were resolved by loving one’s opponents, by turning cheeks and going the extra mile. He rewrote the rules on relationships, equating anger with murder, and overturning ancient customs on vows.

He told us the birds of the air can teach us about trust, and we can decide how to treat others by considering how we should be treated.

And as he closed that Sermon, he gave a surprising promise: that our lives will be resilient when we put his teaching into practice (Matthew 7:24-27).

Put his teaching into practice. That was the most surprising thing – the startling weightiness of Jesus’ words.

He didn’t speak like other rabbis with their borrowed authority. He didn’t say: “the law tells you” or “Moses says.” He’d been more audacious than that.

Without caution or apology he said: “I tell you,” “My words,” and “I say” throughout his Sermon. Each of his words echoed with divine authority.

And they still echo now, which is why we must ask: what surprises await us as we take up his challenge? As we accept his invitation to be forgiven, restored, embraced, and rewarded?

As we take up our calling to be salt, light in the world? As we develop holy hearts and words, holy commitments and promises, as we give, pray, and trust the way he’s taught us?

This is all to be pondered as we approach another Christmas: that the One born in Bethlehem is full of surprises.

He doesn’t just give us forgiveness of sins or hope for tomorrow, but a mission to live now, and a life of resilience.

  • Adapted from Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life by Sheridan Voysey, a journey through the Sermon on the Mount in 90 readings (Discovery House, October 2015). Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker, and frequent contributor to faith programmes on BBC Radio 2. Follow him on Twitter (@sheridanvoysey), and get free Resilient resources at

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