Part 5 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?
In my last post I explained that God guides us, in part, through circumstances. In this post I want to tell a story from my own life in which I experienced this sort of guidance.
When I was a sophomore in college, I wanted to share my Christian faith with others. But, as an introverted person, I wasn’t likely to walk up to a stranger or even a friend and get into a conversation about God. So I decided to pray and ask God to help me.
One brisk Saturday evening in October, I decided to go down to Harvard Square–which was always bustling with people–and see if I could share my faith with somebody. The Square was filled with students from all over the Boston area and it seemed a likely place for God to drop a seeker into my lap. I prayed earnestly for God to guide me to someone with whom I could talk openly about Christianity. “Lord,” I prayed, “you know I’m pretty shy about this. So it would be great if you’d work a little miracle here and find me somebody with whom I could talk about you. And if you could make it obvious, that would be really helpful.” With this prayer in my heart, I set off for the Square.
I wandered around for a while, wondering where “my person” was. “Lord,” I kept on praying, “please bring me somebody who wants to learn about you.” Still nothing happened. After a half hour or so, I began to feel both discouraged and silly. It almost seemed as if God was having a good laugh at my expense.
Just then, two young women approached me. “We’re going to a party at Dunster House,” they explained, “but we don’t know how to get there. Could you help us?”
“Sure,” I said. “Glad to.” Meanwhile I thought to myself, “This is great. Not only has God brought these people into my life so I can talk to them about my faith, but they happen to be two attractive women. God, you’ve outdone yourself this time!” Dunster House was about a ten minute’s walk from Harvard Square, so I figured this would be plenty of time to engage these women in a conversation about God.
On the walk down to Dunster, I kept bringing up subjects that I felt sure would lead to a productive dialogue about Christian faith. “I’m majoring in philosophy,” I said, “Are you interested in philosophy?” They weren’t. “Sometimes I wonder why we’re here on this earth? Do you every think about this?” They didn’t. Basically, all they wanted to do that night was to party at Dunster House, not to reflect on the meaning of life with their overly-eager guide. For ten minutes I tried everything I could think of to get these women to talk about God. Nothing doing. Of the thousands of students in Cambridge that night, it seemed as if they were the least interested in God.
When we got to Dunster House, I walked them to the door. They thanked me and left quickly, no doubt glad to be away from that stranger who kept asking invasive questions. I felt like a complete idiot. “Okay, God,” I prayed, “I get the point. You’ve probably had a good chuckle over my silliness. Well, that’s enough. I’m going home. This was a stupid idea.” I left the entrance to Dunster House and headed back to my dorm.
Just then I passed a student I recognized as being a friend of a friend, somebody I had met briefly during my freshman year. He said “Hi” so I returned the greeting as we went off in opposite directions. All of a sudden he stopped, turned around, and called to me, “Hey, are you Mark Roberts?”
“Yes,” I said, surprised that he remembered my name.
“Well, I’m Matt. I’m a friend of your roommate Bob.”
“Oh, yeah. Hello, Matt,” I said.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” Matt said.
“Me?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, you!” Matt asserted.
“Because I hear you’re a Christian. I need to talk to you about God.”
That’s the line, exactly as it happened. I need to talk to you about God. It couldn’t get much clearer than that, could it?
And so began a conversation that lasted well into the night. That conversation turned into a weekly Bible study, as Matt and I studied the Gospels to find out about Jesus. When we finished, Matt wasn’t ready to give his life to Christ. But he was closer than he had been on that strange night when we met on the sidewalk outside of Dunster House. End of story.
Now I suppose a skeptic could always say that my meeting with Matt was just an accident. But it seems to me much more likely that God used the rather strange circumstances of that evening to guide me–and to guide Matt –so that God’s work would be done in our lives. I could tell a dozen more stories like this, hundreds if I drew from the experiences of people I have known during my years as a pastor. There is no doubt in my mind that the guidance of the Holy Spirit often comes through the circumstances of our lives.
But there is a downside to this kind of guidance. How can we be sure that our interpretation of our circumstances is correct? Suppose I had been so convinced that God wanted me to share my faith with the two young women on their way to the party that I managed to worm my way into the festivities, spending the whole night beating my head against the rock of their disinterest, and thereby missing that providential meeting with Matt. Spiritual guidance through circumstances is great, but it’s usually ambiguous. What will help us sort out the circumstances of our lives so as to discern God’s guidance with confidence?
I’ll tackle this question in the next post in this series.