When I was in high school I bought a book entitled “Finding God in Unexpected Places.” I remember the book sat around on my desk for a while and I tried reading it a few times. I think honestly I just liked the sound of the book more than anything. Finding God in unexpected places sounded intriguing to me. Even though I didn’t really know what that meant. I mean, I knew I could find God in church and I knew I could find him in the Bible, and when I spent time in prayer, but in unexpected places? How can God be found anywhere else besides those three fundamentals places of knowing God and finding him?
I recently moved to a place where a friend of mine who lives here called it Chicagoland. At the time I thought it was just some funny name he made up. Once I got here though, I realized it was an actual term everyone here uses and then I didn’t think he was so weird. I moved to be part of a church plant. The dilemma that I have been facing however is I don’t know anyone in the area. Being a single male living in an apartment alone, can get lonely and discouraging.
There’s a rather beautiful park that my apartment building sits on. With a small lake and volleyball courts and a nice walking path. I had been here a couple weeks and had yet to go out and venture through the park. My father, who was here to help me move in, a couple weeks prior, told me there was a waterfall in the park. I decided to go and find this waterfall for myself, because, well, who doesn’t like a waterfall? I started walking down a dirt path which eventually leads to a dead end, which I hadn’t realized when I started walking down it. In front of me there was a lady who was also walking that way. Once I realized I had been following this lady to the dead end, I immediately felt awkward. Do I just walk to the dead end and then just turn around? I’m going to look like a creeper. I decided to just ask the lady where the waterfall was. As she was laying out her blanket next to the lake to sit down I approached her and asked, “Hey I heard there’s a waterfall around here, do you know where it is?” She seemed slightly intimated or nervous by my presence at first. She couldn’t even really give me clear direction to the waterfall, which I found later on, was only just around the way. As we kept talking it was brought up that I was in Chicago for a church plant. Once she found that out I could tell she was less uncomfortable with the fact I had just followed her to a dead end.
With out any type of prompting she began to open up to me about how she thought that was great. However, she also said, she didn’t like how church in America is ran like a business and how most Christians are hypocritical. From the way she was talking it seemed like she use to be a church goer or Christian and was possibly hurt by a church, or church people. I agreed with most of what she was saying and told her I don’t want to run the church I am apart of like a business, I just want to do what God wants us to do. As she continued to open up she started telling me how she started looking into the Islamic religion and all the “positives” she observed of their followers and their religious commitments. In my heart I wanted to jump down her throat and tell her how bad an idea that was! I knew that wouldn’t be very effective though and that I just needed to listen to her. It’s funny how when people are willing to just listen to someone and sometimes hold back their opinions the person talking begins to understand things for themselves. As she began to compare the two religions side by side she began to realize the one major difference was, Christians need a savior (Jesus) and Muslims believe they can save themselves. As she was thinking out loud, I was thinking quietly to myself that the major difference is pride. Without me even having to say it she said, “I guess that’s very prideful of them.” I just smiled and said, “Yeah.” I left her with a verse and told her we will talk again soon. I found out she lived in the same apartment building as me. Although even after the words left my mouth, “We will talk again soon,” I was filled with faith that we really would continue such an important conversation, at a later time. My head on the other hand was working logically, wondering how in the world am I going to just bump into her again?
It was in that conversation that I realized I had found God in an unexpected place. In the dead end of a park seeking out a lady contemplating what she really believed. I got to be a messenger of the Good News just by the presence living inside of me. I didn’t say any profound things to this lady all I did was listen and let God work with her through her confusion.
That’s not the end of the story though. Shortly after I took a week long trip back to my hometown for some business meetings. I came back to an empty apartment again, to a friendless city, and it really started to get me discouraged. When things move slowly in life, and when you are your only friend, things seem to move twice as slow. A couple days went by and I was walking back into my apartment from my car and I bumped into the same lady I had talked to in the park a couple weeks prior. She asked how I was doing and could tell I seemed a little down from the previous time we talked. I told her it was tough not having any friends and it gets lonely. She looked at me and said, “Don’t be discouraged, you have God on your side he is for you and you can do anything. You have God on your side!” What just happened? The lady that I recently talked to a couple weeks ago, the one contemplating becoming a Muslim, is the one that God is using to encourage me?! Quite honestly it left me kind of speechless.
It was in these couple moments with a stranger in a park and in a parking lot, that I realized God will use who and whatever he chooses to show himself to us. To encourage us and grab our attention. I think He likes to do it in the unexpected places, more than anywhere else too. In those unexpected places the glory can only be given to God, because it was never anything any person could have fabricated. I can just imagine God smiling when our glass box of how we perceive Him is broken and He let’s us see Him in the unexpected places.