Have you ever prayed for guidance about which gas station to stop at?
Now, I’m not talking about while on vacation or in an unfamiliar part of town. Nope, I mean on a route you take regularly. Daily, even. It could be to and from work, or your child’s school, or even the grocery store.
I have – and recently, at that.
It was a Tuesday. I’d dropped my older girls off at class and was on my way home when I noticed that the red arrow on my fuel gauge was a lot closer to E than to F. Any other day, I’d simply stop at the gas station near our house. It was a no brainer. But on that day, I hesitated. I found myself doubting whether I should frequent the pump I … well … normally frequent.
It was then that I spotted a gas station I pass at least four times a week, yet had never stopped at before. I found myself suddenly asking, “Lord, where should I stop for gas?”
My prayer was followed by a clear nudge. Stop here, the inner prompting seemed to indicate.
So I did.
And it was there, at the pump, that I met her. I’d guess she was in her early-thirties; her face bore the expression of a wearied fighter. Her eyes were those of someone to whom life had not been as gentle to as it had been to me. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’m embarrassed to even ask this, but could you give me some money for gas?” What followed was the story of a neglectful boyfriend, a job just lost, and the towhead toddler who sat quietly in her backseat.
The truth is, as I listened, I wanted to judge. I wanted to internally evaluate whether she legitimately needed my money. But I stopped myself.
“Give me a few minutes,” I replied. “Let me see if I have any cash.” I went on to hand her the small amount I had in my wallet, with the words, “I’m doing this because God loves you.” Not my most eloquent phrase uttered, but I wanted her to know that it was Him – and not me – who had made our stories intersect that day.
We then went our separate ways. Me to my car, and she to hers.
As I turned the key in the ignition and drove away, the CD I’d been listening to came on. It was the latest from Chris August, The Maker. The song was track #3, “Drop Your Stone.” Tears formed in my eyes as I heard him sing:
See the woman, she’s weeping on the ground
She has four kids, no fathers to be found
Living on welfare, probably always will
Why are we so quick to judge?
Think of all the mercy that’s been given to us
While the woman I met at the pump had a different story from the one in the song, she too was in need of mercy. And that day, I believe God directed me to that particular gas station at that particular time so I could be His hands and feet to her, even if it was just with a small amount of cash and an encouraging word. He put me there for such a time as that.
Here’s the thing, I’m learning that “such a time as this” moments aren’t only for the big things in life. You know, the “Esther” moments. Those big, lofty, life-altering moments that bring to mind Scripture's most famous queen. Rather, God gives them to us every day. He offers us opportunities – no matter how small or insignificant they might feel at the time – to make a difference to someone with whom we come in direct contact; to extend His love and mercy in tangible ways. But we have to choose to be in them.
How can we recognize and embrace these daily “such a time as this” moments? Here are a two ways I’m learning to recognize the ministry opportunities God has given me each day:
1. Listen to Those Inner “Nudges”
Listening to those inner “nudges” isn’t the same as our culture’s call to “follow your heart.” Instead, it means to train ourselves to be aware of and obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our daily lives.
For me, these God nudges tend to be a strong sense that I should do or say something. Often, these words or actions are unplanned and inconvenient. Sometimes they don’t even make logical sense. For example, leaving a big tip for a waitress who was grumpy, offering to pray right then and there for a stranger, or stopping at a particular gas station. Over the years, I’ve found that the more I listen to these nudges, the more sensitive I am when they come in the future and the less I doubt whether the nudge comes from Him.
How do I know whether a nudge is God directing me? The difficult thing is, I don’t always know. So I follow this rule of thumb: If a nudge goes against Scripture, than I can safely rule it out as not being the Holy Spirit. This means that I have to know God’s Word. But if the nudge isn’t inconsistent with Scripture, even if it may seem absurd or leave me feeling foolish, than perhaps it’s from God.
2. Notice Needs
In addition to being sensitive to those inner nudges, we can also teach ourselves to be more aware of needs around us. In her article, “Something Happened on the Way to Buy Chapati Bread,” my friend Julie shares one example of how she and her children have taken the time to notice and respond to needs in front of them. She writes:
As we pulled out of the parking lot, we spotted a man resembling a thin Santa Clause, dressed head to toe in denim and holding two signs that read, “Very hungry” and “Will work for food” at a busy intersection….
Before I knew what I was saying, I had already said, “Kids, we are each going to ask God what we should do about this man who needs help. After we buy our chapati bread, we will each share what we think God is telling us to do. Oh and by the way, if God is telling you to get food, I want you to ask Him what kind of food we should get. God knows this man and what he needs and even what he likes.”
Julie’s story is a reminder that need is all around us. A need maybe we can fill for God’s sake. It doesn’t always come in the form of a man with a sign. Sometimes it comes as a friend whose toddler has been diagnosed with cancer and could really use the money you budgeted for new clothes this month. Other times it comes in providing a meal for someone whose grief is fresh. Or, perhaps it comes in the stranger next to us in line or at one of our kids’ events who wants to chat when we’d rather engage our iPhone.
I’m not sure where I’ll fill my car up with gas this week. What I do know though, is that each time I pass that now-visited station, I’ll take a moment to pray for that woman and her towhead toddler.
God, continue to put people in her path for such a time as this.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together (Moody Publishers). As the founder and editor of Ungrind Webzine and a regular contributor at several popular blogs and websites, she loves to combine the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com. You can also find her on Facebook here or follow her on Twitter at @ashslater.