I’ve got two crazy stories to tell. One will be brief, since you probably already know it because it’s in the Bible. The other one happened to me about a year ago.
In Acts 16 Paul implements a mission strategy to reach people that he’s already had success in: go to a religious place and talk about Jesus. In this case he goes to a group of praying women, and then Lydia and her household are baptized after Paul teaches them. Pretty cool, the strategy worked.
If it worked before, it would probably work again, right? So Paul goes to another place of prayer to try and convert some people, but a wrench gets thrown in the mission strategy. A crazy fortune-teller girl starts pestering Paul, and the text even says Paul gets pretty aggravated by it. After all, he’s trying to do God’s work and this annoying girl just won’t go away. He has a couple of options: do something about it, or continue on with his previous strategy. But, Paul decides to go for it and do something. Eventually he casts out her spirit of divination, which leads to even crazier events.
The whole town gets pretty mad, and Paul and others get thrown into prison. Again, Paul could easily just get annoyed again by another plan foiled. But, instead he sings to God, and an earthquake comes and frees all the prisoners. You know the rest. Paul converts the jailer and his entire household.
The interesting thing is that Paul set out with a plan for God, and that plan was cut short by some pretty bothersome circumstances (an annoying girl and a prison sentence). But, Paul had something special: a willing heart. He was willing to be sidetracked and allow God to do something crazy, and in the end his story of success here was probably much bigger than it would have been had he just gone to another place of prayer.
Something similar happened to me. About a year ago Alisha and I were visiting some friends in Austin (Chris and Rachel Bennett). I had been preaching most Sundays in Hart lately, so I was looking forward to one Sunday where I could just listen instead of preach.
That Saturday night Chris was joking about me being a preacher, and made some joke about if I was somehow called on to preach last minute would I do it. We talked about it for a bit, and I told him I could probably do it because I preach every Sunday, so I have a lot to pick from. But, of course, in what universe would I randomly be asked to preach at a visiting church? And why would I even want to? “That’s so prideful to think about. I don’t even want to,” I thought. “This will be nice to just listen for once.”
The next morning I sat in Chris’s Bible class, and happened to flip through some of my sermons wondering what I would preach if I happened to be asked to preach last minute. It was like I couldn't shake the thought. But I laughed out loud, put my sermons away, and inwardly chastised myself for being so ridiculous. “Pay attention,” I thought. “You’re being prideful.”
That Church happened to have a guest speaker that morning. But when Church was starting, I asked one of the elders about it, and he got frantic when he realized the man wasn’t there yet. It was like a beehive getting stirred as they ran around trying to figure out where this guy was. I thought, “There’s no way this guy won’t be here. He’s got to call or something.”
Alisha (being a good wife) told Chris to volunteer me to speak, but I was kind of frozen because it was like my thoughts were coming true. “I don’t even want to preach today, what on Earth is going on?” I thought. Eventually, right after the Lord’s Supper, one of the elders approached me and told me, “Looks like you’re up.” So I went to the back and tried to find something recent enough I remembered well, and when I found one Chris came back to pray with me. When we were done I told him I had to look over my lesson, because I had preached it a month earlier. Right then one of the elders came back and wanted to pray with me. And when he finished the prayer, they were introducing me. It’s then I prayed, “God, this is weird. I haven’t even looked over this. Looks like you’re up, too.”
I got up there, and did the best I could. I preached a sermon I had done recently called, “8 Modern Lies About Christianity” as a part of a series on Colossians. Among the lies were things like, “Being right is more important than living right,” “Christianity is primarily about what happens on Sunday,” and "Christianity is primarily a political religion." Based on people’s faces I wasn’t sure if it was going well or not. I thought maybe I was making people angry.
Well, I preached as best I could and stepped down, not sure what to think (and still dazed that I even preached to begin with). But I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think every last person in that Church came to tell me that sermon dealt with exactly where they were and that they needed it so badly. It was the strangest thing. I was in shock.
On top of that, they paid us for speaking, which happened to be around the exact amount we needed that month because of some unexpected expenses. I don’t know what happened from it all, but I do know God was in it. Here I was expecting to lay down my preacher hat for a weekend and just go somewhere, when God threw one of the coolest opportunities I’ve ever had right in my lap. I could have said no. I could have let someone else do it. But because I was willing (though inadequate, scared, and incredibly nervous) God used me to do something special.
I think that’s how God works. He doesn’t need talented people. He needs people to raise up their hands and say, “I don’t know what it will look like, but here I am for Your purposes, God. Please use me.” And, He will.
Note: The guest speaker had a flat tire and had left his cell phone at home.
-Joshua Tucker, AIM '04