While attending the American Society of Church History’s annual meeting last Sunday, I ran into a friend from 20 years ago with whom I had lost contact for a number of years. There is a reason we lost contact. At one point she had been in academics and we had cooperated on some scholarship over the years, but then she returned to ministry and has been pastoring a church in Philly for the past 13 years.
Rather than doing the academic thing on Sunday morning (attending a panel discussion), I decided I would do the Christian thing and attend my friend’s worship service. It was Epiphany Sunday: the appearance of our Lord.
It was a wonderful service. At the end, everyone was given a piece of paper with their word for the year. Wow. Word for the year sounded a little mystical, and yet last year God had clearly spoken to me about my word for the year: holiness. That word had a significant impact on my year, so I was open to what God might do this year.
My word for the year is exactly what I needed. I believe it was God ordained—providential, if you will.
Tell. My word for 2023 is TELL.
After walking back for a mile-and-a-half to my hotel, I ordered a Lyft to the airport and my driver, Pierre, picked me up. I prayed that I would be able to lean into my word.
As soon as I sat down, I looked at Spotify on his car dashboard and there was some album with an angry skeleton. A number of expletives were being sung. He turned down the volume.
I began a conversation. “How long have you been driving, Pierre?”
“Three months,” he remarked.
“Wow, that’s not long. What were you doing before?”
“I have my own business where I help people with credit problems. It is going pretty well, but when I have some free time, I drive to earn more money.” This has often been my experience with rideshare drivers. They are hard-working people who patch together jobs to pay their way or to pay for more education. “Are you from Philly?” I asked.
“Yep. From South Philly, but my mom is from Liberia and my father from Senegal.” Ok, Jesus. This is great. I can talk about cultures, languages, and religions. Thank you, Jesus!
But before I could ask more questions he asked me, “What do you do?”
After a quick prayer, I said, “I am the president of a seminary. We train pastors, evangelists, and missionaries from all around the world.”
“Wow! I have never had a seminary president in my car before. This is amazing. You must be a real strong Christian and work with amazing people.” Then he turned off the music . . . completely.
“Yes,” I replied. “I get to work with some amazing people who have dedicated their lives to live for others. They tell others about Jesus and care for the defenseless. Well, I have some stories. I am very blessed to be involved in the work I do.” I paused and thanked God for the amazing people I get to work with and the alumni I have spoken to. I am so, so blessed.
Whether out of guilt or genuine spiritual connection, he began to tell me about his mother, a very strong Christian among a family of Muslims, and what she had taught him about prayer (“Son, you need to pray every day, and listen to Jesus. Don’t forget that.”). He told me about suffering when his school lost his diploma and then how he failed the GRE a number of times, but God miraculously intervened.
We were getting near the airport, and I told him he really needed to read the Bible every day to listen to God. Then I thought about music.
At the morning worship service, a remarkable solo was sung. I said to myself, “Self, Pierre loves music. Give him some music that will guide his thinking and that will help him through life.”
“Pierre, you have Spotify. Do a search for “Goodness of God” by CeCe Winans. He searched for it at a stop light and turned it on. As we pulled into Terminal A at the airport we listened together:
“ . . . ‘Cause all my life You have been faithful.
And all my life you have been so, so good.
With every breath that I am able.
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God . . .”
“Pierre. Thanks for the ride. When you listen to songs like this, you can think of them as a prayer. Good music helps you pray. God bless you.”
 His name has been changed.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.