I decided to drive into downtown Seattle for the evening and take the ferry over to Bainbridge Island. Why? Because I had time to spare and I wanted to see the water and the beautiful Olympic mountains on the other side of Puget Sound.
I got out of my car and walked onto the streets of downtown Seattle. Suddenly, I noticed how fast my pace was, one foot after another in feverous succession. Calm down, Matthew! I had to make a conscious effort to slow down. Those who know me well know that I’m always in a rush.
As I was walking down Union Street towards Pike Place Market, I noticed a woman sitting at the corner. Her hair was disheveled, her thick-rim glasses broken, and the sight of her clothes suggested they hadn’t seen a washing machine in some time.
Immediately, I was aware of my assignment. I had been commissioned to buy this woman a meal. Now, I didn’t see an open-heaven vision or hear the audible voice of God. One moment I was walking along, aware of my walking pace but completely unaware of anything else, and the next minute I had the fully-formed thought to buy some food.
I find that’s how God often speaks to me. It’s as if he places a neatly-wrapped, fully-formed concept in my mind. One moment, nothing but static; a second later, something is undeniably there. I ran the idea through my final filter: “Could this thought be from an evil spirit?” I had to laugh at the thought. I can’t honestly conceive an evil spirit would ever inspire a follower of Jesus to show the King’s love to someone in need. Perhaps? I suppose it’s possible, but not today.
I went into Starbucks and looked at the cold case. Juice, smoothies, water, sandwiches, snack packs…so many choices.
In situations like this, I’ve learned to avoid my propensity to be frugal. Once I’ve committed myself to obey, I prefer to clear my mind and operate on impulse rather than logic.
So what did I do? I just started grabbing things from the shelves. Five minutes and twenty bucks later, I was outside approaching Cathy.
She was holding an empty Target cup, not for water as I’m sure you have already inferred. I looked her in the eyes, introduced myself, and offered to shake her hand. She took the cigarette in her other hand, set it on the pavement, and complied. I told her how I didn’t have any cash to put in her cup, but that I wanted to buy her some food. I set it in front of her, selfishly (Hey, I’m human!) hoping for a bit of gratitude.
“Hmmph,” grunted Cathy, as she began ruffling through the brown Starbucks bag. Feeling a little odd and rejected, I wished her well and turned my gaze towards Pike Place Market.
I arrived a few minutes later, only to find that all the shops were closed. Even the famous fish-throwing seafood stand was sweeping the floor, tossing fishy ice, and closing up for the evening. What to do now?
In rare times like this, when I am alone and have nothing to do, I did what I do best – I bought a cup of coffee. I bought a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee from Starbucks. It set me back $5 for a large, err…”Venti” (The fancy name someone demands a premium). Plenty of cream, a little natural sweetener, and I’m off to the Bainbridge Island ferry.
As I’m walking toward the ferry, I see another beggar. He’s looks to be about thirty years old. Immediately, another fully-formed thought drops into my consciousness. “Your wallet is open.” I had been summoned again. Wow, two times in one hour! This is uncommon for me, largely attributed to the fact that I’m too distracted and rushed in my normal “M.O” to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Mental note: I need to work on that.
As I walked by him, I heard him mumble something. I assumed that he was asking for cash, so I told him that I didn’t have any money on me. “No, you weren’t listening,” he said. “I wasn’t asking for money. You see, I’m trying to get home to Port Townsend, but I don’t have any money for the ferry.”
“Sure, I’ll buy you a ticket on the ferry. You can ride with me.” The man, Jayme, thanked me, saying he’d been out in front of the ferry terminal for almost four hours, waiting for some help. I went and bought the tickets.
When I returned to the front door of the terminal, Jayme launched into his next request.
“Do you know what diverticulitis is?”
“It’s a problem in your intestinal tract,” I replied.
“Yah. Right. Well, since I have it I’m on a liquid diet. Could you buy me a milkshake and…maybe give me some money for bus fare from Bainbridge Island to Port Townsend?”
He continued on for several minutes about his service in the military and current medical problems. This guy was totally taking advantage of the opportunity! Just as I was about to end the conversation, I remembered the words: “Your wallet is open.”
Two minutes later, I showed up, milkshake in hand: large, vanilla, extra whip. No sooner had he taken two sips, than he continued:
“Okay, like I was saying, I need to ask for money to pay the bus fare from Bainbridge Island to Port Townsend.”
It was at this point that I received my third set of orders for the evening. In an instant, the thought appeared in my consciousness: “You are to agree to give him $20, but he can get it from you on the ferry. You are not to give it to him here.”
“Sure thing,” I said. “Let me go upstairs to the terminal and I’ll grab it from an ATM up there. We’ll meet on the top deck of the ferry and I’ll give it to you there.”
The countenance on his face changed. So far, every request had been granted with no strings attached. The money train had just slammed on the brakes.
“No, I need it right now. Seattle Transit won’t let me board the ferry with everyone else. I need to board down below with the cars. I’ve had too many people burn me in the past. They’ve offered to give me money on the ferry, but then they never show. When that happens, I end up stranded on Bainbridge because people over there are snobs and they don’t help people like me.. I really need the money now so I can know that I’ll be okay.”
