A year ago when we were on our way home from Oregon, we stopped, as we most often do, at a Taco Bell in the Tri Cities to have lunch. As we were eating, we couldn’t help overhearing the conversation at a table next to us where two young men were discussing spiritual matters. We introduced ourselves and told them we too were Christians and that I had just retired as a pastor of a little rural church in northwest Montana. It turned out that one of the men pastors a church in Pasco and the other, even younger man, was one of his associate pastors but felt that God was calling him and his wife to go and minister in Asia. We told them that we had some good friends who have been ministering in the same area for a number of years and gave them the names and mission contact.
Well, on our way home from Oregon yesterday, we stopped at the same Taco Bell and as I was getting my drink, I stood next to a man whom I thought looked familiar. As my wife and I sat down to eat and had prayer. This man came over and sat down by us. It was the pastor from Pasco! And, the young couple had not yet gone to Asia but were getting ready to do so. He had lost the contact I had given them and couldn’t remember any of the names. So, again I gave him the names of our missionary friends and their mission and our phone number as well. It was the pastor’s day off, but he had stopped by for lunch before heading to a fitness center to work out. So, what’s the probability of our being there at the same time, having driven that morning from Oregon City, with a couple stops in between? Not real great until you remember who the One is who makes “divine appointments!”
( NOTE: While in Oregon we played a game of “Phase Ten” with the family. You have ten dice and roll three times to try to get ten different combinations of sets and runs of the numbers one through ten. On one roll, I rolled the numbers one through ten, without any “wilds” to help out. I calculated the odds of that, which is one over six to the tenth power. The chance of doing that is one in ten million! But, what were the odds of our meeting up with the pastor in Pasco that we had met a year ago in the same fast-food restaurant. From a human perspective–probably much less than that of rolling the numbers one through ten with ten dice.)
Have you ever thought about the people God has placed in your life at certain times, seemingly coincidental encounters? Don’t forget that God really is in control and nothing happens by chance (except maybe in a dice game!). God makes appointments for us, providing opportunities of ministry. But do we even notice them, let alone take advantage of them?
On one occasion early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, He knew it was wise to leave Judea and go back to Galilee because of the publicity that He was getting in Judea. He didn’t want trouble from the Pharisees who had heard about His popularity and all the people being baptized. Although most Jews when going from Judea to Galilee (and vice versa) would go across the Jordan River to avoid Samaria, Jesus chose to take his disciples through Samaria, which was populated by a mixed race, remnants of the northern tribes who fell to Assyria in 722 B.C. They were racially and religiously mongrel, and abhorred by the Jews. The story is recorded for us by the Apostle John in chapter four of his Gospel. He writes: “So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour (noon). There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.'” (Jn. 4:5-7). This woman, being an outcast among the Samaritans because of her loose lifestyle, had come in the heat of the day to get water. Most would have come earlier while it was cool. But, she had a “divine appointment” with One who would offer her “living water” (v. 10). She responded by leaving her waterpot and running back the city to tell folks she had met the Messiah. Many believed because of her word (v. 39) and many others came to meet Jesus in person (vv. 40-42). Obviously the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at a well near Sychar was not by chance. In fact, even when Jacob dug that well many centuries before, God already had planned that encounter! Mind boggling, isn’t it!
The Bible records many other such divinely orchestrated encounters, like when Philip was having a very successful evangelistic ministry in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13) and an angel of the Lord spoke to him saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza…And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians…and he had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.'” (vv. 26-29). The man was obviously a truth-seeker but didn’t understand what he was reading, so God sent Philip to explain the Scriptures to him. When he did, the man believed and was even baptized by Philip, at which point “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus (some 20 miles North of Gaza!)” (vv. 39,40). Now, God may not transport us in such a fashion today, but He definitely puts us in the place He wants us where He has set up a ministry opportunity, maybe to help someone who is a truth-seeker to understand the Scriptures and to point them to Christ for eternal life.
Remember the slave, Onesimus, who had stolen from his master Philemon in Colossae and had run away to Rome? Well, guess who God had waiting for him there? The Apostle Paul was there under house arrest, but could have visitors. He led Onesimus to Christ and sent him back to Philemon with a letter of explanation that would hopefully spare his life. Tradition tells us that Onesimus later became a minister and even bishop of the church at Ephesus, so I guess Philemon, who may have hosted the church at Colossae in his home, must have responded positively!
I’m sure that God has had many “divine appointments” for you and for me and will continue to make them. We need to be in tune with God the Holy Spirit so that we don’t miss them.