Sunday, March 25, 2012

Listening For God In All The Wrong Places

Some stories are worth retelling. Sarah and I were in a small New Zealand town, looking for a church on a rainy Sunday morning. We were told that there was only one, a tiny Anglican congregation where we found ourselves to be mere children in comparison to the rest.

When a small and elderly lady slowly took her seat in the narrow pew directly in front of us, I have to admit I was a little annoyed. There were plenty of seats - why couldn't she sit someplace else? And then the service began. It was High Anglican, very dry, with much standing and sitting and no warning. I found myself thinking about the mountain I wanted to climb the next day, wondering if today church was just a waste of time.

You have been there. The woman who has the seat next to you on a long flight and is glad to discover that you can't sleep either. The guest speaker who is as boring as a stack of gardening magazines. The philosophy book assigned to you that puts you to sleep again every second page.

The small elderly lady sat there with all eyes on her, oblivious to the unspoken fact that it was the time in the service when she was to read a prayer from the book. "Gladys," the minister intoned with her face all condescension, "time to..." Gladys stood up from the pew in front of us and began to read. I am sure that there were some in the room who were embarrassed with her prayer. She read slowly, with strong enunciation and melodrama - or so many people might take it. To me, she read with passion and devotion; it was like listening to Jesus pray.

Then it was time for everyone to get up and say, “Peace be with you." She stood, turned around, looked straight at me and said, “The best is yet to come!” I was rather astonished, because it was the very thing God has said to me all through the year, and I think I had forgotten. It was precisely what I needed to hear in that moment.

We talked with her for a while later – 87 years old, a widow for 12, and very much looking forward to heaven. “It is so good to be a believer, isn’t it?” she said. She took us across the street to the hall where everyone had gathered for tea. Several people wanted to talk with us, and I heard stories about that mountain I wanted to climb, stories I would not have heard anywhere else.

Have you ever stopped at a garage sale on a whim and found the very thing you have wanted for years, and for a song? Sighed as you clicked on yet another link your friend posted for you, and it turned out to change your whole day?

I think God likes to work like that.

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:11, 12 NIV).

And there was God.

Someone asked me the other day how to listen for the voice of God. I thought for a moment, and then told him that I am learning to listen for God in the unlikely places. The voice of the guy who is subbing for the great preacher I was hoping to hear. Random conversations that don't interest me at all. The places I would rather not be, with people I find hard to like. That is where God shows up.

If I am listening for him. Otherwise I might miss him altogether. In fact, these days when my boredom meter is reading, "This sucks!" I find myself watching for God like a camp counselor who gave his kids all the leftover water balloons.

You just know it's coming.

Saturday, March 03, 2012