Book Study: Surprise the World! — Developing Habits

Surprise the World - Developing Holy Habits

In this series, we have been looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what a missional set of habits would look like. In our last several reflections, we have looked at the five letters which stand for BLESS, EAT, LISTEN, LEARN, and SENT.

In this final reflection, I want to talk about Frost’s insights on developing habits. Being a blessing to our neighbours and pointing to the Kingdom of God are not one-time events. Frost is talking about something much more interesting: a whole life lived in this way.

That seems like a tall order! How is it possible? Frost teaches that building habits in our lives leads to inner transformation over time. He wants us to practice each of the B.E.L.L.S. habits regularly, and starts us off with some suggestions.

1) Bless three people every week – at least one of whom is not a member of the church.

2) Eat with three people every week (this is harder in Covid, but the idea is important.)

3) Spend at least one period of every week listening for the Spirit’s voice.

4) Spend at least one period of every week learning Christ.

5) Reflect throughout the week on the times you have been sent to alert others to the universal reign of God through Christ.

Habits take a lot of time. Studies have shown that it can take an average of 66 days to form a habit. Of course, some habits are easier than others. For instance, people who have resolved to drink more water in the day can form this habit quickly. Those who tried something harder like “50 sit-ups after morning coffee” took a lot longer. To develop these habits takes time, which is why we have suggested following a Rule of Life.

Support for Developing Habits

Developing habits is easier with the support of a couple of other people who would like to do this with you. Frost calls these small groups DNAs, which stands for Discipleship, Nurture, and Accountability. The groups meet on a regular basis to talk about their experiences of B.E.L.L.S. This reflection piece is crucial. It brings the experience full circle. The DNA acronym helps form the conversation. The Discipleship piece would include reflecting on your experience of B.E.L.L.S. since the last meeting. ‘Nurture’ involves seeing the group as a helpful support, especially when life is difficult and tricky. The final one, Accountability, means that we have someone to talk with and keep us from giving into laziness or fear. The point of habit formation is not instant perfection, but transformation over time.

However you live your call as a follower of Jesus, remember that you are spiritually fed by the love of God in Christ in order to be a blessing to the world. And don’t forget, if you want to explore these ideas in greater depth, you can always read his book!

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Sent by Jesus

Surprise the World! -- SENT

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In previous reflections, we looked at the first four letters, which stand for BLESS, EAT, LISTEN, and LEARN. Today, we are looking at the fifth and final habit: SENT by Jesus.

This last habit is different from the other four. It is not so much about doing something as it is growing into an identity, which is to see yourself as one who is sent by Jesus. Who we are affects how we live. At the beginning of the Christian movement, all of the disciples were sent out to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They understood that, while every Christian was not called to be an Evangelist, every Christian was meant to be an ambassador for Christ.

Over time, “missionary” came to refer to a select group of people who traveled to foreign countries as Evangelists to proclaim the good news of Christ. And that is important and necessary work. But back home, where most everyone was Christian, there didn’t seem to be much need of ambassadors for Christ. That was someone else’s job that happened somewhere else.

Called and Sent by Jesus

Part of the Missional movement is to help people reclaim their identity as being called and sent by Christ. Michael Frost invites us to take time during the week to claim this identity by reflecting on it by journaling. Even if we don’t journal, we might take some time to look over the week and see where we have been able “to alert others to the universal reign of God through Christ.”

He reminds us again that this is not about being an Evangelist. Not everyone has that gifting. Rather, by living this life of blessing, eating, listening, and learning, we are offering through our lives a glimpse of God’s love in action. Our lives point to the Kingdom of God when we live according to its values. Here are four of them:

1. Reconciliation

At the heart of our Christian faith is the great reconciliation between God and humanity through the cross of Christ. This greater reconciliation becomes the foundation for reconciliation to grow “between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, black and white and Asian and Hispanic, and so on.” The act of reconciliation is a core expression of God’s reign and rule. We announce and demonstrate God’s Kingdom through reconciliation.

This is why reconciliation between Indigenous and settler people has been so central to our mission in the Anglican Church of Canada over the last several decades. But we are also called to reconciliation in our own lives. We are called to allow God’s healing to infiltrate relationships where they are broken by anger, hurt, and unforgiveness.

2. Justice

In our baptismal vows, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,” as we respond, “I will with God’s help.” The church at its best has always looked for ways to help the marginal or disadvantaged. Christian greats such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon led campaigns for the betterment of society. More recently, people like John Stott, Martin Luther King Jr., and Desmond Tutu have engaged deeply in causes around poverty and racism. When we work for justice, we work for the Kingdom of God.

