It was a rainy Sunday and we had all just piled back into the car after church. We headed down the street to Kohl’s, where I needed to return a few things we had ordered. These things had been sitting in a shopping bag in my passenger seat for a few weeks. I was happy to finally clear out the space in my car and get my money back. The kids were tired, and we were anxious to get home. Daryl parked the car. It was just a random parking space in a big lot, but it was then and there that God met us.
He was an interesting sight, really, the man who pulled up next to us. He was the age of our parents, a little bit disheveled and smoky-smelling, but he drove a pretty decent looking car, just as nice as ours. Daryl happened to be standing outside of our car, retrieving the sippy cup Ella had thrown, when the man approached.
“I have never done this before in my life, but do you have any money?” he asked.
We didn’t say anything at first, we just looked at each other. Though we were both silent, inside the thoughts were racing. Who is this person? Who does things like this? He has a nicer car than we do! We have kids to take care of. He doesn’t look like he needs any money.
The man reached into his car and took out a stack of paper bills still in their mailing envelopes and spoke again.
“My wife and I are having a real hard time. We are trying to make things work. We are trying real hard, but I got these bills to pay and I need some extra to get some groceries.”
We looked at this stranger in front of us. And again the judgements swirled in my head. Is this just the story he tells everyone? Talk about groceries – we need them too with these kids! What is he really going to use our money for? I looked at my husband and knew he was wondering the same thing. We don’t even carry much cash with us. But Daryl opened up his wallet and took out the money that was in there. He got back out of the car and handed it to the man. It was then that the glory of God fell like rain. Because we were just as unworthy of everything He has showered upon us.
Daryl would go on to tell me later that the same questions and judgements had swirled in his head too. But that the still small voice of God spoke louder, telling him to give that cash to this man. I felt it in my own heart too. Despite the deafening roar of my own perceptions and fears, The Lord spoke. Who are you to judge this man? Have I not commanded you? His circumstances and what he buys with the money are not your concern. Give what you have. Follow Me. And in His grace, He brought to mind the many, many times He has provided for us. Richly. He has never left us in need of anything, and He has always blessed us with more than enough.
“Sir,” said my husband. “This isn’t going to pay all of those bills, but I hope you’ll use it to get the groceries you need. I also want you to know that I am doing this out of obedience to my God. Can I pray with you?”
Then and there, my husband laid a hand on the shoulder of a total stranger and prayed out loud for him, his wife, and for the love and provision of The Lord to be real in his life. The man prayed with him, said thank you many times, and went on his way. It was our church in the parking lot.
Everything that transpired that day was a poignant reminder that the depth of our Father’s love reaches far beyond the four walls of a church building. Church happens everywhere, and today, church was in the Kohl’s parking lot. It was there, on a random piece of concrete, that my children watched from the backseat as love and mercy were poured out on a man we didn’t know. What began as a store parking lot became holy ground and the place that my babies witnessed the hands and feet of Christ in their daddy.
The best part of this story has nothing to do with giving money to a stranger. It has everything to do with putting aside our own perceptions to walk in wholehearted obedience to God. That car ride home was one I won’t forget. We spent the drive talking to Jacob and Ella about what happened, about mercy, about obedience, and about glory. It was a priceless experience, worth far more than the cash we had in our wallets. Money pales in comparison with the all-surpassing greatness of our God, and I will always be thankful that He spoke so clearly to us. I would like to think that if Jesus had clothed Himself as that man and asked me for something, that I would give without hesitation out of the riches He has provided for me. Above all else, I want my babies to see that we will do anything for Him because He did everything for us.
Sometimes He asks us to step out, to trust, to intercede before Him on behalf of a total stranger, to call upon His name in the presence of someone who may have never heard it before. What if that’s what this whole thing was about? Daryl and I may never know why we came face to face with that man that day. But we don’t need to. What we did need was to be reminded that we serve a God who will meet us right in the middle of a parking lot, and that He doesn’t need a church building to put His glory on display. All He asked us to do was to obey Him, and His presence fell like rain.
“And I tell you that on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell will never overcome it.” | Matthew 16:18