Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking at your own interests, but each of you to the interest of others. Philippians 2:3-4 NIV
About four years ago, I belonged to a church that is considered progressive. The pastor allowed young men to deliver the sermon on youth day. I thought this was pretty cool. Not only did young pastors preach young people ran the entire service on youth day. I am ashamed to say that although I was pleased to learn about the specifics of youth Sunday I was not sold on staying for the entire service at first. Initially, I was thinking about how I could slip out early? Why? I really do not have a decent answer other than I wanted to hear a message from the senior pastor but when God speaks I listen.
Since I had thought about not coming to church anyway that day learning that pastor would not be preaching made me want to leave early. I did not have an appointment or engagement or anything. To be honest the only explanation I can come up with is that Satan was working on me.
Sadly, there were others who had the same thought because a man sitting behind me asked, “who was going to be preaching about the same time I was thinking about leaving.” He said he realized that it was getting pretty late and he had not seen our regular senior pastor come to the pulpit so he wondered if the pastor was preaching? Apparently, the man believed that pastor was the only one capable of ministering when God speaks. Obviously, he was as wrong as I was.
I told him it was youth day and senior pastors would not be preaching. The man replied, well I’m leaving then and he got up and left. Well, that made me think about what I had thought about doing earlier, which was leaving early too. So, after hearing him say what he said, and in the tone, “I realized if I left I wound be in error.
I made up my mind to stay and not allow Satan to taunt me or trick me into leaving which would result in missing out on my blessing.
Suddenly, it became crystal clear that it does not matter how old the Lord’s messenger is when God speaks. Furthermore, if my true reason for coming to church was to worship God what difference did it make if a senior pastor would not be preaching God’s Word. After several minutes of reasoning in my head, I came to my senses. I settled in, prepared my mind and heart to receive the Word.
Minutes later a woman walked up. She asked if anybody was sitting in the seat beside me. I answered no. She took the seat, low and behold, after introducing herself, within seconds, she began making small talk. She asked me about my status with the church, where I was from. Well, after listening to her and looking her in her face, I realized that she was not just making small talk, instead, she was attempting to initiate “big” talk. She appeared to be distressed.
The second that I made eye contact, the woman blurted out that she was going through a divorce, her husband was really being ugly about it. She began to go into detail about her family dynamics, sharing that she had 9 year -old triplet sons and that her husband was trying to take the boys from her.
This is what I got hit with on that early Sunday morning, during youth day services, in a place I initially thought I didn’t need to be.
Now, the first thing that went through my mind after hearing all of this was that “I needed to think before I spoke”, because the last thing I wanted to do, was say the wrong thing. I did not want to break her spirit any more than it had already been.
When God speaks I listen because we are compelled to and respond accordingly. I felt pressured to respond immediately to what the woman had just shared with me, a perfect stranger. Her eyes told story impossible to ignore. I thought about the young pastor’s (sermon title) “RID ME OF MYSELF SO I CAN BELONG. ” Whatever I was about to say had to ring true, sincere and be relevant. It was necessary for me to belong to her feelings and remove myself from mine. This was not the time for assumptions, excessive confidence or misconstrued self-righteousness. She did not need to hear about what I would do if I were her but she could benefit from knowing that I had been there, done that and was living proof that God does not give us more than we can bear? Basically, this woman needed to hear a Word from God through me so she could begin to pick up the pieces of her life.
I began to spill my soul sparing few details about my divorce. Although it had been years since my first divorce I remembered the drama like it had happened the day before. There were some similarities to hers like both of us had children to consider.
Letting her know I had gone through divorce years ago set the stage. She knew I could relate, and when she found out that my divorce involved children too it was on. I told her my ex and I have two children and we divorced after ten years of marriage. But I was not done, I wanted her to know that no matter how bad she thought her situation was somebody else is going through something twice as bad. For instance, my son, and oldest of the two had been killed in a car accident some years ago. And I went on to tell her that in addition to that I lost my mom to breast cancer in 2007, six months later, I lost my dad to prostate cancer in 2008. However, before I could say, “so I know what you’re going through” she said; I lost my mother to breast cancer too in 2008.” When she said that I looked into her tearful eyes with my tearful eyes and we both surrendered. At this point, there was no doubt that she not only knew I understood but it was clear that my heart ached for her even as a stranger. God speaks to his children as though they already know His Word heals.
As I continued talking with her something my mom used to tell us girls came to mind. Mom used to tell us to never tell yourself you can’t make it without a man, or without any human for that matter. She said we come into this world alone and we leave this world alone Jesus is the only man we cannot live without. Conceivably, in marriage and relationships, somebody has to go first, either by death or divorce, one of the two is inevitable. I chose not to share m thoughts with her at that time because I could feel she was not in a place emotionally where she could handle or process the depth wisdom of that depth on the day.
We had talked so long that we looked up and realized service was ending, people were preparing to leave. The woman said she had to pick up her boys from children’s church. But before I could say bless you, nice meeting you and hope to see you again, she asked me for my phone number, while simultaneously reaching into her purse to get her cell phone to put my phone number in it. I also took her phone number and concluded our conversation by telling her that“ she was going to be OK.”
Truly God works in mysterious ways and this circumstance is an example of how God fulfilled his plan in spite of mine. He used me to minister in an unconventional way. Just think, I was initially thinking about leaving service early, before the woman even got there but I did not, I could not because God would not let me. He humbled me, brought me down to naught so that He could fill me with the Holy Spirit, unconditional love and wisdom designed to impart compassion, clarity, and comfort in the life of one who had lost her way.
God appears when least expected. He desires for us to be ready, willing and eager to serve.