3. Beauty

Beauty is a central pointer to the Kingdom of God. We can feel the presence of God deeply on a mountaintop or in a beautiful cathedral. Where do you experience beauty? Is it through a piece of music that deeply touches your soul, or the well-ordered cells under a microscope? How do we create beauty? How do we spend time encouraging beauty or experiencing it?

4. Wholeness

Jesus didn’t just talk about the Kingdom of God. As he worked to heal broken people, he showed us how much God wants wholeness for a hurting world. Some professionals—nurses, doctors, mental health professionals, and so on—are dedicated to wholeness in various ways. But everyone can further wholeness through acts of encouragement, blessing, and healing for people who are struggling. This is the deeper meaning of blessing others (missional habit #1). It might look like a listening ear, but it is also a sign of God’s love for that person THROUGH you.

Frost encourages us not just to do all of these things, but also to take the time to reflect on them. Reflecting on our experiences brings greater depth. We gain insight when we examine how we felt about a certain experience. We learn about ourselves by taking the time to discern how God is operating in our lives. Spend some time reflecting and identify where you have been acting for the Kingdom. This action will help you to see more opportunities as they arrive. Own your identity: God has called you and sent you.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — LEARN Jesus

Surprise the World! - LEARN

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last three reflections, we looked at the first three letters, which stand for BLESS, EAT, and LISTEN. Today, we turn to the fourth habit: LEARN Jesus.

Frost talks about how important it is to LEARN Jesus Christ. He reminds us that everything we do as Christians is about Christ; it is built into our name. Jesus Christ is the reason for our hope. He is the one who has won our salvation and who teaches us what life with God looks like. Therefore, it makes sense that as Christians, we should know Jesus really well.

Catch the Jesus Wave

Frost tells the story of going to speak at a gathering of Christian surfers in Australia. He asked them who their favourite surfer was. They gave several different answers, but it was also clear that everyone was in awe of one superstar surfer: Kelly Slater. When Frost asked them to tell stories about Slater, the room erupted. People talked about all kinds of feats and awards.

Then he asked them to talk about Jesus. There was some silence, even though this was a Christian group. Some said things like ‘He’s Lord,’ or ‘He died for our sins.’ These doctrinal statements led to the point Frost wanted to make: what would it be like if they knew Jesus as well as they knew Kelly Slater?

Jesus is our teacher, our mentor, our guide, our saviour, our brother, and yes, our Lord. He did some amazing things, and taught profound wisdom. But if we are going to live like him and tell others about him, we need to know him as well as those surfers knew their hero.

Learn Jesus

Frost challenges us to spend some time once a week learning about Christ. The best way to do that is ‘a deep and ongoing study of the biographies of Jesus written by those who knew him best – the Gospels.’ Frost says that we need to not just read about Jesus, but to immerse ourselves completely in the Gospels, in the work and words of Jesus. In this way, we come to know Christ better and better, while we are drawn deeper into his life and are formed by him. This is our purpose. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:

In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.

Frost suggests three ways to know Jesus better:

1) Study the Gospels to Learn Jesus

Read, reread, and reread the Gospels. This doesn’t exclude other study, and you don’t have to do this all at once. But the Gospels are the heart of our faith because they tell of Jesus, the heart of everything. Set aside a period of time every week to learn Christ.

2) Read about Jesus

There are lots of great books about Jesus, both at a popular and scholarly level. Some suggestions:

Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright

Jesus the Fool by Michael Frost

King’s Cross by Tim Keller

The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright

3) Movies about Jesus

No movie captures everything about Jesus. By exploring a range of films, we can see how people encounter Jesus even today. Some of them, like Godspell, aren’t true to life, but seek to capture different aspects of Jesus’ character and action.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Listen to the Holy Spirit

Surprise the World: LISTEN

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe how this might look. In our last two reflections, we covered the first two letters, which stand for BLESS and EAT. Today, we are looking at the third habit: LISTEN to the Holy Spirit.

Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit is crucial for our missional life. Frost tells us that we need to be attentive to the guiding of the Holy Spirit as we move out into the world to bless people and to eat with them. We need the Holy Spirit to help us in this crazy and complex world. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit to help us not to give into the two mission killers: fear and laziness.

It is easy to be afraid of what people will say when they find out that we are followers of Christ. Laziness tells us that we don’t have time and that we should take care of ourselves first. It is good to take care of ourselves as long as we don’t get stuck there. The grace of the Holy Spirit calls us into both/and rather than either/or.

We don’t just listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance. It is also about spending rejuvenating time with God. God’s call on our lives is more of a marathon than a sprint. To be effective, we also need to be centered. In his book Satisfy Your Soul, Bruce Demarest writes,

A quieted heart is our best preparation for all this work of God… Meditation refocuses us from ourselves and from the world so that we reflect on God’s Word, His nature, His abilities, and His works… The goal is simply to permit the Holy Spirit to activate the life-giving Word of God.

