What happened at the Big Fork gym today is worth telling. This is the quick, straight, barely-thought-out-version of three encounters with people there. To begin, let’s pray: Father, thank you for how amazingly you put things together. Would you let us feel your Son’s heart so we can respond as we need to in the moment, for it is written, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (I John 1:1). In His Name, Amen.” This account is not to commend myself to you but to say God is pleased to work with the weak, the foolish, and those who have only this holy bond with Christ and have nothing else to offer.
Before my first conversation in Big Fork came the foremost encounter of the day. I sort of blundered into a conversation that wasn’t in my mind but I got invited into it anyway. The Spirit of God showed me that I would meet someone who needed to be encouraged to believe God right at this moment. That clue came so fast I hardly discerned it from my own thoughts . . . but I did. This was my preparation for the day. To make the following easier to get, I’m simplifying the order.
Conversation One. In the gym, a middle aged woman was on the tread mill. I wasn’t sure if the word was for her. So I simply said what was going on in me. “Ma’am, I was just praying for you. I think God is pleased with your faith and he wants to encourage you in that.” She said, “I’m not the least bit interested in religion because of how much damage it’s done me. I’ve terrible memories and I relate all this to a book I’ve read by someone else who’s gone through this too (I can’t remember the name of the book – feeble). Plus, I’m native American and I don’t want to hear anything about your religion.” Hmm, I didn’t know what to say, so as a gentleman I stepped back and let her shut me all down.
O this is going great, right? Lord, this is so not the person you were telling me about, right?
(I pondered some more as I kept working out. I was getting lost in my own thoughts and irritable in her powerful rejection. She had told me to back off and now I had formulated this response: “Ma’am, thanks for your cooperation. You just told me you ain’t ready to meet your Maker yet, even though that day’s coming. He knows. That’s why he sent me to you to have this little talk.” I knew these conclusions were wrong. I prayed. I asked God what to do because I was really defeated and stuck, and there was an evil gloom hanging over me. It was at that moment that I recognized the devil of despair working on me, so I said, “In Jesus Name, get out!.” That terrible feeling lifted and I started to get my mind back.
I was stirred up because there was a growing conviction that this wasn’t over. God didn’t want me to let her lump Jesus in with all those religions. That’s all I had to go on; I must say that. I knew I had to face her once more, but didn’t know how this would go at all. I was supposed to take this risk but didn’t want to. Ok, here goes. I took a deep breath, and said, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to be a pest or make you feel uneasy every time you see me here, but . . . Jesus is not a religion.” She said immediately, “Yes, but there is religion apart from Jesus.” Ok, I thought everyone probably knew that. But check this out: I did not know what I was going to say till I said it – “Right, but this is how you know Jesus is the way: there’s power in Him. And in the Name of Jesus be healed of all those awful memories right now!”
I quit talking immediately. Silence prevailed. She was undone by the power of Christ to heal her, right within her reach. She couldn’t speak a word. That moment was filled with the presence of God. I knew her soul was in the balance right now. Only God knows what happened next. Finally, I wished her a good day. Her countenance had lifted and now there was a twinkle in her eyes. What a privilege to take a risk with God.
Conversation Two. I must include first that at 6:50 am while still mostly dark I prayed that God would make me un-offendable. I wasn’t sure why I was praying that. Here’s why: at the gym there was an elderly lady present who was skinny as a rail, apparently hard-boiled by life, and when she saw me, there came an instant scowl. I’d never seen her before. But when our eyes met, it was like rage. Scary. Was she confusing me with someone else? Was there something I had done that I’d forgotten about? But I didn’t know anybody in Big Fork.
When I saw this I broke eye contact and tried to have at least a little pleasant smile while looking away. I greeted her. Nothing came back. A bit later I had to cross paths with her again. The fury remained. But not to give into intimidation, I stopped by her a little later and said, “Have a Happy Thanksgiving, you and your family, Ma’am.” Somehow, this melted her and a warm smile came over her face. It was awesome and her smile was sunshine. Instead of falling into a foul mood which could’ve wrecked me for the morning, this test was passed because I included her in my spiritual warfare done earlier when the atmosphere was so hostile. The devil had tried to turn me into a crab-case but couldn’t. Thanks, Lord, for giving me that prayer early in the morning
Conversation three. When I first drove up to the gym, just as I unlatched my door, I had to stop to let the guy next to me get out of his truck before me. His wife was with him. Instantly I felt compassion for them. Why? I knew I had to greet him and then found myself saying, “I don’t know what’s going on with you two, but I’ll pray for you when I leave. I believe that God wants you to put your trust in him right now; he’ll show himself faithful.” And he thanked me briefly and we went our separate ways. I didn’t know what to think of this encounter; was this the man God had spoken of early at 6:50?
I forgot all about it. When my workout was done I walked back out to my truck, and who should I meet but the same man and his wife! I knew something was up and excitement began to build. He and his wife approached me. I asked, “How’d that go?” He said, ‘You’ll never know how much your words encouraged us. He said this twice. It was amazing, and God already answered our prayers. “Thanks so much.” God had given him a confirmation ahead of time by my simple words and he was astonished.
And this was the man! I was more than a little blessed. This was almost unbelievable to me, how that word came to pass, given so early that morning. I simply had to be trusting enough to believe that this was the Holy Spirit. So it seems fitting to recollect this verse, as Paul said, “We are fools for Christ’s sake . . . we are weak . . . we are despised” (I Corinthians 4:10). Whose fool are you? Now that’s a good day.