Praying By The Fishsticks

Have you ever prayed by the fish sticks? I have. Well, I should have.

While youth pastoring at my grandfather’s church in Beaumont, CA, I went shopping at the local Alpha Beta. As I turned down the frozen food aisle, I noticed a woman of about fifty looking into the frozen fish sticks and weeping.

Now, frozen fish doesn’t usually have that kind of effect on most people, unless they’ve recently had a goldfish tragedy, or something like that. Flushing Goldy can be a very traumatic experience, especially if he won’t go down like he’s supposed to. I had one fish we flushed, er uh, buried, that came back up three times. He was like the undead or something. We sold the film rights to Steven Spielberg, but he never did anything with it…

Anyway, there was this lady making ice cubes from her tears in the frozen food section. Suddenly, I realized that God was asking me to go pray with her. Now, you hear Christians talk about God speaking to them all the time. No, the fluorescent fixtures didn’t part like the Red Sea. No, God’s voice did not boom over the loudspeakers. It was a gentle nudging feeling. After you have spent time in prayer, listening for God’s voice, you learn to know when God is encouraging you to action. Well, He started in on me, asking me to go pray with the lady right there. Being a sincere man of God, I did… exactly the wrong thing!

I began to come up with all kind of reasons why the frozen food aisle was not a good place for prayer. I told God I would pray with her in the parking lot, I would give her my business card, I would invite her to church, I would do anything but pray for her by the fish sticks.

While I was bargaining with God, she left the frozen food aisle. Relieved, I went on about my shopping, positive that I had made the right choice. The story of Jonah kept coming to me for some reason.

While I continued shopping, every time I went down an aisle, there she was, still sniveling, sobbing, and ruining groceries. I couldn’t take it anymore. I caught up with her by the Wonder bread. “Ma’am, can I pray with you?”

“That would be nice,” she said, her face puffy from crying. I prayed a very quiet prayer of peace for this woman, whatever her problem was. Suddenly, she dropped to her knees and began to call out to God, and she received Christ in a glorious way. She went on to become a missionary to Fiji, leading millions to Christ. People in Alpha Beta were so impressed with my prayer that our church grew by 100 the next Sunday.

Okay, it didn’t end that way. I finished my prayer, she whispered “Thank you,” and I never saw her again.

Did I do the right thing? Yes and no. I eventually obeyed God, but it took me a while. Who knows what would have happened if I had prayed with her by the fishsticks? Maybe the end would have been different, maybe not. I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter. You are not going to see great fireworks and bells and whistles every time you obey God. Sometimes, your job is just to be a witness, and someone else will come along and see the fireworks. That’s okay. It’s the obedience, not the results, that is the key.

I was wrong in that I didn’t obey right away. Delayed obedience is still just disobedience. When I tell my kids to empty the trash on Monday and they take it out on Wednesday, they have obeyed. They have also missed the trash pickup, which happens on Tuesday. Yes, the job got done, but it was too late.

Jesus put this whole obedience issue into focus when He said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15 NIV)

If my kids miss the trash day, it’s just trash. If we miss an opportunity to serve God, lives may be at stake. Eternity may be weighed in the balance. The stakes are just too high to gamble with delayed obedience.

These days you will find me trolling the frozen food aisle looking for potential prayer partners. I’m going to be ready next time He calls.

Getting frostbite, but still obedient… Jerry

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