The paradox of living a missional life is that for the extraverts, being a blessing to people and eating with them is a real blessing, whereas the idea of sitting quietly seems like a drag. On the other hand, introverts can enjoy the silence but dread the effort of getting out and being with people. Frost writes that while he appreciates the dilemma, we need to be balanced. We need both the action in the world, and the nurturing time with God. For those who are not used to time in prayer, he suggests picking one significant period of time each week in the presence of God. In this way, we step outside the frantic and harried nature of life, and we will have something to give those around us.

Here are his suggestions:

1) Set Aside a Designated Time

Don’t try to do this on the run or whenever you find time. Set aside a block of at least twenty minutes to listen to God.

2) Eliminate Distractions

The quieter and less busy the room, the better. If there is a distraction, then your mind will go to it. Turn the phone off.

3) Let God In

Start by simply enjoying God’s presence. If you find your mind wandering, use a short prayer to bring you back.

4) Follow God’s Promptings

The Spirit might bring something to mind, like someone’s name or face. Pray for them and be on the lookout for ways to be a blessing to them. Learn to discern the movement of the Spirit in your soul over time. Frost writes, “As we become more familiar with listening to the Spirit as a kind of weekly rhythm, we’ll also find ourselves becoming more adept at hearing the Spirit in real time, in the midst of encounters with our neighbours, as we bless or share a meal or otherwise get in the way of the people around us.” LISTEN.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Eating Together

Surprise the World -- EAT

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last reflection, we looked at the first letter, which stands for BLESS. Today, we are looking at the second habit, EAT.

Frost challenges his readers to try to eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of the church. Of course, this is much harder in the time of Covid. It might have to be a coffee or a walk outside. Even if we have to wait for Covid to end, it is still worth pondering why eating with someone is so important.

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Frost reminds us that eating and hospitality have a special place in Christian practice. Eating together was the one thing that Jesus told us to do when we meet. We are familiar with the Eucharist, but Christians also celebrated love-feasts, a time of eating and being together. The table with food is the central symbol of Christian gathering. Frost writes, “It represents hospitality, inclusivity, generosity and grace.” It may not seem like much, but in the ancient world, the Emperor Julian the Apostate complained that meals of hospitality were one of the central ways that Christians were ‘perverting’ the empire! There is power in gathering.

Eating Together to Change the World

When Frost encourages us to eat with other, he is not talking about the sacrament. He means a meal and hospitality. Why? Because there is something special about sharing a meal together. It has deep meaning in every culture. He writes, “The table is the great equalizer in relationships. When we eat together we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories. And hopes. And fears. And disappointments. People open up to each other.”

His friend Alan Hirsch goes further: “Missional hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God! If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!”

Eating Together as a Sign of Grace

As with blessing, we don’t invite people into our homes because we expect them to become Christians or come to our church. We invite them because we want to get to know them at a human level. But the act of inviting people in and showing them the love of hospitality is a sign of the kingdom of God.

Whether or not it leads to a conversation about faith, we leave that to God. In having fellowship, we don’t judge people’s lifestyles or eating (or drinking) habits. It is an act of grace to prepare food for another person and get to know them around a table. And who knows, you may learn something new and grow a new friendship. God can do lots of great things over a simple dish of food.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — BLESS

Surprise the World: Bless

In this series on Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World!, we are looking at missional habits. What is wonderful about this book is that Frost gives us an easily understandable way to faithfully live out the Christian life. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S., which stands for Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent. The idea is that while we are not each called to be Evangelists, we are called to bless the world through our life.

God calls us to point people to the Kingdom of God through our actions, and if needed, our words. We do this by living surprising lives, lives that make people notice that something is different in the way that we live. What are these habits that people notice?

Living Blessing

The first one is BLESS. Frost challenges every Christian intentionally to bless three people every week. One person should be from within the church; one person should be outside the church, and the third person could be either.

To bless someone is one of the simplest things we can do. The word ‘bless’ originally meant a few different things. It meant to speak well of someone or to praise them. It also meant conferring material or spiritual well-being upon someone. As the word has evolved, we now use it in the sense of building people up, filling them with encouragement so that they can increase in strength and prosperity.

Frost puts it like this: To bless someone else is “anything that relieves their burden in life. Anything that helps them breathe more easily. Anything that lifts their spirit or alleviates their distress. It can be a small thing or large.” Blessing can take a number of different forms. Frost gives us three common examples to start us off.

Bless with Words of Affirmation

This is the simplest way to bless someone. It is as simple as sending someone a note letting them know that you have noticed something about them or appreciated something that they did. You can pick up the phone, or just say something in passing. People really appreciate words of encouragement. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” To affirm something about someone is to connect with them beyond the superficial.

