Welcome to the 2001 Minnesota State Fair! Also known as the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the 12-day annual exposition is synonymous with Pronto Pups, cheese curds, buckets of French fries, deep-fried candy bars, and Dairy Princess butter heads.
It was in this unlikely and greasy-smelling setting of 25 different foods-on-a-stick that God chose to teach me a powerful spiritual truth about the importance of simply obeying and following His simple directions. "Whatever He says to you, do it," says John 2:5. I could never have imagined how powerfully God would answer my simple prayer. But to my shame, I also learned how reluctant I am to follow His simple command.
As an employee of this annual end-of-summer rite, I was working again for the transportation department. My job as a courtesy driver includes shuttling all kinds of fair-goers: Betty Crocker demonstrators, musicians, llama and swine judges, and even a robot once.
I've also assisted plenty of lost people, too. Not necessarily spiritually lost, but lost and separated from family and friends during an event that attracts more than 1.7 million guests each year. It's mighty easy to become separated in a crowd that can easily swell to more than 225,000 in a single day.
It all began when a friend told me that she asks God to bring people into her life who need prayer. So, while walking the dusty fairgrounds before my shift one day, I decided to pray for that same opportunity. I told the Lord that I was willing to be used as a vessel in any way He desired. "Send someone to me who needs a touch from You," I prayed.
His command to me on that late August day seemed to be similar to the words He spoke to Peter in Luke chapter five. "Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets, and you will catch many fish." (Luke 5:4 NLT). Like Peter, however, I had an excuse for the Lord. The apostle told Jesus that he had worked hard all night and didn't catch a thing. In other words, the timing and conditions weren't right. I had a flimsy excuse, too.
Ann was a somewhat rude and irritating elderly woman who had become separated from her grown daughter earlier in the day. She was upset, distraught and worried sick. The way Ann was carrying on you'd think her daughter was two, not 32. I reminded her that her daughter was a mature woman. "What does it matter how old she is!" she barked at me. She had a point, but I still thought she was overreacting.
I was asked to transport Ann in my golf cart to their parked car. Perhaps the daughter was waiting there or had at least left a note as to her whereabouts on the windshield. As soon as Ann climbed onto the seat next to me I felt the Lord impress upon me that I should pray out loud for this woman and her situation. "Not this woman, Lord," I argued silently. "She's irritating me. Can't you send someone else, someone who is more pleasant to be around?" I brushed God off.
Peter was also reluctant to simply do what the Lord told him to do: fish. He was busy washing his nets and obviously didn't appreciate being told by his Master that he should stop washing his nets and return to sea for more fishing. Likewise, I wasn't exactly thrilled to hear what God was saying to me, and I certainly wasn't enamored with this particular woman God had sent my way. So as I maneuvered the golf cart through the swarming crowds I continued to ignore the Master's call.
We eventually arrived at the Giraffe Lot and located Ann's car. No sign of her daughter and no note. I might just as well return this woman to Care and Assistance and let them deal with her, I thought. But by now the Lord's insistence to simply do what He asked was really starting to annoy me. When the pressure became even more intense, I finally relented. "OK, fine, I'll pray," I told God.
I asked Ann if it was all right if I prayed. "I suppose so," was her flat, disinterested response. As I pulled the golf cart over to a more secluded place and turned off the engine, I began to talk to God out loud. "Father God, You tell us that we have no wisdom apart from You. We need Your wisdom according to James, chapter one. You tell us that if we ask for Your wisdom, You will give it to us abundantly and continuously. We need Your help in reuniting Ann with her daughter. You tell us that not a sparrow falls to the ground without You knowing it. You are aware of this situation. Help Ann take hold of faith and not fear. I am confident that You, O God, will work this out because You are able. Amen!"
As I prayed I was aware that Ann was not focused on praying at all but was fidgeting, looking around the parking lot, straining to get a glimpse of her daughter. "Well, a lot of good this is doing," I thought. "God could have at least sent me someone who is more agreeable to prayer."
When we returned to Care and Assistance, I suggested that she wait there in case her daughter eventually showed up. She refused and instead bolted out the door. I had no choice but to follow her, and as I did I was stunned to hear Ann shouting her daughter's name! She began to run after her daughter and as she ran, her high level of emotion and relief caused her to fling her purse and belongings to the ground. Nothing could encumber or delay this reunion! Upon reaching her daughter she put her face in her hands and sobbed with relief and joy. Then came the exclamation that took me aback: "She prayed! She prayed!"
As both women disappeared into the crowd, arm in arm, the realization of what had just happened hit me. I sat glued to the idle golf cart, oblivious to the pressing crowds around me. Tears came to my eyes as I spiritually and emotionally processed what the Lord had just done. The fair attendance was more than 110,000 that day. What were the chances of running into her daughter at the exact moment Ann left Care and Assistance? What were the chances of "bumping" into each other among 4.3 million square feet of exhibit space on 320 acres of land? What were the chances Peter would catch any fish? Well, when Jesus is with you in the boat or, in my case, the golf cart, success is 100% ensured when you follow His directions!
I rehearsed the last words I had spoken to Ann and her daughter. "This is not a coincidence," I said. "This is a God-incident. This is the power of prayer. This is all about Jesus." In the excitement of the moment I had actually shouted the words, and they were plenty loud for many fair-goers to hear as well.
As I thought about all this and how I had stumbled when the Lord asked me to simply obey and pray, I felt again like Simon Peter must have felt. When he realized what had happened he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, "Oh, Lord, please leave meI'm too much of a sinner to be around you." For he was awestruck by the size of their catch, as were the others with him (Luke 5:8-9 NLT).
Ann was awestruck, too. Her daughter was awestruck. I was awestruck. The two women had been separated for more than four hours but it was less than five minutes from the time I finished praying until the two women were hugging necks!
Without paying the $7 admission fee the Lord Jesus made an appearance at the 2001 Minnesota State Fair. His was the Grandstand show to end all Grandstand shows. And to think that I would have missed it if I had not followed His simple directions!
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