Paper Plates From God

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Every Friday night I attend an international student Bible study, led by a student I am mentoring. This past Friday when we showed up, there was a woman watching TV in the usually-empty lounge. As we began our study, the voices booming from the TV made it hard for me to focus and the woman's presence quickly became a nuisance to me. Nevertheless, I did my best to focus on our discussion and tune out the attention-greedy TV.

Halfway through our study, one of the students in the Bible study pointed out the cake that Steven (the leader) had brought as a snack and asked if the paper plates next to it were for us. "I didn't bring them," Steven said, and we all asked each other only to find that none of us had brought them. They were very convenient, though, considering Steven had brought the cake (leftover from an earlier event) but no plates.

"I guess they're from God," I said, lightheartedly but seriously. As I looked at the pile, I noticed how small it was and looked closer to see if there happened to be exactly enough plates for the four of us -- you know, to give God extra credit or something. But alas, we counted five.

Right then I had one of those moments. It was like God dropped a thought into my mind that was distinctly not my own: "The fifth plate is for her." I looked across the room at the woman on the couch and I decided to follow the nudge in my spirit. "Hey -- sorry, I don't know your name -- do you want some cake?"

"Yes!" came her surprisingly exuberant reply. "Yes!" (We found out later she really likes sweets.) We invited her over, gave her some cake, and introduced ourselves. I mentioned she was welcome to join us if she was interested, but my comment was lost among the introductions.

Conversation quickly died down and she prepared to walk back to her couch. But sensing that there was something of God in all of this, I asked again, "Do you want to join us? Pull up a chair!" She gladly accepted and joined us for the remainder of our study, adding her comments and sharing about her life with us.

It turns out she is a Romanian Orthodox Christian with a delightful personality, currently working toward her teaching credential. She plans to join our Bible study in future weeks, and I look forward to getting to know her more.

I went home that night joyful and smiling involuntarily. "Life with You is FUN," I journaled to God, into my phone while walking back to my car. I had no better word for God's creative use of paper plates than that: fun!

To my natural self, this woman had been little more than a nuisance. But with the help of God, I was able to get to know, enjoy, and learn from this sister in Christ. I don't know if that night was part of some significant work of God in her life or not, but the deep joy I felt that night came simply from getting to play some small part in God's work.

Ephesians 2:10 says that God has "good works... prepared in advance for us to do." But I wonder: how many of these little adventures do I miss because I am not attuned to his presence? Because I am unwilling to break silence with a stranger? Because I assume there must be a "natural" explanation for the presence of five paper plates (which I don't doubt there was) and so they can't possibly be a sign from God?

Before going to sleep that night, I thought of an exchange Jesus' disciples once had with him after he had taken time to welcome a woman not unlike our new friend: someone alone, from a different culture, and from a different religious sect though worshiping the same God. “Rabbi, eat something,” they had said, to which Jesus had replied, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:31-32).

I didn't eat any cake that night. In fact, we ended up only using three of the five plates; cake wasn't their purpose. But that night I had cake to eat that was far sweeter than the pumpkin cream-cheese cake on our table. I had a taste of the joy that Jesus regularly feasted on: the joy of joining in the work of his heavenly Father.

I am grateful for such a fun little adventure with God, and for the ways He has been graciously and patiently shaping me into someone who is more aware of His nudges and less hesitant to act on them. This little taste has only made me want more.

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