When opportunity knocks is an old saying that basically conveys the message that we shouldn’t pass up a chance to improve ourselves or our situations in life. Could it also mean that we shouldn’t turn our backs on opportunities to help someone else?
Three months ago I was given the opportunity to lead a group of young ministry students from Highlands College in LIFE, a Bible study/life walk course. I accepted the invitation, and for the last nine Friday mornings I’ve had the blessing, honor, and privilege of doing exactly that.
Willingness and Obedience
About a month ago, I closed one of our meetings by assuring the guys that when it comes to serving the Lord, if you will walk with willingness and obedience in your heart, He will give you amazing opportunities to reach others for Him. In other words, be willing to take advantage of each and every opportunity to share with someone, even if doing so is a little out of your comfort zone. That’s where the obedience comes in.
“Be willing and obedient,” I urged them. “You’ll be amazed at the opportunities you’ll have to make a difference.”
That same weekend my wife Jackie and I hit the road for a weekend trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend a NASCAR race with a good friend who had excellent seats in a reserved area of the speedway.
We arrived at our hotel at 11:00 A.M. on Saturday, well ahead of check-in time of 3:00 P.M. Much to our surprise (and delight) our room was available and the gentleman at the hotel front desk graciously gave us the room key.
So there we were, sitting in Charlotte a full five hours before we were to meet our friend Scott and his father in the hotel lobby. Jackie commented that we had driven by a shopping mall on way in, thought that she might go and do a little shopping, and asked if I’d like to go.
At first I politely declined, telling Jackie that I’d just hang around in the room and watch some college football. Then I thought, “What the heck. We haven’t taken a weekend trip in a while, and I can watch football any time. I’m gonna spend some time with my wife.”
We wound up in Nordstrom’s, a huge department store located in the shopping center. Upon entering the store, Jackie made a beeline for women’s shoes (her favorite department) with me in tow.
As we entered the sprawling shoe area, four different salespersons approached Jackie to offer assistance. Her reply to each was a polite, “Thanks, but I’m just looking.”
The fifth salesperson, a young man in his twenties, walked right past Jackie towards me, and as he approached asked “And how are you today sir?”
“I’m awesome!” was my immediately reply. But then God nudged me a bit, and without missing a beat, I added, “Actually, I’m better than awesome. You see, I’m blessed and highly favored.”
What transpired during the following twenty minutes (during which Jackie tried in several pairs of boots) was a Spirit-filled and emotional conversation between a shoe salesman from Boston and a salon owner from Birmingham. We talked about God, Jesus, and ministries. We also promised to stay in touch.
Willingness + obedience = opportunity
Nine days later, on a Monday night, I was given the opportunity to share my testimony with a group of teenagers at a Church of The Highlands campus in Tuscaloosa, which is about forty minutes south and east of Birmingham.
As with the Highlands College group, I urged this gathering of young people to walk with that same willingness and obedience, adding that “Sometimes we just have to get past ourselves and get out of the way to let God work through us.”
The very next night Jackie and I had planned on taking Brooke (our live-in ministry student from Minnesota) and Cam (Brooke’s boyfriend who was visiting from Minnesota) out to dinner. It was Cam’s last night in town, and we wanted to do something special to cap off his visit.
At the last minute, and upon Cam’s suggestion, we decided to visit a nearby Japanese Hibachi grill that Jackie and I had been meaning to try for some time. If you’ve never experienced Hibachi cooking, it encompasses sitting around a huge flat-top grill as a chef prepares a meal for each person at the “table.” The entertainment value of watching the talented chef performing his craft is sometimes better than the food itself!
The four of us were flanked on the right by a mother and her high school aged daughter. To our left was a couple that was accompanied by their teenage son.
As the chef began preparing dinner, and as is so often the case, everyone at the table became engaged in one big laughter-filled conversation. At some point during our meal, the lady to our right asked if Brooke was our daughter. After chuckling a bit and proclaiming Brooke to be our sort-of-but-not-really-adopted-daughter, we explained why Brooke was with us. From that point on, the conversation turned to not only the ministry program, but to our church, and of course, to God.
When all of the food had been prepared and the chef had moved on to his next station, things quieted down a bit as we finished the last of our meal. It was during this time that the gentleman to our left said to no one in particular, “Hey, I’d really appreciate it if you guys would mention Nancy in your prayers.” (I won’t use her real name out of respect for her privacy)
As Nancy’s eyes began to fill with tears, her husband explained that Nancy had undergone a hysterectomy on the previous Thursday, and that while in surgery her physician noticed that her appendix didn’t look “quite right”, so they had removed it. They had just gotten the lab results back that afternoon, and the results weren’t so good; Nancy’s appendix, though contained, was malignant.
While Nancy’s husband was still talking, Brooke and I took a knowing look at one another. We both knew what was going to happen…
After I had paid our check, I excused myself from the table to get something from the car that I wanted to give to Nancy. It was a small bracelet inscribed with Philippians 4:13:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I stood outside the door of the restaurant, anxiously waiting for everyone to come out; I knew what I was gonna do, and I have to tell you that I wasn’t really comfortable with it.
Just as I had hoped, my threesome stepped out of the restaurant accompanied by Nancy, her husband, and her son. As they did, I nervously yet boldly walked up to Nancy and asked her to extend her hand. When she did, I slipped the bracelet onto her wrist and told her that it would serve as a reminder that with God all things are possible, and that with Jesus she could indeed beat the cancer that was in her body.
Nancy began to cry, and fighting even harder to maintain my composure, I turned to her husband and said, “You asked us to pray for Nancy. Well, how about right now?”
Still standing in front of Nancy, I took both of her hands in mine and stepped in closer. Everyone else formed a circle around us and put their hands on us. As they did so, I began to pray out loud for Nancy to be healed. At the same time, I was aware of the others praying too, and I could feel God’s Spirit with us. You see, He always shows up if you call on Him; even if it’s a small group of believers huddled up in prayer standing just outside the doors of a Japanese Hibachi steak house!
When we’d finished praying, we hung around for a few minutes in conversation. I don’t think that any of us wanted the moment to end. The feeling of God in and around us was palpable. Amazing. Humbling. Numbing. Filled with promise and hope.
As I type this, I don’t know if it is in God’s plans for Nancy to be cured of cancer. I told her husband that very thing. None of us knows what God has planned for us.
There’s one thing that I do know. God will give us opportunities to stand in the gap for someone and believe for them that with God all things, even healing cancer, is possible. We just have to act on those opportunities. That night, God gave us the opportunity to plant one small seed of hope in that family, and we made the most of it.
I can’t speak for Nancy and her family, but I feel safe in saying that it was a moment that Jackie, Brooke, Cam, or me will ever forget.
Be willing and obedient. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities you’ll have to make a difference.