A Late Night Encounter

April 24, 2008

I boarded the plane in the Portland airport weary after a long day. “11pm. That’s 2am at home. No wonder I’m beat!” I put my pack in the overhead compartment, my computer bag under the seat in front of me, pulled out my earplugs and eyemask, and prepared for some much-needed sleep on the cross-country flight.

I glanced at the thirtyish man sharing the row of three seats with me. “Hi, my name is Coty.” He smiled. “I’m Jacob.” As he looked me in the eye, I quickly saw that God had other plans than sleep for this flight. After going through the normal pleasantries – Are you going home or leaving home? What’s the purpose of your trip? – Jacob began to share about his spiritual growth in the last few years. Through yoga and meditation, he had grown in his self-discipline, in his ability to deal with disappointment. He had simplified his life, eating well, cutting out TV and other distractions; in work, he now focused on flexible jobs that he greatly enjoyed. This enabled him to save enough money to travel to Sri Lanka recently and spend several months at a meditation center. He rises every morning and spends an hour doing yoga and meditating – and that time then flavors his entire day. He was happy, well-adjusted, and excited about his spiritual life – so excited he wanted to share that with others.

He was also interested in me, and was a good listener. He asked probing questions, and wanted to know about my own spiritual journey.

My body was screaming for sleep. If he spoke more than a minute at a time, it was hard for me to stay focused. I tried to maintain eye contact and prayed, “Lord, don’t let me fall asleep while he’s talking!” I could hardly think straight. When Jacob made the classic pluralist statement, saying how he was on one path to God and I was on another, but we were both going the same place, I couldn’t even remember the reference for “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (It’s John 14:6, by the way.)

So I continued to pray silently. “Lord, my brain had checked out. Yet you’ve placed me here with Jacob. Help me to acknowledge the temporal benefit he has gained through self-discipline. But then open up to him Who You are. Help me to turn to passages of Your Word that will be helpful. Use your mighty Word in His life. It’s more apparent than usual that I can do nothing. Be at work for Your glory, in spite of my weakness.”

We spoke for three hours. We went through all of Psalm 77 together, and most of John 8. I spoke of the genuine but limited value of physical self-discipline, of God’s authority over us as His creation, of our rebellion against Him and thus our guilt, of Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, and sacrificial death; of our need to respond to Him. God, man, Christ, response. Even half-asleep, I could remember those four words.

I don’t remember much of the specifics of what I said – most of the discussion is a sleepy blur. I’m sure when I spoke rather than read the Word, I was far from eloquent. There were undoubtedly better ways to address Jacob. But God put me in a place to serve as His ambassador. In my weakness, I prayed, opened my mouth, and opened the Word. In this encounter, weak as I was, I was faithful.

Two lessons I want to take away from this:

First: Look for such occasions. In this case, I perceived early on that Jacob would listen, and I abandoned my plans for the flight. In how many other cases do I blindly stick to my plan, and miss the opportunity to be Christ’s ambassador?

Second: Jacob is highly self-disciplined in order to achieve the temporal satisfactions that come from yoga and empty meditation. Should I not be at least as self-disciplined in turning to the riches of God’s Word and the joy of relating to God the Father through Jesus Christ?

I left Jacob with a Quest for Joy tract and a DGCC card. Please join me in praying that God would open the eyes of his heart, so that he might see his desperate need for God’s grace through Jesus. And join me in praying that all of us, weak as we are, might be the ambassadors God intends, showing up, recognizing our task, leaning on Him, so that all those we encounter might smell the aroma of Christ.

Praying that together we might so delight in Christ that we cannot but speak of Him,


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