A few years ago I read the following quote by Frank Laubach, “All you need to do in order to start God speaking is fix your attention on Him first thing in the morning. Look up at the ceiling and say: Lord, speak. I’m listening. If your own noisy, feverish ideas have subsided enough, there often begins to flow a gentle rain of ideas fresh with the clean flavor of heaven.”
When I read that, I decided to ask God to allow me to join Him in what He was doing in the world. I’ll have you know that is a dangerous prayer. Don’t pray that prayer unless you are willing to do it.
When I got up in the morning, I said, “God, help me. Help me be present to what you are doing today.”
The very day I started praying that prayer, God might as well have put a pulsing neon sign over a guy saying, “Here you go, big fella.”
It happened as I was in the Oakland airport flying home. As I was getting ready to board a Southwest Airline flight, I noticed a young man with white bell bottom pants and a dark blue wool pea coat on. He obviously was in the Navy. He had a cell phone to his ear and had his head pulled down into his coat like a turtle trying to pull its head into its shell. His face was contorted, his knuckles were white as he gripped the phone. He was crying; in fact, sobbing into the phone.
I normally try to send out signals to everyone on a plane that I do NOT want to be approached on a flight. I put my headphones on and shoot the stink eye at everyone. Sometimes I get a Bible out and set on the seat beside me. Leave me alone!
I had full intentions of doing that on this flight as well, but God said do different. It seemed as if God said, “Joe, be present for this guy.”
As I boarded the plane I said to the Lord, “Jesus, I am tired and more grumpy than usual. I am not a good candidate to help this guy, but if you want me to do something, then when I get on board let there be an open seat next to him. I felt comfortable with this plea. The sailor was in group A and I was in group “Z”. Southwest does open seating, so chances are the seat next to him would be taken.
I started down the aisle and there he was and guess what … there was not one, but two open seats next to the sailorman.
I sat down beside him. When we got airborne, I started a conversation with him. Said he was about to be deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln for 3-4 months and he was leaving his new bride. As he told me this his eyes began to brim with tears. We talked some more about his hometown, his hobbies, his favorite football team – and the entire time I was whispering to the Holy Spirit how I was supposed to spiritually help this guy.
As we approached our descent into the airport, he seemed to be getting more apprehensive and I told him he was going to be okay. Then we landed and deplaned and I walked with him down the concourse with his duffle bag over his shoulder. Just at the escalators to go down to baggage, I stopped him and said, “Nick, would you mind if I prayed for you?”
He allowed that it was okay. I said, “How about right here and now.” He sheepishly nodded. I laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed a prayer that only he and Jesus could hear as people walked by us like water flowing around a boulder in a river.
When he looked up, he had tears running down his face and said, “Thank you, Joe. God must have put you on that plane just for me. I will never forget this.”
I lived in Seattle at that time where it rains as a matter of course, but that night as I crawled in bed, I knew something of a different kind of rain; a gentle rain of ideas fresh with the clean flavor of heaven.
And I prayed, “God, I did what you asked. I joined you in the work you were doing today.”
Then I spoke Nick’s name one more time to the Father and fell asleep.
Joe Chambers is the pastor of Mountain Heights Baptist Church and can be reached at 425-446-1596.