What was I going to say? The money wasn’t an issue, but I felt strongly that I needed to give it to him on the ferry, not out on the street.
“Alright, Jesus, I’ll get out of the way,” was my thought. “You led me to this man, you’ll need to give me something to say.”
I decided to clear my mind and open my mouth.
Jayme was looking at me impatiently, waiting for a response.
“Come on, man. It’s only twenty bucks. I don’t see why you’re making it hard on me. Just give me the money here. I’ve been out here all afternoon. I just want to get home. No one cares about me.”
Then something happened. My mouth began moving and the words just flowed.
“Jayme, how can you say that no one cares about you? You’re standing here with a ferry ticket and a milkshake. You didn’t have either of those things ten minutes ago. And don’t think that I got those for you because I feel sorry for you. The money I have belongs to Jesus; he tells me how to use it. So it was really Jesus who bought you that ferry ticket and Jesus who bought you the milkshake in your hand.”
I continued, “If it was up to me, I’d just give you the twenty bucks right here; but I feel very strongly that Jesus wants me to give it to you on the ferry. I see that you’re scared. I see that you just want to get home. But there’s something bigger going on right now. You’ve just received an invitation.”
Jayme looked dumbfounded. I continued keep my mouth open and moving.
“Yah, an invitation! Jesus wants you to trust him.”
Now, please understand that I didn’t contrive this explanation. These words just flowed out of my mouth. I didn’t need to drop a “Thus saith The Lord,” but I was inwardly aware that the Holy Spirit was using my words and personality to reach this guy.
“This is an opportunity,” I said, “for you to know that he will not let you down. He’s already told me to get the money. I’m responsible to him. But you, Jayme. What are you going to do? Are you going to trust him?”
Jayme’s countenance softened. “You’re really going to get the money?” He wanted to trust me, but at this point I think he was trying to figure out if I had all the marbles in my head.
“Yes, Jayme. Jesus told me to get the money. That’s my job. All you need to do walk onto the boat and meet me on the top deck. That’s your job. This is your invitation.”
With that, I turned around and walked upstairs to the ferry terminal. I boarded the ferry and went to the top deck. I did everything I could to make myself visible to Jayme, but he never showed up.
Feeling a lot like God’s ambassador at this point, I walked through two levels of the ferry, scanning the sea of faces for the scraggly face of that man. I wanted to make sure he hadn’t overlooked me. If I represented King Jesus, I wanted to make sure I showed Jayme how unrelenting he can be. My search turned up cold.
When we arrived at Bainbridge Island, I was the first to get off the ferry. I stood by the exit, waiting for the hundreds of people to shuffle down the narrow gangplank. Dead end. Jayme never got on the ferry.
That night, as I took the ferry back to Seattle from Bainbridge Island, there was just one thing on my mind. It was the issue of trust.
Jesus, through my weak efforts, had shown his generosity to Jayme. Not only had Jesus provided him a ferry ticket, he also bought Jayme a vanilla milkshake. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Jesus was even willing to give him the bus fare to Port Townsend as well.
Jayme literally had everything he needed to get back home. He had everything he needed in order to throw away his cardboard sign and sleep under a warm roof that night. There was just one thing he was lacking – trust.
In spite of all that I had given him, he wasn’t willing to trust me for the last piece of the puzzle. Jayme was a war veteran. He had undoubtedly demonstrated courage numerous times overseas. However, that night outside the Seattle ferry terminal, he was afraid and unwilling to trust me.
As I think back on this story, I can’t help but identify with Jayme. I am the one who has been hurt and cheated. I am the one holding out the proverbial cardboard sign, hoping that someone will meet my needs and show me kindness.
Jesus walks up to me, responding to my cry for help.
At first, I’m happy to receive help; that is, as long as it’s on my terms. As long as I’m the one setting the parameters, I’ll receive all day long.
Like a genie in the lamp, I thought that I had enlisted Jesus’ assistance to meet my demands. “I’ll have my three wishes and my last wish is for more wishes!”
But Jesus doesn’t play by my rules. Jesus don’t play that game!
I had my agenda and Jesus was there, meeting my perceived needs every step of the way until…whoops…course correction. I find that I’ve fallen into his trap.
Like Jayme, I thought this arrangement was setup to meet my perceived needs when, in fact, this mysterious benefactor had an altogether different agenda for the evening.
For Jayme, the milkshake and transportation were secondary needs. Jesus wanted to show Jayme that he could be trusted. He wanted to heal Jayme’s broken mindset and show him how much he cared.
How many times have I, just like Jayme, ignored the invitation of the King? How often do I walk away from a disguised opportunity because I let fear get a hold of me?
There’s a world of adventure and fulfillment out there just waiting to be discovered. There are untold blessings that Jesus wants to give to you and me, hidden blessings that we can’t discern at first glance.
All we need to do is respond to his invitation, trust his character, and get on the boat.
© 2012 Matthew Berry http://matthewberry.me