Bless with Acts of Kindness

This is the simple action of doing someone a favour with no desire for acknowledgement or reward. There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous card which contains nine daily promises. One of them is “I will do somebody a good turn and will not get found out.” Obviously, it doesn’t matter if you ‘get found out,’ but the idea is to just do something nice as a principle. Is there a neighbour you can help? Someone in your family who is struggling? Is there somewhere you can volunteer? Everyone appreciates someone who gives.

Bless with Gifts

We all like to get gifts on a birthday or at Christmas. But Frost challenges to go one step further. How about random gift giving? At the heart of love is the act of giving. Giving a gift is a symbol of love; that is why they are special. A gift doesn’t have to be big, but it requires us to be on the lookout for what others need. Is there a struggling family who could use a casserole? Is there a book that someone has been talking about? Maybe just a balloon for a small child? Whatever it is, it will be a blessing.

Bless with No Ulterior Motives

Frost is encouraging us to lead surprising lives. But he also adds a small word of caution here. While we bless people as a way of living surprising lives, we have to be clear that we are doing this for no other reason than to be a blessing. There is no agenda. There is no expectation. For instance, if someone takes your gift and never thanks you and throws it in the garbage, that is not your issue. We only want to be a blessing because we have been blessed so richly in Jesus.

How have you been blessed yourself? How have you blessed others? Add your thoughts in the comments.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! by Michael Frost

Surprise the World book study

We have just finished a series on prayer; now, I would like to reflect on how our prayer life ‘spills out’ into our everyday lives. While prayer is always present in the Christian life, God is also calling us outward into the world to point people to the Kingdom of God.

This may sound like I am talking about evangelism. I am not, or at least not like we often imagine it. Michael Frost has written a splendid little book that is really helpful on this issue: Surprise the World. Frost is a missiologist from Australia and is one of the leading voices in helping churches understand their missional context. I am going to spend the next several reflections going through the main ideas in this book.

Being an Evangelist and/or Being Missional

The first issue he deals with is this question of evangelism and who is comfortable doing it. He knows that there are many evangelists who believe that everyone should be an evangelist. But he points out that “certainly the vast majority of Christians I know don’t feel much like evangelists.” He says that, contrary to popular myths, not everyone is called to this ministry, although some are. He goes on to say that if people ask about our faith, we should be prepared to answer. But most people are not comfortable intentionally striking up a faith conversation, and that is okay. That may not be your calling. And yet… to be missional is to point people to the Kingdom of God. How does that work?

Living Missionally

This is what he says: “Evangelistic mission works effectively when we are living generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighbourhoods – and when the gifted evangelists in our midst join us in sharing Christ with our neighbours.” For most us, the mission comes when we lead ‘surprising—and even questionable—lives.’ When I first read that, I did a double take because, for me, questionable means doing something that most people would disapprove of! Instead, he means that our lives should move others to ask why we live that way. The fact of the matter is that living a ‘fine, upstanding, middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs’ isn’t going to raise a lot of questions. It is just ‘normal.’

Surprise the World by Leading “Questionable Lives”

Frost considers the story of the rise of Christianity in the ancient Roman Empire. It is surprising that the faith should have grown at all because the Roman Emperors violently persecuted the early Christians. They expected that they could suppress the church so much that it would evaporate over time. Instead, they were shocked to find that it was growing by leaps and bounds. Many factors were responsible for this growth, but one of the key reasons was that Christians led ‘questionable lives.’

In the ancient pagan world, there was no concept of the dignity of every human being. The Emperors were quite content to have people starve and live in abject poverty. There was no charity as we understand it today. If the Emperor gave bread to the masses, it was to buy their support.

St. Francis caring for people with leprosy.

In this difficult environment, the Christians relentlessly out-loved the Empire. They fed the poor and invited them to their tables. They buried the dead whom others had left to rot. Christians took care of the sick when no one else would. When their neighbours saw that kind of love, they started to ask questions, converting by the thousands. The love of Jesus lived out was evangelistic because it pointed to the Kingdom of God.

Develop “Missional Habits”

Even though we inhabit a different time and place, Frost believes we can learn the same basic truth: we need to develop ‘Missional Habits’. These form the acronym B.E.L.L.S. (Bless others, Eat together, Listen to the Spirit, Learn Christ, understand yourselves as Sent by God into others’ lives), and they are a simple way to live out the Gospel in our everyday lives. In this way, we can live in a way that raises good ‘questions’ from those around us. We will look at each of these habits over the next five reflections.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • When you hear the words “evangelism” and “mission”, what comes to mind?
  • Have you known someone who leads a surprising, ‘questionable life’? How did they live that made you take notice?
  • How have you received and shown the love of Jesus?

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(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.