This past Wednesday I flew up to Auckland with our church staff team to be part of a Ministry Leaders Forum. It was great to get away together and thrash out ideas about how we can do ministry better. On the morning we were due to leave, I came before God and made a request. It comes from a prayer someone sent to me a few weeks back:
“God today I would like to present your message of love to anyone’s path I will cross. If you have any ideas on this – I am a willing participant: Holy Spirit help me to hear your voice and help me to have the courage to obey. I am available to be used by you today.”
After checking in at the airport I looked at our seat numbers and noticed that I wasn’t sitting next to any of the staff members – I was alone. Well that’s interesting, I thought. The Bible teaches us that nothing in life happens by accident. All is governed by the hand of an all-knowing and all-wise God. So I sent up a quick prayer: “Lord Jesus, you already know who I’m sitting next to, I’m available for you.”
The flight was delayed and then 20 minutes later, it was delayed again. Finally, we were able to board. I made my way down the back of the plane curious as to who the mystery passenger that would be sitting next to me was. Then I spotted him, a guy in his mid 20’s, with tattoos running from his fingers all the way up to his neck. A nervous thought passed through my mind: “Lord, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”
It turned out he was quite friendly (footnote: don’t let tattoos scare you). He’s a tattoo artist from the Coromandel, and a very talented one at that. He has people from all over the world coming to see him. Just recently he did a big job on the back of a high-flying businessman from Germany. He showed me some of his products on his phone. I was really impressed.
Then he turned to me and said, “So what do you do?” Now as soon as that question comes up, I’m committed. There’s no going back. People hear, “I’m a pastor” and the conversation can die right there. I have to move fast. So as soon as the word “pastor” came out of my mouth, I turned to him and said, “So what about you? Do you have any kind of faith or belief?”
“Yeah,” he replies, “I believe in the spirit world. I know it’s real.”
We’re away. That’s an open door.
Then I ask him how he knows there’s a spirit world. He says, “I’ve seen them – you know, those who have gone to the other side.”
“Really?” I reply, a little nervous as to where this might be going.
“Yeah, they appear to me from time to time, sometime at the end of my bed. But they rush at me really fast, it kind of freaks me out.”
Now while all this is going on the plane is experiencing some turbulence. It’s getting a little bumpy. Right at the time he talks about these spirit beings rushing at him, we hit a massive downdraft and my seat disappears from under me. Everyone stops talking and a few cry out. And this guy is just looking at me cool as a cucumber, and keeps on talking. “That does sound kind of freaky,” I replied, turning a shade of white and working hard to retain composure.
But I knew that the Holy Spirit was absolutely in this and so I said to him, “You know Jesus dealt a lot with the spirit world. He was working with that stuff all the time.”
“Really?” he says, interested.
“Yeah, you ought to read about it. It’s in the Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible.”
“I’ve always told myself I’ll read that, but never got around to it.”
“By the way,” I continued, “Has anyone ever told you the Jesus story? It’s called the gospel.”
“Nope – no one has”
“Would you like to hear it? It doesn’t take long. I can do it in a few minutes”
“Sure, go ahead”
So then, while the plane is rocking all over the place I tell him the simple story of who Jesus was, why he was a special human being, his miraculous birth and some of the miracles he performed. I focus in on his authority over evil spirits – how he can command them to do whatever he wants. Then I talk about his death on the cross and the resurrection and how what that means for all of us today – that we can be fully forgiven of our sin and have eternal life. And at the end I said, “So what do you think about that?”
“That’s pretty cool,” he says.
Now he wasn’t ready to make any kind of response just there. But he was really interested. I gave him a little gospel tract that tells you how you can find eternal life (I try to carry one with me when I travel), and then I wrote my email address on the back. “If you have any questions, write to me. I’d love to help.”
I was reminded that day what can happen when you make yourself available to God to be used. All it takes is a little intentionality in a conversation and you can find a way in to talk about spiritual matters. In this case it was an easy in, because the spiritual realm is real to him. For others it’s not, so you have to go in another way.
But I’m learning an important lesson in all this: don’t think people don’t want to know. Don’t assume anything. Here’s a fully tattooed young guy who wanted to know about Jesus. I wouldn’t have picked that looking at him. How many people like this man do you brush past each day, thinking they would never be interested in spiritual things but actually are? I think sometimes we are blinded by our own scepticism and unbelief.
If you put your hand up to be used by God, don’t be surprised when he sends the most unsuspecting people your way.