It’s happened to me more than once.
…and probably more times than I realize.
As I go about my day, God will often set me in the middle of an opportunity. I wish I would pray for these opportunities more, but whether I remember to ask for them or not, God is faithful to send me tangible reminders of His intimate care for our lives.
In these moments, girls tell me, “Shelbie, that is exactly what I needed to hear” or “I don’t know how you knew what to say!”
And I tell them, “I didn’t know.”
When I feel an “opportunity” coming on, my conversation with God usually has a quick upspike as I plead for help for the next words. “Help, Lord!” or “Please help me know what to say” are some of my go-to “arrow prayers” when God places someone in front of me who needs a special sort of encouragement. These are desperate, wisdom-seeking prayers. And they are so often answered, with impeccable timing.
It’s true. I have no idea what to say. My personality tends to be tactful and wary of offense, and this approach seems to put people at ease. My mom jokes that I could tell one of my music students how much trouble they were in, and they would still walk away with a smile on their face.
When people start baring their souls to me, I try to listen, ask probing questions, and point them back to their only hope, which is Jesus.
Amazingly, God sometimes uses imperfect channels like you and me to spread His love.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about finding and embracing God-given opportunities:
1. Be an Approachable Seeker
Depending on how desperate they are, people may not come to us for help. Moving toward others as Christ moved toward me is a challenge and can nudge me (or downright catapult me!) out of my comfort zone.
This is hard, at least for me. It can take a lot of effort to take my gaze off myself and lift my eyes to those around me. Not only that, but it can be just as much of a challenge to actually see needs. As humans, we can be good at covering up just how in-need we are at any given moment. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been shocked at the pain and emptiness hidden behind smiles and polite conversation
Ask for eyes to see the need, to see what other people are missing. And then, go to that place of need. Dare to ask.
“A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out.” – Proverbs 20:5, GNT
2. Arrow Prayers
I love the Nehemiah-style “arrow prayers” that I referred to above. When Nehemiah heard about the ruins of Jerusalem and then spoke to the king, he demonstrated the short, desperate prayers that I turn to often in a challenging conversation.
“Well, what should be done?” the king asked.
With a quick prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you look upon me with your royal favor, send me to Judah to rebuild the city of my fathers!”
– Nehemiah 2:4, TLB –
Whether you have to walk across the room to engage that hurting girl or whether she appears in front of you asking for advice, an arrow prayer is in order. Help is needed right away, for both her and you, and—thankfully—it is only a whisper away. God is faithful. I’ve been amazed time and time again.
3. Strive for “Liminal Space.”
Liminal space comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. Basically, liminal space is an attitude of setting aside your own opinions for a moment in order to understand someone else. It is “willing suspension of disbelief.”
Liminal space allows me to step into someone else’s shoes. While fully recognizing the sinfulness of sin, I can try to understand why someone made a decision or feels a certain way. Even if their reasons are inadequate or misinformed, I can set aside myself for a moment and truly listen. Liminal space can take me a long way in a conversation.
Relational liminal space is not a call for Christians to set aside their convictions, but it is a call for us to set aside harsh criticism to make room for compassion.
A situation will often call for you to speak Biblical truth, but first, listen. Seek understanding. Because, at the end of the day, what is liminal space, really?
It is dealing with grace.
“Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt. Save some by snatching them as from the very flames of hell itself. And as for others, help them to find the Lord by being kind to them, but be careful that you yourselves aren’t pulled along into their sins. Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.”– Jude 22-23, TLB –
4. Be Ready
How do I prepare for these spontaneous moments of ministry?
Well, I do prepare…and I don’t.
Moments of opportunity have no script, but…
The more I fill myself with Scripture, the more truth is in my heart, ready to be drawn out at a moments notice.
The more I look out for others more than myself, the more I see opportunities to speak truth and comfort into the lives of others.
The more ready I am to drop my plans and embrace God’s leading, the better my attitude will be when unexpected situations come up.
Actually, spontaneous ministry is fueled by moment-by-moment faithfulness. Every moment that I love Jesus, every choice I make because I want to glorify Him, and every time I deny my sinful self, I lay a paving stone for others to use to walk toward me.
Moments of ministry spring out of consistency. Not perfection–no, not perfection! I know I am a far cry from all that my Savior calls me to.
But that is the beauty of it.
He can use me — a flawed, redeemed, growing girl — to live out His truth and, sometimes, to speak it into others’ lives.
5. These Things Are Not Ours
At the end of a conversation, when someone asks, “How did you know?” the answer is always, “I didn’t know. But God did.”
With matchless skill and wisdom, God places His children in just the right places at the just the right times…and then His Spirit gives wisdom.
These things–these answers we give to others–are not ours.
It is not our intelligence, our intuition, our skill with language, that wins over hearts or gives encouragement to a weary soul.
These things aren’t ours at all. They are too wonderful.
Jesus alone receives the glory for a “word fitly spoken.”
But, as His co-heirs, we are swept up as well in the swells of His glory. His joys become ours. His loves become ours. His thoughts, slowly, become ours, because “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
When God puts someone in my path, it is pretty much my favorite thing ever…
I get a part in the grand drama of history.
My God allows me the joy of joining Him in the dance.
“But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ—it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved—and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve—it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.
Do not lose sight of the fact that you were born “Gentiles”, known by those whose bodies were circumcised as “the uncircumcised”. You were without Christ, you were utter strangers to God’s chosen community, the Jews, and you had no knowledge of, or right to, the promised agreements. You had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom you could turn. But now, through the blood of Christ, you who were once outside the pale are with us inside the circle of God’s love and purpose.
For Christ is our living peace.”
– Ephesians 2:4-14a, Philips –