This morning, I was thinking about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, in John 4. The woman had come to the well, at midday, to fetch water. She certainly didn’t expect to find Jesus there. But, that unexpected encounter changed her life.
I didn’t grow up in the Church – at least not consistently. We attended sporadically when I was a child. I never liked it. I still remember being as quiet as possible on Sunday mornings, hoping my parents would sleep in and skip church. I still remember the morning I realized that we didn’t go to church anymore. I was glad.
But, when I was in 8th grade, my cousins invited me to attend their summer church camp at Fall Creek Falls, near Cookeville, Tennessee. I accepted their invitation, enthusiastically. But, not because it was a “Church” camp.
By 8th grade, in my infinite maturity and wisdom, I had concluded that Christianity was a fairy-tale. I had no interest. I was convinced God was a myth. I still remembering thinking, “How can anyone believe that stuff?”
I didn’t go to camp with any spiritual longing. I went because camp sounded fun. And, it was. In fact, it was so fun, I went back the next summer, and the next, and the next – eventually becoming a camp counselor. I went for the volleyball, and the girls, the swimming, and the girls, the leather-working crafts, and the girls, my cool guy friends, and the girls, the mountain scenery, and the girls. You get the picture. I tolerated the God-stuff, at best, and was frankly kind of obnoxious about it, at worst. I’m still amazed that they were so patient and kind, when I was so condescending regarding their “silly” beliefs about a God that I knew didn’t exist.
I endured long worship services, twice daily, and long Bible study groups. But, I enjoyed the other parts enough that the “enduring” was worth it. And, I always made the most of the situation, strategically finding ways to sit by the prettiest girls!
Like the Samaritan woman at the well, I wasn’t looking for Jesus. I had other things on my mind. But, when I wasn’t expecting it, he showed up.
I have to admit, that I was soften-up by the love of that camp community. They loved me. Even though I only spent a week a year with those people, they loved me. Even though I was an obnoxious teen, they loved me. Even though I blatantly disrespected their faith and their God, they loved me. And, I loved them – a lot.
One night, as we were walking back to our cabins after another long, boring worship service, Scott Hubbard looked up at the stars – it was a crystal clear night and a billion stars were visible – and Scott said, “How can anyone look at that, and say there’s not a God?” That was it. Some how, some way, God used that moment to “show up.”
I didn’t tell anyone for a few days. In fact, the process of actually “believing” took a while. A year later, the summer before my Senior year of High School, I surrendered my life to Jesus at that camp, and was baptized that same night, around 10:00 or 11:00 PM, in the dark, in a small, cold, mountain creek. In that cold, cold water, I proclaimed my faith in Jesus, and as I was pushed – and I was pushed! – beneath the surface of the water, Jesus washed me clean and claimed me as his own. Somehow, I knew that moment would shape the rest of my life – and my eternity.
(There’s more to my baptism story, which I will share some other time. It’s pretty humorous!)
The Samaritan woman had not lived a great life. She had been abandoned by multiple husbands. At the time of the encounter with Jesus, she was living with a man out-of-wedlock. She likely had a bad reputation, and not many friends. I even wonder if, when Jesus spoke to her, she suspected he was looking for more than a drink of water – if you know what I mean.
We like to think that her life was perfect after she met Jesus. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. Who did she live with? Did she get married – again? Did she find friends? Did people forget and forgive her past? Did her past life ever haunt her? I wonder.
Though my baptism was undeniably a turning point in my life, it took me a while to figure out how to be a Christian. I wouldn’t attend church, regularly, for another 5 years, and I formed some pretty terrible, un-Jesus-like, habits during the years in between. And, yet, I wouldn’t be who I am today or where I today if Jesus hadn’t found me at that camp.
That wasn’t my last unexpected encounter with Jesus. Other encounters have included my calling, an emotional healing, and a few strong rebukes. I try to spend time with him everyday. I try to listen for his voice. But, occasionally he shows up in more dramatic, and unexpected ways. I’ve discovered, at least in my spiritual journey, that Jesus is both unpredictable and faithful. He shows up, often, but usually when I least expect it.
When have you had “unexpected encounters” with Jesus?