Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone? Today I felt like I’d jumped out of a plane without a parachute. It wasn’t the talk of ‘moobs’ and ‘pretty pants’ which was uncomfortable…
I attended the Big Hearted Tour event hosted by Stony Stratford Community Church. This year’s Baptist Union President, Chris Duffett, is travelling the country with the aim of encouraging and equipping Christians to get outside the church and share God’s love with those who don’t know Him. Today’s event was a day to train & equip people, but more importantly, a hands-on challenge to get on and do it – to get outside the church and get stuck in.
He declared the aim of the day as ‘looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit’, with the focus on the Spirit absolutely central. The day was packed with encouraging stories (Chris’ own and those of others who work with him) of the way God has met with individuals through seemingly simple & sometimes ridiculous means. But Chris was honest enough to point out that often ‘nothing’ significant happens and that there is a need to persist.
The teaching was biblical and yet simple, not an academic approach, but just the practical application of some key texts. Even the coffee break included some practical application. We were told to go and grab a coffee from any local coffee shop, and whilst there to ask two questions and to respond however we felt appropriate:
- Jesus, where are you already at work?
- Is there anyone hurting here?
But the real adventure started in the afternoon when we met for different seminars/workshops. I had signed up for ‘Treasure Hunting’ «gulp». It doesn’t immediately sound like an adventure does it. So let me explain what it is, before sharing what happened.
Treasure hunting is, as the name suggests, about following clues and seeking ‘treasure’. But the clues are supplied by the Holy Spirit, and the ‘treasure’ is people with whom God wants you to meet (Chris uses the phrase ‘keeping Divine appointments’). After a brief introduction to the practice and some helpful dos and don’ts we each grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. We spent just five minutes praying and asking God to give us ‘clues’ under five headings: location, names, appearance, prayer needs & extra clues. Then we were on our way in teams of three out onto the streets to attempt to keep these Divine appointments. As we went we discussed our clues with the others in our group, as we were working as a team and not doing this alone.
I’ll be honest and say that I was massively sceptical – not of Chris, or of God’s sovereignty. But sceptical that the Spirit would speak to me in this way, and that the Spirit would use this method to reach people. Chris had prepared us well for disappointment, stating that the first 20 or so times he’d done it there had been little ‘success’. If I was sceptical before, I was even more so when I felt the Spirit giving me the clue ‘top hat’ for appearance!
My scepticism diminished slightly when the first charity shop we passed appeared to have a top hat box in the window. So we ventured inside, but there was no sign of a top hat (phew!). There was, however, a sign for a ‘vintage’ pop-up shop upstairs. I headed up the stairs into a room which contained lots of vintage clothes, and hats – but no top hat (double phew!). But I have to admit that I started to get excited at this point – it felt like we were so close and that God might actually have a hand in this madness.
We continued, and before long came across a fancy dress shop. Outside there was a poster of a man wearing a top hat, and a blue coat (which was one of my colleague’s clues). The poster was on a gate at the entrance to a yard (one of my clues) with some car parking spaces within (car park being another of my clues). We went inside and after a brief, good-natured conversation with a young assistant and then the owner (who both looked utterly bemused), we made no further connections and they weren’t keen to share anything for prayer, so we shook hands and went on our way.
After much wandering around the town (high street, side streets and back alleys) we were becoming a little aimless and naturally heading back to the church. One of my colleagues (Chris P.) saw someone he recognised but hadn’t seen in years and stopped for a chat. The young man, David, was stood with his older friend, Den, at the door of a pub. David and Chris started chatting and Den asked how they knew each other. David replied that he used to attend the church which Chris attends. Den asked if Chris is a preacher, but before Chris could answer, Den said ‘…because I need to get to know Jesus – I’ve got sins in my life I need to sort out’. Wow – forget the treasure hunting – this seemed like a Divinely orchestrated opportunity.
Chris explained what we were doing, but said that neither David nor Den really seemed to fit with any of the clues. Den asked to see them, and saw that one of the names on the list was John and said ‘that’s my name’. He produced his NHS card which revealed his name to be ‘John Dennis’. Chris pointed out that another clue was ‘hotel’ and that they were standing in the door of an Inn – a pub/hotel – and that it was white, another of our clues was ‘white house’. At this point Den was a little surprised.
Another clue on the list under prayer needs was ‘hands’ and David told us how he’d sliced his fingers open the day before and showed us the dressings. Another clue under physical appearance was ‘little finger, right hand’. When we showed this to Den he almost fell over – but instead showed us the little finger on his right hand which had been severed in an accident years before and successfully reattached. We were all shocked & surprised. Those of us treasure hunting were also delighted – Den was absolutely astounded! But it didn’t end there.
Chris said one of his clues was ‘Salvation Army’ but that didn’t seem to fit either, but Den said he’d been in the Salvation Army for 10 years earlier in his life. Then the final, and in some ways for Den, most convincing element was the word ‘holiday’ under extra clues. Den revealed that he and David has just booked a holiday one hour earlier (exactly at the time we were praying and seeking clues). Den was incredibly emotional & hardly able to speak. David took over and we said that we’d also got the name ‘Sarah’ and asked if that meant anything to them. Den confidently shook his head (I think secretly relieved) but David roared with incredulous laughter before rebuking Den and reminding him that Den’s ex-wife is called Sarah.
What followed were two separate amazing conversations with the two guys. David discussed how he has a faith but not a strong one, but recognises that he needs to get back to church in order to sort a few issues out in his life. Den was honestly just gob-smacked, but he commented about how Chris hadn’t preached at him but had simply listened. He said that we had an energy around us which he could feel and it was incredibly reassuring, peaceful & warm (we pointed out that it was the Holy Spirit, and not from us). Chris told him that God had wanted us to meet with him this afternoon and made sure we did; that God knows not only his name, but his every need, and loves him more than he can know.
Both men are excited to be going to church tomorrow morning and intend to carry on the conversation.
As we left the two guys in the pub doorway there was, by then, a woman standing next to us who was listening to the conversations and giggling to herself. She had waved at a friend of Chris, so he asked how she knew the friend and she replied proudly ‘I am her treasure!’. That’s just awesome!
I’m still processing the enormity of what happened this afternoon. My scepticism has gone and my excitement level has soared. Praise God!
I’m praying for Den & David as they go to church tomorrow – would you join me?