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Before I ever met Patton Dodd, I knew I'd like him. Captivated by a colorful snapshot of his life in My Faith So Far, I was keen to interact with this down-to-earth, laid-back guy with a love for Jesus and unmistakable disdain for religion. As we sat in the downstairs lobby of one of my favorite boutique hotels, we chatted about the trials that come with life as writers, the challenges he faced as a religion editor for Beliefnet and our random observations on the spiritual landscape of our country.
Though Dodd needed to get to a meeting and I was late myself, neither of us wanted to leave. When we finally got up, I felt a sudden impetuous impulse, a surge of energy I could only attribute to something outside myself, to give something to him.
Like most metropolitan cities, downtown Denver has homeless men and women on almost every block. Rather than hand out cash, which can be used for less-than-stellar purchases, I stock up on McDonald's dollars—hoping the recipient will at least enjoy a hot (though not particularly healthy) meal.
As I shook hands and said my goodbyes to Dodd that evening, all my thoughts centered around the five McDonald's dollars crammed into my pocket. My fingertips confirmed the bills were still there. I felt a soul-penetrating urge: Give them to him.
The only thing stronger than the impulse to give was the anxiety of actually handing over the bills. Though I had more than a hunch the impetus was from God, my mind ping-ponged with self-doubt. This was my first time meeting Dodd, and I wanted to make a good impression.
What would he think if I gave him the bills? What would God think if I didn't? The tug-of-war was raging in my mind as we said our goodbyes.
When Dodd turned to go, I said his name with an unmistakable sense of urgency. "Wait! This is going to sound strange, but give these to someone you see on the street who you think needs them."
He looked at me, mildly surprised, and said, "Uh, OK," and walked off. For fear of embarrassment, I have never asked Dodd what happened to those McDonald's dollars.
I couldn't help but wonder, What was that? Where did the impulse to give away the dollars come from?
As I reflect on the experience, I can make a strong case that the desire to give away the gift certificates was not my own. Partly because the fiery impetus was not just a fleeting thought, but a powerful, compelling urge that consumed my mind, soul and spirit. It consumed my every thought.
In the moment, it was clean and clear—the only thing I could think about. I couldn't shake or dismiss the thought no matter how hard I tried.
The impulse was also strangely familiar. I recognized the overwhelming urge as the same unexplainable desire to do something, say something or give something away I had experienced in the past.
The impulse went against my own selfish, prideful tendencies. The action required me to humble myself and trust that God was up to something I could not comprehend.
Even though I still don't understand, I quietly trust that God was at work. I was merely invited to join the party.
Maybe God wanted to do something in my life. Maybe He wanted to do something in Dodd's life. Maybe He wanted to do something in the life of someone on the streets I've never met.
What was the result of my obedience? When it comes to recognizing and responding to God's voice in our lives, all too often we never find out what Paul Harvey describes as "the rest of the story."
In my own life I've been on the receiving end of other people's impulses to give something away. I've had people approach me, faithfully speaking words of encouragement, wisdom or hope into my life. I even save the small gifts God sometimes urges people to share with me.
These items I've received are not mere mementos; they are testimonies to the beauty that emanates when we respond to God's voice, the sacred echo, in our lives. Though we may never understand the full effect of our obedience or faithfulness, we become part of the greater story of what God is doing in our community and world when we take the risk.
Expect to Make Mistakes
Though it's natural to want to avoid the mishaps of mishearing, one of the things I'm discovering about recognizing God's voice is that He doesn't have the same concerns I do. If I could hear from God on my own terms, His voice would be audible and crystal clear. I wouldn't budge without 100 percent assurance that I was moving in the proper direction.
But then relationship would be unnecessary and faith merely an afterthought. Even the disciples, as close as they were to Jesus, were not immune from misunderstanding.
In John 21:22-23, Jesus addresses Peter: "'If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.'" John explains: "Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, 'If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?'" (NKJV).
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