Not long ago I was running some errands for the church, which had me making a circuitous route between the office supply store, the bank, and, I thought, the local Meijer grocery store. Once I finished at the bank and the office supply store, I was on my way to the grocery store to pick up some snacks for the youth group. As I was driving, though, I felt a very strong urge to stop at another store (a discount retailer called Ollie’s) instead of Meijer. I had no idea, in that moment, why I should change my plan. I knew Ollie’s would have snack supplies there, but as is the case with these kinds of stores, you’re not sure what they would have to offer. Meijer would certainly seemed like the better choice – I knew what they carried and that they would have what I was looking for. However, there was no denying that I was being led to go to Ollie’s, so I pulled into the parking lot of the store and went inside.
If you’ve been into the Ollie’s here, you’ll know that the first display you come across as you enter the main doors is a large book section, and if you know me, you’ll know that it is near impossible for me to walk past such a display without perusing! I was excited to find a couple of books (like Tim Hawkin’s autobiography and a great recent book on Jesus), but as I was walking down the aisle, there was a lady doing the same thing I was. As we stood next to each other, looking over the selection, she said to me, “This is a dangerous place for me to be.” I replied, “You aren’t kidding!” With both of us thumbing through the Christian section, there was a pretty good sense that we were fellow believers, and she began sharing some things about her pastor and church in Ohio. I shared some things as well, just making small talk. Then, her demeanor changed; her face revealed that she was wrestling with something. She looked at me and said, “Pastor, how would counsel someone who was facing a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis?”
In a moment, I knew why the Spirit had led me to this store at this time. I thought I had stopped in the store to buy snacks (and, apparently, some books), but the reality was that God had ordained another purpose: speaking some words of comfort and encouragement to Linda, this woman whose eyes were filling with tears in the middle of a busy store. We spoke of God’s love for us in Jesus and how this broken, marred world has a lot of stuff in it that is awful – multiple sclerosis included. I shared with her how the trials we endure can be used by God for His greater glory and how our testimonies of God’s sufficient grace can be amplified through how we respond to illness in our lives. I shared how this illness, if the diagnosis was positive, would not define her, but rather how her identity as a blood-bought saint was in Christ alone. The anxiety was real, as was the pain she was experiencing, but as I shared words of Scripture with her, you could see the anxiety melt away. Before we parted, I asked her if I could pray for her – right there, right then. She enthusiastically accepted the offer, so I placed my hand on her shoulder and began lifting her before the throne of grace…with the store watching.
There are moments when our agendas might be amended by the Holy Spirit, because He has another task for us. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, even when it might not make sense to you in the moment. It’s easy to just keep your car pointed in the original direction you were going, dismissing that feeling as just that – a feeling. But you never know when you’re going to be used by God to bless a Linda, whom God will put in your path. Just something to think about…