By Joy Crichton
Denise reluctantly tied her gym shoes and gathered her water bottle and towel. Some days she hated going to the gym, hated battling midlife to keep her figure, hated spending time in a room full of treadmills and weight equipment. She searched her bag and released a frustrated sigh . . . no iPod.
She mounted her mechanical steed, put her mind in neutral, and began her journey to nowhere until a grief-filled cry interrupted the monotonous hum of the machines. Denise scanned the room and spied a young woman lying in a heap between two weight machines, her despondency sapping the last of her strength. Between broken sobs the woman cried to anyone willing to listen, “Can anybody help me?”
Denise crossed the space between them and knelt close.
Unbeknownst to Denise, this moment at the gym was a divine appointment, one she would have missed if she hadn’t forgotten her iPod that day, if she hadn’t been listening. Besides offering the woman, Barb, some physical help, Denise began to care for her other problems as well. She became a true friend and shared with Barb about Christ. Now Barb sits in front of me at church. By God’s grace, Barb has come to know release from addiction, comfort in grief, and purpose for emptiness. Her marriage is strong again and her heart is whole.
Denise’s story reminds me of Moses’ appointment with God at the burning bush. It was just another day on the hillside as Moses cared for his sheep, surmised Philip Ryken in his commentary on Exodus, “but a person never knows when his life may be changed forever by an encounter with the living God.” Bushes grew in abundance. Moses saw them every day, but did he take notice, I wonder? Yet this one was special. When Moses tuned out the busyness of life to pay attention to this bush on fire, he found himself on God’s errand.
What Did You Say?
I wonder how many divine appointments—obvious opportunities from God in which he longs to deliver the perishing—we miss because we aren’t listening. Often our family sits at the table waiting for a teenager to join us. We call their name in vain attempts for their attention because their ears are filled with the music coming from their earphones. What distractions drown out our opportunities to make a difference for Christ in the lives of those around us? Do you need to turn off the radio so gospel conversations can fill your car and bring your children into a walk with Christ? Does the television or the cell phone keep you from seeing the desperation in the eyes of your children, spouse, or coworker?
What Will It Cost?
Maybe, like Moses, we see the burning bush—but unlike Moses we keep on walking. Sometimes it is hard to ignore that fire, but, afraid to get involved, we turn our heads and pretend to see nothing. That attitude does not reflect our God. When Moses turned aside to see the burning bush, he discovered the wonderful truth that God is interested in the lives of his people. He hears their cries and cares about their suffering.
Our church communities teem with people in need of mercy or provision or counsel. They long to be mentored in applying biblical answers to their marriage or family problems, addictions, or difficult relationships. But we turn away because their problems are messy. Walking the road of life with another believer, especially one who is struggling with sinful habits, takes focused time, patience, mercy, and sometimes material resources. It’s a risk to love others for Christ. They may take advantage of our gifts or attack us when we deliver the hard truths that often have to be faced to solve their problems. We might get burned if we get draw close enough to get involved with their burning.
Some of us keep on walking past the burning bush because we are too timid. After all, burning is a personal issue. We live in such a polite society. We craft our words carefully with political correctness, but the gospel is offensive. Identifying sin or pointing to Christ as the only way to Heaven will make more enemies than friends. Yet the offense is worth the benefit. What rescue will come to people when they answer salvation’s call! What about those who take offense? At the very least they hear the glorious gospel; at the very best we have scattered seeds that may some day take root and bear fruit after watered by another.
What Might I Miss?
God was in the burning bush that day. When Moses approached, God called out. “‘Don’t come any closer . . . Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). In other words, God indicated that he was holy and he takes sin seriously. When the Holy Spirit prompts us to turn aside and help fellow believers into the way of obedience, he does so because sin in the life of a believer is serious business—family business. Yet we often walk by as if we do not notice. When we turn a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit, we miss the joy of being used in the lives of those desperate for deliverance. What fullness of a fruitful life Moses would have missed if he had decided the burning bush was none of his business. What if he’d been afraid he might get burned? Or maybe he’d turn aside only to be made a fool.
But Moses did turn aside and went from being useless to Jehovah to being useful to Jehovah. He risked getting burned, causing offense, and being called a fool. In fact, Moses was used and abused by those he was called to save from Egypt. He offended them and they accused him of madness and self-interest. Yet Moses became vulnerable, kept the assignment, and led an entire nation out of bondage. Listening for God’s voice at the bush was just the start. Not only that, this divine appointment meant as much to Moses personally as it did to those helped by him. By accepting the assignment, Moses began a friendship that brought him into a greater communion with the God of the universe—a transforming communion that caused his face to refelct God’s glory to those in desperate need of seeing it (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18).
That day at the gym, Denise met a woman with a life ravaged by sin—sin that left only misery in its wake. Denise’s ears were burning. She stopped to listen and God revealed her part in his plan. That appointment changed two lives that day—Barb’s and Denise’s. Their story challenges us to keep our ears and eyes open too. Though bushes ignite in the most unexpected places and at the most inconvenient moments, and though it takes great courage to approach them, these appointments with divinity are life-changing events with eternal significance that we don’t want to miss.
Joy Crichton is a pastor’s wife and mother of five in Johnston, Rhode Island.