In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
A couple of years ago a Syrian pastor from Damascus preached at my church and told us a story that I will never forget.
A couple of years ago a Syrian pastor from Damascus preached at my church and told us a story that I will never forget. Every day he and his wife walked from their home to their church, a journey of about 45 minutes. One day they started out as usual, but after a short distance both felt a clear conviction that they should carry on no further and should return home. So they did. Later that day they discovered that a massive bomb had been set off on the route which they would have taken, and quite probably they would have been killed or maimed in the explosion. They were in the right place at the right time - by the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Many centuries earlier the prophet Elijah had been keeping a very low profile in Israel because Queen Jezebel was after his life. However, at a certain point in time the Lord said to him, “Go down and meet Ahab king of Israel. He has just gone to take possession of a vineyard whose owner he has murdered” (1 Kings 21:17-19). So, just as Ahab steps into the vineyard which he had wanted so very much, he is confronted by Elijah and the word of the Lord; and he humbles himself before the Lord (1 Kings 21:27-29). Elijah was in the right place at the right time - by the direction of the Lord.
In the early days of the church Philip was in the middle of the desert when he came across the chariot of a person who was clearly very important. The Spirit said, “Go to that chariot and stay near it” - a rather daunting command. He obeyed, and as a result one of the chief officials of the queen of the Ethiopians became a follower of Jesus (Acts 8:26-39). Philip was in the right place at the right time - by the direction of the Spirit.
In all of these cases God specifically directed the person. However, we can also find ourselves in the right place at the right time without even realising that God was in it. That is how it happened with Moses’ sister in Exodus chapter 2. At that time the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and, to control their population, Pharaoh had decreed that every newborn Hebrew boy must be drowned in the Nile. Moses’ parents refused to do this and (quite remarkably!) kept their baby boy hidden for three months.
When concealment was no longer possible, his mother put him in a waterproof basket and left him among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. Who should be the first person to discover him but Pharaoh’s daughter! She took pity on him and wanted to adopt him. Up pops Moses’ sister and suggests that she could find a suitable Hebrew woman to wet nurse the baby: Moses’ mother!
So Moses spent the most formative years of his life being brought up by his own parents, even though this was contrary to Pharaoh’s decree - all because his sister had stayed to watch what happened to the baby in the basket and was ready to react when Pharaoh’s daughter took an interest in him. She had not had any particular direction from God; she had been curious and maybe felt it was the right thing to do. But certainly she was in the right place at the right time.
Joseph - of technicolour dreamcoat fame - was sent by his father to see how his brothers were getting on with the family flocks. He could not find them anywhere in Shechem, then happened to meet a man who told him, “They have moved on from here. I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan’” (Genesis 37:12-17).
Had Joseph not met this man, he would probably have returned home; then he would never have ended up in Egypt and saved so many lives during the famine, including those of his own family. We do not know this man’s name, but he just happened to be in the right place at the right time - though probably he was totally unaware of it.
I had always wanted to study at Cambridge University, but failed the entrance exam, so went to Manchester instead. It was there that I met Jesus and met my wife, the two most important people in my life. I was in the right place at the right time - but I had been totally unaware of it when deciding to study in Manchester.
All through Jesus’ life he encountered people who happened to be in the right place at the right time. If the Samaritan woman at the well had decided not to gather water one particular lunchtime, she would not have met Jesus and led her whole village to believe in him (John 4). If a funeral procession in Nain had not happened to cross Jesus’ path as he was approaching the town, a grieving mother would not have received her son back from the dead (Luke 7:11-15). If one man in Capernaum had decided to give the synagogue a miss one particular Saturday, nobody would have ever realised that he was troubled by an unclean spirit and he would never have been set free from it (Mark 1:21-26).
So, it’s wonderful to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we are there because we have obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, sometimes simply because it felt good or right to us to be there; other times we happened to encounter Jesus, or it was purely the grace of God that put us in that place - like me in Manchester.