**If theology isn’t your thing, skip to the second paragraph for a fun story
A friend recently sent me a meme that upset her and she wanted to know what I thought about it. It was a paragraph written on top of a “spiritual” picture of Jesus. There was a lot of fluff in it, but the one part made me really angry: “Don’t ever stop trusting. And don’t ever stop hoping. God is so ready to give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of – but you have to understand it’s on His timing, not yours.” After reading it, I congratulated my friend for realizing that although there were some truths in this, it was teaching a serious lie. God doesn’t actually care about our dreams – does that sound harsh? Probably, but it’s better to be realistic than to teach this lie to someone like my wife who prayed for fifteen years that her dad would be healed only for him to die in his mid-fifties. I say it’s a lie because where in the Bible does it say anything about God wanting to give us everything we’ve ever dreamed of? I know Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”Luke (9:23b NIV). Maybe I’m misinterpreting this passage (I’m not sure how), but it seems pretty clear that following Jesus isn’t easy. We need to “deny” ourselves (there’s a strange concept for millenials) and carry a burden (we have to struggle? No wonder Christianity is losing popularity). When I read the Bible, it’s very clear that God isn’t our heavenly Santa who gives us what we ask for if we’re good while punishing those who are naughty. The Bible teaches that God is our heavenly Father, which means He is there to encourage us, offer some guidance, and discipline us (discipline? There’s another strange concept for millenials). Like any father, God wants to see us happy and will do things to help that end, but it’s not His priority. His priority is to reach the lost. As the parable Jesus uses in Luke, the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep. My personal happiness or accumulation of material stuff is not as important as someone’s eternal salvation and it’s very selfish of me to forget that. That being said, God does want us to pray and ask for things because like any father, He wants to do good things for us when it’s possible.
My favourite answer to prayer came about eight years ago before I was married. It was back when I was a youth pastor, and it was the night before our annual summer camping trip. Everything was all set to go except I needed one last story to finish up my weekend talks. On camping trips, I really liked having good stories for teaching important lessons while sitting around a campfire, but I couldn’t find anything to use on the last day’s talk – the most important talk. I had been praying about it and looking for something by reading and talking to people, but found nothing until… On the way home from my girlfriend’s house, around midnight (I was wild and crazy), I was praying about it as I stopped at the Terryberry Library – the best name for a library. This was something I had done many times before and many times since, but this time… I had a unique situation. After dropping my books in the drop box, I got back in my car, put on my seatbelt (like a responsible driver), and I was ready to start driving away when I had a knock on my window – that was strange. It was a woman – even stranger. The library is a few blocks from Mohawk College, so I assumed she was a student since she was in her twenties, dressed normal, and she had a backpack. The reason I mention she was dressed normal will make sense in moment; I’m not obsessed with fashion, which is clear by my fashion choices. This young woman asked where a certain place was, and I told her it was on the other end of the city – that was normal. She asked me if I could take her – that was not normal. I said yes thinking it was late, it’s in my direction, and I figured that was the gentleman thing to do, especially when this was before Uber. Without any hesitation, this young woman hopped in the passenger seat and we were off. Not sure what to say and feeling awkward, I told her she was very brave to get in a stranger’s car – probably not the best opener; I might as well of asked, “Have you ever been mugged?” But she smiled and responded, “Why, are you going to rape me?” Now, I have a terrible memory, but I remembered this exact line because it was so jarring – did you just say rape? Shocked, I said, “No, but I’m a pastor, so I’m going to preach to you.” This woman’s next response was almost as shocking as her first: “Really? I was praying I’d be able to talk to a pastor.” And the weird thing was she wasn’t being sarcastic – crazy, right? What were the odds? I normally joke that if you ever want to be left alone at a party, tell people you’re a pastor because it’s like you have a disease the way it scares people off – not her. She had asked God for me… like my wife… in a different way.
If there was a young lady walking around late at night and had zero fear for getting into a stranger’s car and made a joke about being raped, what do you think her career was? If you said healthcare provider you’d be right… if you consider a prostitute a healthcare provider. This young woman told me she got into the profession when she was fourteen and ran away from her abusive stepdad. It was the kind of sad story you expect to hear from someone in her profession. Hearing what she did wasn’t nearly as surprising when she asked to stop at a gas station convenience store to get something, and when she got back in the car said, “I thought you would’ve left.” She clearly wasn’t used to dealing with decent people… or pushovers in my case. I think the strangest moment with her was when she said, “You know, I’ve never F***ed a pastor before.” To which I said, “So I guess we have that in common.” I thought I was funny. I then added, “I’ve actually never had sex with anyone.” At that time, I was 32, so I was more than double the age she became a prostitute, so we clearly had two very different backgrounds. If she was older and three hundred pounds heavier, with my comment, I’m pretty sure I would’ve given her a heart attack. After a few minutes, she exclaimed, “I’ve never met a grownup who was virgin. My friends are going to think this is crazy!” to which I responded, “And I’ve never met someone with your profession before. My friends are going to think this is crazy… we have very different friends.”
We only talked for about thirty minutes before I dropped her off in a parking lot where another car was waiting for her – that was weird. I gave her my number and told her to call me – sounds weirder than it was. I have since learned to always ask for a number if I want to talk to someone again because other people never follow through.
What’s great about this story is it was an answer to both our prayers. I prayed for a story I could use on the camping trip and she got to meet a pastor and see that God cared about her. I hope that she started making better life choices after we met that would lead her to a better life, but I’d be surprised if I gave her anything but a fun story for her friends: “You met a 32 year old who hadn’t had sex? How ugly was he?”
Writing this story I said a prayer for her because sometimes there’s nothing we can do but pray. It may not feel like a lot, but at least it gives me something tangible to do. God doesn’t care about my selfish dreams, but He does like to answer prayers because He likes to make us smile.
This week may you consider what the difference is between God spoiling us versus reaching out and showing that He cares.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)