by Deonne McCausland
Today’s Reading: Philippians 1:12-18
Key Verse: What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:18a
Have you ever found yourself in a situation that could be described as being in the “wrong place at the wrong time?” I’m not necessarily talking about BIG deal stuff, although it may apply. I have a knack for finding myself in situations where “weird” or needy or obnoxious people approach me with odd requests or confrontational conversation starters, often in environments that are challenging to remove myself from (in a line-up, on the train). I think I inherited this odd approach-ability from my mother, because she attracts similar encounters.
The first time I remember experiencing this with my mom was when I was a little girl sitting in the backseat of the car with my younger brother as my mom was pulling out of the parking lot of the grocery store. She had barely started to accelerate when a woman came running towards the side of the car screaming “DRIVE, DRIVE,” while grabbing onto the the partially open window and hanging on. We had no idea what was happening. Was she in trouble? Running from danger? Was she herself dangerous? Two men in white coats came racing out of the grocery store yelling “STOP!” There were people screaming, running, not knowing what to do… mom slammed on the brakes and the men caught up with the car and grabbed the woman, dragging her away.
I don’t know what was said to my mom at the time or where they took the woman, I think it was inside the grocery store. We were pretty shaken and it wasn’t until the dust had settled that my mom returned to the scene for an explanation. Turns out that the woman had been caught shoplifting and was being held until the police could arrive. She had attempted to escape by biting the butcher and running toward “freedom,” in this case a two-door, blue Plymouth circa 1970, occupied by a young mother and two small children. Was the grocery store parking lot the problem? Not really. Did the particular time or day provoke the incident thereby determining that grocery store parking lots should be avoided always at said date and time to prevent further altercations? Hardly. A case of wrong place at the wrong time?
Looking back over my life, I see a lot of examples where it seems like this is the case.There’s the woman I sometimes babysat for, dropping me and the kids at the park with instructions regarding a snack being left in the garage (weird, but no explanations). Upon my return to the garage, I was shocked to find the husband and a friend moving him out. Then there was the woman at the pool who told me I was what was wrong with the world because my two year old threw a tantrum when I told him it was time to leave. And the grandfather who told me he didn’t agree with my decision to educate my kids at a Christian school (I never asked him). A woman who told me I was eating too much (a pita) at the food court while she polished off a sundae. A man in a bookstore who told me he’d never see me on the other side of eternity unless I converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. And seriously, this is only a few of many stories where I’m minding my own business until…
Counting them here like this might make it seem like just heading out for the day could invoke anxiety at the mere thought of engaging with the world. Too many opportunities for wrong place, wrong time. Maybe… but what then of the right place at the right time encounters? I’ve yet to count them.
The time the Walmart greeter told me she recognized the Holy Spirit in me. The young woman in the coffee shop, new to the area, asking if I’d have coffee with her. The elderly gentleman at the coffee shop observing me reading (y Bible and initiating a conversation regarding the application of Biblical principles to daily life. The neighbour whose husband ran off with a younger model bursting into tears and being able to pray for her. Right place, right time?
I haven’t always responded wisely in these situations and I’ve had to confess angry and fleshly retorts some times, other times, I have no idea where the words of encouragement or support come from. Sometimes I respond hindered by fear and other times emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly these are situations that I cannot perfectly assess because of my limited perspective. Only God has unlimited access to all knowledge. He alone knows the depths of my own motives while also knowing the depths of the heart of the other party. Only God exists outside of time and circumstance. Only God can allow and direct my presence in various situations.
What then? Or, so what? Don’t they all then become divine opportunities? Opportunities for His glory to be displayed, opportunities for His grace to be extended, for His love to be expressed, for His Son to be proclaimed and the Gospel message of redemption to be testified. Who am I to determine whether these are right or wrong places and times?
This passage in Philippians prompted all of these memories, as I think about Paul and his joy in the proclamation of Christ regardless of the circumstances. Despite his imprisonment, he views his situation as an opportunity to advance the Gospel and proclaim Christ to his oppressors. He rejoices that the news of this encourages others to boldly proclaim Christ without fear and he even rejoices when those who take advantage of his detainment to promote themselves in ministry, preach Christ -regardless of their motives. He chooses to deem his circumstances as opportunities worthy of rejoicing! What then?
I think of the times in Scripture where our limited perspective, bound up by place and time and selfish desire is reconfigured, redeemed and restored in the Spiritual reality of God’s kingdom. Like Joseph’s slavery in Egypt which saved brothers and a nation. Israel’s desert wanderings filled with signs and revelations preparing for the promised land. Esther’s place in the palace and the king’s heart to save her people. Job who saw God’s glory despite the sorrow and suffering. New Testament descriptions of imprisonment and bondage revealing God’s glory and mercy and love. Over and over we read of divine encounters which result in deliverance and freedom. All pointing to the cross of Christ.
So what? I’ve come to realize that these encounters had little to do with me or what I could offer someone in a moment other than offering to point them to Christ. I can only see the moments and I need to live submitted to the ONE who knows eternity. He uses the moments to reveal Himself and my dependency upon Him. In offering Him my life, I actually am not about minding my own business. It’s about His business and that involves the redemption and restoration of creation, the relationship He desires us to have with Him, His glory and His Son as THE CHRIST. Even the wrong place, wrong time encounters exist for a greater purpose in the Spiritual realm. Inconveniences can be reconfigured into the very purpose of my day! I can face my moments confidently walking in the truth of the Gospel of Christ and choose to redefine obstacles, inconveniences and adversities as redeemed opportunities to point to Jesus. That’s always right place, right time. Because of Him, I rejoice and “that’s what.”