On a recent Tuesday morning I drove to the church and walked in, ready to begin the week’s tasks. Ordinarily, after checking in with the secretary to see if anything needs my attention, I go right to my desk, unload my briefcase and open my Bible.
On this particular day, though, I stopped to talk with our cashiers. Then I talked with some ladies who had come in to finish painting one of our hallways. Then one of my colleagues in the ministry stopped by, and we talked for a while. After that conversation, I had a message to call someone; when I returned the call, I had a happy talk with the folks on the other end. In fact, all of these conversations were happy ones that left me feeling charged up and encouraged. (You can’t say that about every conversation.)
As I prepared to leave for lunch, I told our secretary, “It’s been a good morning, but it hasn’t gone anything like what I’d expected. I’m gonna go eat lunch, then come back and take another crack at it.” (She was glad to hear me say that, because I was supposed to have been writing an article for her to put in the next newsletter…this article, in fact. Never antagonize a church secretary who needs an article.)
When I was first in the ministry, I would have considered a morning like that wasted, or at least frustrating, because it kept me from reading, praying and studying. But I have come to realize that there are times when God totally up-ends my schedule and surprises me with appointments that are totally of His own making.
Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple. Sometimes He does that with your plans for the day. But when He does it, I think He does so with a twinkle in His eye: He always knows best. It’s as if He says to us, “No, that’s boring! Let’s do this instead!”
Somebody—I want to say it was John Wimber of the Vineyard Church movement—called these kind of meetings “God appointments”. I like that. It helps me to see interruptions as opportunities to minister. Or be ministered to.
It’s amazing to me to think of the profound spiritual conversations I’ve had with people in decidedly unspiritual places: a parking lot, a grocery store, a shopping mall, or Walmart. I never walk in there intending to have a meaningful conversation. But before you know it, you feel the Lord’s hand on your back, giving you a little shove, and first thing you know you’ve stepped into a serious conversation with someone.
It can even happen in a guitar store. If you know me at all you know that I love to play the guitar. (My wife says it keeps me off the streets.) So I also love to go into guitar stores. I don’t go in them for particularly spiritual reasons; I go in to look at the toys. But I’ve lost track over the years of the number of times I’ve found myself in a conversation with someone who was troubled, discouraged, or had a question. One man who worked in a Terre Haute music shop said he wanted to enshrine a particular amplifier, because we’d always go stand beside it when he wanted to talk. Who knew a Marshall amp could be an altar?
You say, “Well, you’re a preacher. Of course people will approach you like that; it’s your job.” Yeah, except a lot of these folks didn’t know I was a preacher when we started talking. (And sometimes, when they find out, they don’t particularly like it! Or they don’t believe it. Every now and then someone will say, “You don’t look like a preacher.” I always respond,
“That’s the nicest thing anybody’s said to me all week!”)
The great thing about these kinds of “appointments” is you don’t have time to get nervous about them, or wonder what you’re going to say. God just surprises you with them. And it’s also amazing how often something you’ve just read in the Bible, or in a book, or heard a preacher say the day before, is just the thing this person needs to hear. (Yes, pastors listen to sermons, too; it’s where we get our best jokes.)
The Apostle Peter said, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15 KJV). That doesn’t have to mean, ‘Be super-serious and try to figure out what to say in advance and get really nervous about it, and maybe when your chance comes, you can blurt out something not too horrible that won’t cause the ground to open up and send someone straight to hell!’
No, instead I think it means: Walk with God. Read His Word, a little every day. Talk to Him about how you’d like your day to go; talk to Him about how you’d like your life to go. Try to do the things He said to do, and avoid the things He said not to do. And if you do that, every now and then people will notice and ask you a question. And you’ll have the answer, because it’ll be something the Father just spoke to you about a day or two before. And you’ll walk away from it saying, “That was really cool, Lord! Do that again!” And He will.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to a guitar store.
Soli Deo Gloria!