Stay Alert!

When I saw this issue’s theme “Keep Awake,” my mind cut to a picture of an automobile driver cruising down a deserted stretch of highway at night. The driver was sleepy, trying very hard not to doze at the wheel. The driver could be a man or she could be a woman, or perhaps s/he’s intersexed. Whichever the case may be, this driver I took to represent us all. How many of us get tired at the wheel? The road can be long and toilsome and all we want is a moment’s rest.

When driving at night, a weary traveler must not only keep awake, but also must stay alert, lest she miss a necessary exit or landmark. When we stop for the night we prefer to have a roof over our head, perhaps even the promise of a meal. But every second the traveler struggles with heavy lids or rubs the sleep from her eyes can potentially lead to a missed opportunity, be it for food or for rest. Suppose she passes by a place to rest or eat when she’s not paying attention? She’ll have to wait that much longer for the next opportunity to come around.

This, then, is how I tie the metaphor to my Christian faith. We are like that weary traveler on the road, searching for any opportunities that God may grace us with as we continue the journey. But our opportunities may be far more diverse than those of the driver on the road. Where she may see an exit for a gas station, or food, or lodging, or simply to empty her bladder, our opportunities may have a great deal more significance.

I often find that God loves to grace His children with diverse opportunities for growth, and where He wants to grow us depends entirely on where we are in Him. What are our unique gifts? Where is God leading us in our journey? The road may look different for each person, but the sign posts God pops up for us are always equal in number. What is God wanting to grow in you today? Were you paying attention when He spoke? Did you see that person He highlighted to you? Did you feel that direction He was tugging you in when you prayed?

But these are just a few examples. Maybe God is giving you an opportunity to have more patience, or greater love. Perhaps your sign is telling you about something big that’s coming ahead, but if you missed it you may not be ready for the turn when it comes. Or perhaps God was trying to giving you the spiritual equivalent of a weather alert so you’d be prepared for the storm you’re now in the midst of.

It’s easy to miss out on these opportunities, maybe we were tired today, or were just so stressed out, maybe we felt rushed and didn’t want to take the time to listen or to pray. We all get tired, confused, and swamped on a regular basis and even the best of us can miss seeing an important sign.

But the good news is this: The are no solid rules on God’s spiritual road. If you miss a sign that God really wants you to see, the road you’re traveling may loop back around to see that same sign again. It may loop back around several times if God deems it significant enough.

One example of this I can recall from my own life was fairly recent. I’m sure most of you reading this are familiar with the social networking site “Facebook” (isn’t it a wonderful place?). I have been dialoguing with a self-proclaimed atheist on my status for some time, we even had a friendly debate about the validity of Christianity as well as the existence of God at one point. This man had continued to post hostile articles ridiculing the Christian faith for weeks after that discussion and I had begun to take offense to it. But one night after my weekly Bible study group I just felt God highlighting him to me, I was bound and determined that I would tell him, via facebook message, that God was putting him on my heart and that he needed to know how greatly he was loved. Then I got home around 11:30 p.m. (or it may have been midnight) and I was just so tired!

“I’ll do it in the morning.” I said. But I didn’t.

The opportunity was to bless him that very night and after I woke up the next morning my motivation was gone. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was.

Then a month or two later the two of us were talking on Facebook again and I felt that strong love for him once more. We started to talk about a lot of things, mostly about what he was feeling that night, but we also discussed his past experience with Christianity, some abuse he had suffered at a younger age, and by the end of the night the two of us were speaking on the phone for the first time.

In case you’re wondering, no, to the best of my knowledge he has not accepted Christ yet, but I don’t think that was what the opportunity was about. God gave me a chance to see this man as a person and more importantly to show him love. I have a way of making anyone I talk to feel very comfortable, they will often tell me things they wouldn’t tell anyone else. God wanted to use that gift to bless this man. We’re still friends on Facebook, and he’s fully aware that I’m a Christian, he also knows that I gave him a sympathetic ear to talk to that night and that I never made him feel guilty for anything he told me.

Maybe nothing major has changed for him yet, but who’s to say I haven’t given him the first link in a chain reaction that will eventually lead him back into God’s arms? Ultimately, whatever the future may hold for him is not for me to say. All that really matters is that God gave me the chance to see who this person really is and to love him with His own heart. That’s something I will never forget.

To be certain, not every opportunity God sends your way gets repeated, sometimes the road just continues straight on, leaving that missed opportunity to fade into the distance of your rear view mirror. I’ve had that happen too many times to count. I’m sure most everyone else can say the same. But a missed opportunity does not mean you have failed God. It may frustrate Him, but only because of the personal growth it has denied you. And God never stays frustrated for long, he just comes up with another opportunity to send your way and does anything he can to make the sign stand out more clearly for you this time.

Unfortunately there’s no escaping it, we’re all going to miss out on at least a hundred opportunities God has tried to draw our attention to during the course of our lives, and some may never come back. It’s even more likely that this has already happening for us at least a hundred times every single month and we just don’t know it. But the opportunities keep coming with God, ours is a God that never gives up. He wants to bless us and everyone we may happen to meet along the way, He wants us to grow strong and confident in His works, but He realizes that we’re still fallible human beings.

We have a major advantage over the driver on the road. If she misses an opportunity she may have to drive another ten miles — or farther, depending on what part of the country she’s in — before she can even turn around. But our spiritual road is still being written and our builder, unlike the builders of natural roads, can see exactly where we need to go as we’re going to it and has the power to actively help us reach our destination. Missed a turn-off sign? No problem, the next opportunity is coming up on your left, just pay more attention this time.

Never dwell on a missed opportunity, God may be sending it right back into your path at a later date. But even if He doesn’t, dwelling too much on a missed opportunity only increases your chances of missing the next one too. Keep your eyes forward and pay attention, God’s not done using you yet so stay alert!