Unlikely Places of Grace

by David Hicks, Spiritual Formation Faculty

“Tremble, O earth, at the PRESENCE of the Lord,
at the PRESENCE of the God of Jacob,
who turned the rock into a pool,
the hard rock into springs of water.”
Psalm 114:7-8

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God often does the unexpected not only because He can (that goes without saying) but also because it usually throws us off just enough to where we actually notice He is doing something. I’m convinced that He uses the common and the likely but these are also the very places where we often miss seeing the moving of His grace. It is precisely because they are likely that we sometimes see grace as common, natural, coincidental, rather than a divine break-in from a Heavenly Intruder. To shake us out of our blind indifference sometimes God comes in unlikely places of grace.

Psalm 114 refers back to the Exodus 17 story of Moses striking the rock at Horeb which then produces water to satisfy the thirst of the Israelites. This ‘striking incident’ was preceded by the Israelites complaining to Moses about their condition and wondering if God was really with them or not. God meets their need, but in an unlikely way. The most likely solution to the Israelites problem (thirst) would have been for God to lead them to a river or stream or spring where they could drink. Those would be likely places, normal places, to get water. But God chooses an unlikely place, perhaps the most unlikely place of all, to satisfy their thirst – a rock. A rock is not something that I would have thought of. Of all the places I can think of to satisfy thirst I would have never come up with a rock. Rocks are, to say the least, unlikely places to find water.

Put this in a long list of Biblical examples of God’s grace coming from unlikely places: an ark is built far from the nearest body of water; a donkey speaks a word from God; a teenage boy kills a giant and then rules a nation; a man of God is told to marry a prostitute as a living example of God’s love; a fish becomes the vehicle to deliver a prophet; water gets turned into wine; a boy’s lunch feeds 5,000; and the most unlikely place of all for God’s grace to be found is when the finality of a cross and a tomb become the birthplace of eternal life.

Though not nearly on as grand a scale as these I can come up with my own list of unlikely places of grace. Just like the Israelites thirst, I too at times have felt a desperate need. And just like the Israelites complaint, I have sometimes said (or at least thought), “God, are you with me or not?” I have looked for answers and solutions to my deep needs in all of the most likely places. But more times than not it has been in unlikely places where God has met these needs.  In fact sometimes these unlikely places have at first appeared as hard, immovable obstacles (like rocks). I perceive them as things that are actually standing in the way of what I most need, or at least think I need. There are all kinds of apparent obstacles in our lives that God may want to turn into an unlikely spring of grace to refresh us and to bless those around us.

How does this all happen? Psalm 114 above gives us the answer twice. The “Presence” of the Lord. I capitalize the word Presence because here it almost sounds like person’s name. “Presence” is a person. God’s presence transforms the unlikely broken, hard places of our lives into springs of grace and mercy. And this really is what our heart most thirsts for: the Presence of God, filling the most unlikely places with His grace.

One thought on “Unlikely Places of Grace

  1. Really good, David. Daniel Levitin, brain researcher, talks about the novelty bias in our brains which causes us to notice anything unusual in our environment, a characteristic that helps preserve life. Certainly seems like the kind of divine mischief God may be up to as well… Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


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