I have always found connections to be fascinating. It’s not that every connection is world-changing but, it seems that every significant transition in my life has come from some unexpected yet essential connection with someone or something.
You probably know what I mean. There is that time when you happen to meet that person who knows someone that you need to talk to for something important you have in mind. Or maybe you stumble across that one piece of critical information that unlocks your understanding of some topic that has baffled your progress in something or yourself.
When I was about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the job market was bleak. I had done pretty well in school and I had one summer of internship at a manufacturing facility. I should have been an attractive candidate for almost any company. However, very few were hiring because the economy was stalling. I had exhausted all of the avenues I had at my disposal to land an interview but to no avail. The “thank you for your interest but” letters would come back leaving little hope. Then one day, I received a letter in the mail inviting me to an open house to explore careers with a company called Sohio. I had never heard of Sohio but that did not really matter. I was hungry to find employment. The problem was that the letter arrived so late that I had already missed the open house event. With nothing to lose, I called the number in the letter and talked to the person who was on our campus to explain my situation. Brian was so gracious but noted that all of their interview slots were now filled. A little too late again. But Brian, sensing my disappointment, offered to meet with me for breakfast before the first interviews started for the day. What that really meant was that instead of not getting an opportunity to interview, I would actually be the first interview of their day! Without detailing out the rest of the story, I ended up with a plant visit to Toledo, Ohio and a job offer that set my life on a whole new trajectory. All because of this unexpected connection with Brian.
I have a hunch that you could tell a few stories as well. The point is that often these unexpected connections prove to be the gateway to significant moments of transformation in our lives. Moses encountering the daughters of Jethro at the well in Midian (Exodus 2:15-22) turned out to be life altering for Moses and Zipporah’s future. Rahab, whose future looked pretty bleak, had a chance encounter with the spies Joshua sent into Jericho before invading the city (Joshua 2 and 6) and that connection ended up changing her life forever and allowed her to be in the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 1:5.) Ruth, the widow from Moab, decided to stick with her mother-in-law Naomi when she traveled back to Bethlehem and had an unlikely encounter with a man named Boaz and the direction of her life was changed as well.
I have found in my life’s experiences and in the research for my doctoral degree that these unexpected connections often prove to be the gateway that also helps people find their way into God’s family. Maybe it is a “random” meeting with someone while you are waiting in line at the store. Maybe it is that coworker that you really never talked to before that just needed someone to listen and you were at the water cooler at the exact moment they showed up. What ever the situation, sometimes God seems to use us in unexpected ways to make these connections into moments of transition.
The challenge for those of us who follow Jesus is to be sensitive enough to perceive what God might be doing in the moment and be willing to respond as God’s Spirit leads. One key to help us with both of these challenges is to be expecting these unexpected connections to happen. When we expect God to use us, we often discover He does just that. The other way we can be prepared is to learn to sense God’s nudge. Everybody is different and God speaks to each person in their own way that works best for them. For me, it usually is a thought that comes into my mind or just a “knowing” that I should do something or say something. I have learned to go with that and see what God might be up to in that particular situation.
How does this apply to people coming into the family of God? As in the case of Rahab and Ruth, God used these unexpected connections to move them across the relational boundary from what the Bible terms an alien or stranger to the status of a sojourner. You might think of it as God using these connections to usher Rahab and Ruth across the boundary into a new and closer relationship with God and His people. The question we need to ask ourselves remains who is God going to bring across my path today that He wants me to usher into a closer relationship with Him? In the coming days and weeks ahead, we will explore these relational boundaries, and their barriers or resistance to movement, and discover more important principles for expanding God’s Kingdom.