16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
When his disciples watched Jesus die on the cross, they feared they had lost his presence forever. Matthew’s gospel condensed all Jesus' post-resurrection appearances into this one passage. But in it, he made the vital promise that “I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (verse 20). John’s gospel expanded on that—Jesus said the Holy Spirit was his presence with them (cf. John 14:16-18). The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ personal presence with each of us not just sometimes but every day, is a beautiful, supportive gift!
Lord God, right now, as I pray this prayer, you are with me. Thank you—and tune my heart and mind to more clearly sense your presence to guide, comfort and strengthen me. Amen.
* William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew—Volume 2 Chapters 11–28 (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 378.
** N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16–28. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 207.
One September day in 2009, struggling with faith, I sat in my little monastic cell (my car), pouring out my soul. “Jesus, if you’re real, show me. I want to believe. I’m knocking, and you promised to open the door. Here’s your chance.”
This irreverent ultimatum didn't irk God; rather, it seemed to set off a string of experiences in which I encountered the love and pursuit of Jesus, through people. Strangers, all.
Within the month, I was approached by a middle-aged woman at a writer’s conference named Heather who found me in a crowded classroom, and announced, “This might seem strange, but I felt like Jesus wanted me to tell you how much he loves you. I’ve been seeing your face and praying for you all morning.”
That November, two other strangers approached me on the same day, with similar messages. The first was a well-dressed woman with a pixie cut at Scooters named Priss, who grasped my arm suddenly as I waited quietly in line, and said, “Oh honey, the Holy Spirit’s all over you right now.” That morning, she prayed an “anointing prayer” with her hand atop my head in the back corner. I felt a warm, tingly energy flow through my head into my entire body. Later in the same day, waiting to order lunch at Panera, a man named Corey also pulled me aside in line, said he had “a sixth sense, or what some call a gift of prophecy,” and that Jesus had a project for me and was doing something in my life!
I was overwhelmed by these three serendipitous events, and particularly curious about the palpable anointing experience during Priss'--the second stranger's--prayer. I went back to Scooters several times in the months that followed, trying desperately to locate Priss again. I wanted to know about her faith, and why her prayer had so physically affected me. Unfortunately, the baristas hadn’t seen her, and despite continued prayers—“help me find her, God; I need to talk to her”—I couldn’t figure out how to reconnect.
The following spring, 2010, I was in Panera, typing on my computer when another stranger—a man in his 70s, named Hoss—interrupted me and struck up a conversation. He said he couldn’t explain why, but he felt "compelled" to talk to me, as if by a higher power. On another occasion, we spoke again, and I mentioned the string of spiritual strangers who approached me, like him, out of nowhere…Heather at the writer’s conference, Corey at Panera, and Priss at Scooters. When I said Priss’ unusual name, Hoss’ eyes grew wide. “That’s the name of my ex-wife,” he said. He gave me her full name.
With this information, my curiosity piqued, I did a Google search, and located a picture. It was Priss, the exact woman I had been searching for and praying to find, whose anointing prayer had filled me with the energy of the Holy Spirit. It was no wonder I had never located her despite all my efforts over several months: she had moved out of state the previous December! Hoss put us in touch via phone, and Priss remembered praying over me, and became a spiritual mentor.
Many other stunning coincidences have happened since, and a host of other strangers with messages from God have approached me in the most unlikely places--the Kauffman Center, a toy store, coffee shops and airplanes. Despite all I’ve witnessed, much like Jesus’ own wishy-washy disciples, I am still a fumbling believer plagued by doubts, wounds and disillusionment. But I can testify that Jesus’ loving Spirit is alive and active in this world, mysteriously present through people.
Knock on Jesus' door, and you never know who will greet you in disguise.
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