Are you ready for a close encounter of the divine kind? There will probably be no funky music, no mysterious lights and certainly no space ship lowering from the heavens, as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But when you brave up and make yourself available for a divine encounter, you just might find the results even more magical and significant than anything Richard Dreyfuss ever encountered.
Today I read in the Bible about two distinctly divine encounters. First Phillip (Acts 8:26-40) and then Ananias (Acts 9:10-21) received quirky but divine marching orders from above. And both men, regardless of how they felt about the assignments, got up, went forward, and met their challenge head on. And indeed, the results were extraordinary.
First Phillip is told by an angel of the Lord to “go south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” We, the readers, are told as an aside, “This is desert.” In other words, this was no plumb assignment! But Phillip, with no other details to go on, filled up his canteen and headed into the desert.
Once he’s on his way, Phillip notices a fine chariot transporting an official-looking guy from another country. Surely God couldn’t meant for him to talk with this guy. But that was exactly what the Holy Spirit prompted Phillip to do. Acting with a supernatural boldness, Phillip approaches the chariot, notices the man is reading the Scriptures and as, quite bluntly, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The finely dressed man responds with unexpected humility, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
Talk about an invitation. Phillip doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t second guess his ability, doesn’t waver on his commitment to see this odd job through. He climbs aboard the fancy chariot and begins from where the man had been reading in Isaiah to talk with him about Jesus. Could you and I do that? Could we take Old Testament Scripture and use it to talk about the Jesus of the Gospels? Hmmm.
It doesn’t take long before the Ethiopian Eunuch Phillip is talking with becomes more than intrigued. Something, Someone, stirs within him and before Phillip can even pose those pivotal soul-winning questions, the Ethiopian man is pointing out a body of water (in the desert? hmmm.) and asking Phillip if he can be baptized. And indeed Phillip, probably a little astonished by how quickly this has all transpired, says, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” Notice Phillip doesn’t pose the conditions of baptism to the man quite accurately. He makes it sound more like a commitment to Disney than a life-changing covenant with God Almighty. But the Spirit of God clears things up and the Ethiopian asserts, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Enough said. Phillip baptizes the man and literally disappears. His job was done.
Did you notice how Phillip just made himself available, answered some simple questions and followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit? He didn’t even do a flawless, perfect job of sharing the plan of salvation. If it had been completely up to him, the Ethiopian man might have never committed to following Jesus. But something extraordinary, something divine, something out of this world was at work here. The Holy Spirit had arranged this whole encounter from beginning to end. He called Phillip, arranged for him to meet the Ethiopian man at the right spot, put the gall and the courage in Phillip to talk to this royal official, opened the Scriptures to the right passage, gave Phillip the words to say, and most importantly drew the Ethiopian man to Himself. The Bible says that no man can come to God unless He draw him to Himself. And that’s exactly what He did. And then, I believe, He even provided a baptismal pool in the desert.
That is a close encounter of the divine kind if ever there was one.
I’d love to tell you about Ananias’s divine encounter as well, but I don’t want to keep you here forever, so I’ll let you read it for yourself in Acts 9. Please read it. These are two of my favorite passages in Acts because they give us a glimpse of what can happen when ordinary believers like you and me say “yes” to God.
You see, God is still looking even today for willing folks to encounter lost folks, discouraged folks, and confused folks. He’s looking for able bodies (and you don’t even have to be completely able-bodied, for that matter) to step up with a little courage for a divine assignment. He’s asking us to listen to His instructions, refrain from asking questions, and just do as He has commanded. He’s asking us to be ready for surprises, to go with the thing, to give room for Him to work, to overlook our own deficiencies, and to trust Him with the results.
If you’re up for the challenge of a close encounter of the divine kind, here are a few suggestions for being Phillip-on-the-spot:
- The best way to be prepared for such encounters is simply to be a good student of the Word of God. You don’t have to be a teacher of it, an expert on it, or a theologian. You just need to be comfortable turning the pages, familiar with the contents, and confident in its message. Be in it every day so that when you’re asked to explain it to someone you won’t panic. You may not know all the answers–I’m sure Phillip didn’t either–but you’ll know where to find them.
- Begin today practicing your response to the tugging of the Holy Spirit. No matter what you hear the Spirit call you to do, if it lines up with the Word of God, do it. He may lead you to write a note of encouragement to someone, apologize for an offense, seek reconciliation with someone, tell someone thank you for a simple act of kindness, speak a word of truth at an awkward moment. Who knows? But if you’re in the habit of obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit consistently, then it will be no unusual thing for you to obey Him when He ask you to do something a little out of the ordinary…such as taking a walk in the desert. (Out here where I live, He could actually ask that of me!)
- When you do have one of those divine encounters, don’t panic. Trust that the Holy Spirit is right there with you. Give Him room to speak up, both to you and the other person. And let His assignment for you be what it is and nothing more, nothing less. You may just be there to plant a seed, to pose a question, to give a hand, to listen. Or you may be the vessel through which He’ll change a life. You never know. But nothing can happen without the Holy Spirit. Don’t edge Him out. Give Him all the room He needs.
I’m excited to see what close encounters of the divine kind we might have today, this week. If you’ve had one recently, would you share that with us? Or if you have a tip for how to be prepared for such extraordinary encounters, we’d love to hear that too.