(Appeared first in February 2013, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
It seems presumptuous to say that we’ve seen God at work in specific ways. I’ve often cringed when I heard people tell about the way God answered their prayers—in a way that seemed out of character with the God of Scripture.
Early in December 2012, I conversed with a group of leaders about the need to look for God at work in the world. Reflecting on that conversation, a pastor wrote me, asking: “Can I offer an encouragement? You’ll remember at our Saturday meeting that many of us talked about being alienated by people who glibly put God at the front of all their sentences. (“God told me to buy this Mercedes.”) Might you write a … column in The Mennonite about the difference between authentically naming what God is doing and this kind of superficial (and often selfish) ‘God talk’? In other words, how can we talk about God—and in God’s name—in ways that are reverent, humble and truthful?”
Great idea. The pastor’s mention of a Mercedes triggered two memories for me. The first was a flashback to a moment more than 40 years ago when I was riding with a carload of friends from my church youth group. We were listening to Janis Joplin sing, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”
Perhaps the pastor was thinking of that song as well, a humorous example of the “junk mail” requests God often gets in prayer correspondence from us.
The pastor’s note also reminded me of an incident that took place one weekend about 20 years ago among a group of friends in a Mennonite congregation near my home. A businessman named Dan, along with his wife Naomi, went shopping for a new car. In the showroom they were both drawn to a Mercedes-Benz. They could clearly afford the car but hesitated to close the deal. They agreed with each other that they wanted to see if God had anything to say to them before they made the purchase. So they decided not to say anything to anyone about it, waiting to see if God would speak to them about it by some means other than the opinion of friends.
The following Sunday at the worship service, God answered their prayer in an unexpected way.
As was the custom in that church, the congregation had a time of worship and singing, followed by a time of “listening” prayer. The worshippers were invited to listen for God’s voice and then share with the congregation what they were hearing or seeing. A young woman named Teresa stood up and said that she was seeing a sporty car up on a pedestal. She was also seeing a red light flashing and hearing a voice that was saying no. She admitted she had no idea what this “picture” meant but that perhaps someone else would.
Dan and Naomi took this as God’s answer to their request for discernment and decided not to buy the car. Because they had already saved up cash for a new car, they asked God what to do with the money. They sensed God telling them to use it to buy a new car for the pastor of the church, since his car was practically worn out.
So they deposited a good sum of money into a church account and invited others to contribute to the fund. Within a few weeks, the church bought the pastor a brand new Subaru.
I’ve had several rides in that Subaru. As I reflect on what happened prior to the purchase of that car, I can see God at work in at least the following ways: helping Dan prosper as a businessman, prompting Dan and Naomi to listen for God’s voice in financial decisions, granting a prophetic gift to Teresa, prompting Dan and Naomi to give generously, and prompting the congregation to bless their pastor.
A God sighting indeed.