Have you ever stepped right into a moment, where the details were so delightfully orchestrated, so perfectly constructed and well timed, yet so utterly unplanned, that only God himself could have been responsible?
Whether we realize it or not, we have all experienced these divine appointments. Each of us has been ushered by the hand of a providential God who doesn’t leave things to fate or fortune, karma or coincidence. God designed our destiny. He conceived His purpose for our lives before the formation of the world. All our days were written in His book and planned before a single one of them began (Psalm 139:16).
Maybe part of that verse stings a little. Perhaps it immediately takes you back to a painful memory (or a lifetime of them) and you wonder, “God, if you are good, how could you have let that happen?” While God’s omnipotence and omniscience may confuse and conflict you, it should also comfort you and bring relief knowing that this perfect, faithful God is in control of every detail of your life.
The apostle Paul, who was often imprisoned and beaten for the Gospel and who eventually died a martyr’s death, tells us “that all things to work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Paul isn't talking about a pipe dream but an unconditional promise. All things mean the memories that hurt, the deep worries and regrets that choke out peace, the horrors that are too terrible to type. God can use all things for our good, even that which is innately evil. None of it is too big for Him to redeem, to breathe life into and to resurrect into something full of newness and hope and beauty.
Yes, there is a tension between God’s sovereignty and our free will. There is a difference between what we plan and what He directs (Proverbs 16:9). We were made as image bearers, after all, not robots (Genesis 1:27). I don’t pretend to fully understand how my ability to choose interacts with God’s dominion over all creation. But I proceed in faith to trust God with the many mysterious parts of belonging to Him. I’m relieved to worship a Heavenly Father whom I can’t fully fathom. It consoles me and gives me confidence in the One whose ways are higher than my own (Isaiah 55:8-9 ). It boggles my mind that God can keep the cosmos running while still knowing the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). It overwhelms me that He would even want to know that level of detail about you and me.
Yet we can see it everyday as we abide in Him and let the Holy Spirit guide us in our interactions with others - in our daily divine - whether at the grocery store, the board room, the doctor's office, in our child's room as we disciple and discipline, or in the midst of a fight with our spouse.
There is a distinct difference between knowing God arranges divine appointments and directly asking Him to arrange them, between passively participating and actively seeking to participate. God created that shift in my heart when I prayed one day, “God, let every conversation I have point to you.” This prayer wasn't from a place of holy determination but from a stark realization that I could not be effective without Him. I offered up these words a little shaky and a little scared, because I knew somehow God would answer this prayer that He was leading me to pray. I knew without that prayer, I would continue to be fruitless in my effort to love others well and be a light for Jesus. I asked God to use my words, my mouth and the thoughts of my heart to be pleasing to Him.
I was desperate for my days to be filled with the touch of the divine.
“The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples,” said Jesus. (John 15:5, 7-8).
Less than 24 hours after saying that prayer, the Lord delivered an assignment that left me speechless. Like the apostle Peter knocking on the door of the praying saints when he was freed from prison, I had forgotten that God can answer prayer in real time (Acts 12:13-16).
It began with a young man named Jeremiah, a teenager working an after-school job at Target to help his single mom pay rent. I was checking out items I’d purchased for our family to donate to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. I say this because I avoid going to this particular store at all costs. The parking is terrible, and I usually Amazon Prime whatever I need. But on that day, after that natural disaster, after that prayer, I found myself needing to go inside this brick and mortar store.
Jeremiah and I exchanged the commonalities post-hurricane … did you do okay? Any flooding? Thankfully, neither of us had experienced any damage from the hurricane like so many others had. We were both, in our own way, trying to shoulder some of the burden for those who had found themselves directly affected by the flood. Jeremiah was polite, articulate and energetic but there was a weight on his shoulders heavier than a boy his age should bear. As he continued scanning my items, I felt the Lord’s gentle nudge and a clear way to share with this young man.
“Jeremiah, do you know that your name is in the Bible? It’s a book in the Old Testament and actually has one of my favorite verses in it.”
“Oh really?” he said, half suspicious.
“Yes, may I share it with you?”
He seemed surprised but intrigued.
“Sure,” he said.
Right there as he was swiping granola bars and garbage bags, I spoke God’s truth over this young man. More accurately, the Holy Spirit spoke truth to him through a redeemed sinner who’d been audacious enough to ask the Lord to use her.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
“Wow, it really says that?” Jeremiah asked.
“It really does,” I said.
I didn’t know exactly why Jeremiah needed to hear this, but the encouragement this good news gave him was palpable. His face lit up and a beautiful smile framed his face. God was using all things for good - even the devastation of a hurricane to arrange divine appointments all over the city, from floods of friendships to rain drops of detail like with Jeremiah and me.
As he continued scanning my items, Jeremiah shared several reasons it was nice to hear that Someone had big plans for him, not knowing if he and his mom would need to move soon and what that would mean for where he attended school. As unsettling as Hurricane Harvey was, I imagine it was reassuring to Jeremiah that God does not intend to harm us, even in the face of a city-wrecking flood. Another reason this scripture gave Jeremiah hope was that he could talk with his grandmother about it. He said she’d always been the “Bible reading type,” and he knew she would enjoy talking with him about this.
Can you imagine? A gates-of-hell-shaking grandmother praying for her grandson for likely his entire life and it being answered, at least in part, by an unknown woman across town who had the gospel gumption to ask God to use her?
“I really hope you check out that verse for yourself, Jeremiah,” I said, pushing my grocery cart to the door.
“I will,” he said, waving goodbye.
Two weeks later, I once again found myself at that same Target, unplanned and at a different time. As I rounded the corner hurriedly to check out, I heard a familiar voice.
“I remember you!” Jeremiah said.
“Hi, Jeremiah! I remember you too,” I laughed. “Did you get a chance to read out of the book of the Bible you’re named after?”
“Yeah, I did. And I talked to my grandmother about it too. She was so happy to talk about it. That was more than we’ve talked in a long time.”
Divine appointments. Answered prayers. They are there for the taking, gifts and graces of a mighty and merciful God.
So many of these stories are floating around us, supernatural wonders stuffed down, ignored or hidden unintentionally by the Body of Christ. Maybe it’s our busyness, or our lack of faith - could it really be God using us? Maybe it's fear or pride, or maybe we just need to make it a habit to remember, celebrate and share every time we intersect with heaven.
I used to think all these people encounters were insignificant, even inconvenient, until my heart finally surrendered to God’s plan and purposes. I have to surrender my heart every day to protect against selfishness and spiritual amnesia - and I still often forget - but His mercies are new every morning. When you invite Jesus into your daily duties, when you abide in Him, you often get a front row seat to His glory show. There is nothing more meaningful or exciting.
The verses following Jeremiah 29:11 read, “You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you – this is the Lord’s declaration.”
What a sweet and powerful promise. God speaks to us through His living and active Word. Scripture isn’t stale. It’s God breathed. God breathing. It’s no coincidence that my prayer was for the Lord to use me, to use my words and my daily errands and encounters for His glory, and He did it with a young man named Jeremiah, the namesake of the very verse that God used to re-affirm His promise to answer when we call. What a beautiful way for God to circle back and say, "My beloved. I am here. I am listening. I answer when you call and will give you anything you ask when it aligns with My heart."
All glory, praise and honor to our Lord, Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and the administrator of all things holy. Even at Target. Abide in Jesus, today, and be blessed.
*This article is the second part of a series on divine appointments. Read next week's Abide in Jesus to learn more on how you can let Jesus be part of your everyday interactions.*