Words on a Plane

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy…

1 Corinthians 14:3, 39

I sat down in my seat for my flight home from Texas. Missy would stay in Texas for a few extra days for a girl’s trip. The kids where already home with my parents awaiting my return. I’m not often by myself on a plane so this was a good chance to stretch my faith a little and see what God would do.

I sat in an aisle seat in a row with one guy already at the window seat. He was a young, African-American guy, maybe in his twenties. He had a durag on with a hoodie pulled over that. He had earbuds in listening to music from his phone and a mask on his face (though masks were optional on this flight). He had sweatpants on and slide-ons on his feet. His socks were some sort of cartoonish design. His posture gave the over all message, “Leave me alone.”

As more and more people filled the cabin, and seats were running low (this was a Southwest flight where you chose your own seat), a young woman decided to claim the center seat in our row. She looked to be in her twenties as well, fashionably dressed, and either Puerto Rican or mixed race. She had a lot of make up on but it was well done. Her nails too. She had one of those looks that could be confused with a number of different ethnicities.

We all settled in and I decided to tilt my head back onto the headrest, close my eyes, and begin to pray. I began with some prayers of gratitude and praise. Then I shifted into asking the Lord what I have asked Him a hundred different times when praying for people, “Lord, how do you see him/her?”

In my estimation, if this question works in church environments it should work everywhere. Meaning, if I can practice hearing what the Lord says about fellow Christians that I pray for in church, then I should also be able to hear what He says about the people around me in daily life. For some reason, the latter seems to demand more faith from me than the former.

As I began listening, I started with the African-American guy in the widow seat. The first thing I heard (“heard” meaning: a conversational thought that came to my mind that seemed not to be my own) was, “His IQ is very high, much higher than the people around him.” I don’t know what I was expecting God to say about him, but that definitely wasn’t it. Then I saw a picture in my mind’s eye of him at a computer. It seemed like he was playing video games on his computer but based on the first word, it could have been him doing programing or something. I wasn’t sure.

Feeling bolstered by what I heard for the guy by the window, I asked about the girl next to me in the center seat. I got a picture of her with children. She was helping them in some way. Then I heard, “She is good with kids. She helps kids who are forgotten and on the margins. She’s good with kids because she wasn’t allowed to have much of a childhood.”

This was all going so well, but I wasn’t sure any of it was accurate and I wasn’t sure when or how I would share these words with these people. I prayed for an opportunity to share and the courage to step out in faith.

I also asked about the lady across the center aisle from me who was sitting in the aisle seat directly next to mine. She was a heavyset hispanic lady that looked closer to my age. In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of her cooking tons of food for a big family. Nothing about her necessarily signaled that she was a mother, but it was as if she brought her family joy and connection through her cooking. Maybe a grandmother? I didn’t know.

The final word came for the lady sitting diagonally across the aisle from me in the seat in front of the hispanic lady. She was a well put together white lady in a business suit. I wondered if she had flown somewhere for business. The only thing I heard for her was, “The business deal will go through. It will work.” I had no idea what this meant or even if she was a business person. She could have been a teacher for all I knew. It’s just what I felt like I heard from the Lord.

I held on to these words waiting for opportunities to share them. After an hour, I was still waiting. It wasn’t until the girl next to me needed to get up and go to the bathroom that I felt like there was an opening.

After she left, I mustered up the courage to tap the guy in the window seat on the arm. He looked up surprised and took one of his earbuds out. I greeted him and explained that sometimes I’ll pray for people around me and ask God how He sees them. Then I asked, “Do you want to know what I heard Him say about you?” Still a little confused, he said that he did.

I said, “I heard the Lord say that your IQ is really high and that it is higher than the people around you. Then I saw a picture of you on a computer either programming or playing video games. Are you a computer programer or something?” He said, “No. But I do play a lot of video games.” I nodded, “Oh, okay, I must have mixed that up a little. Can I ask what you do?” He replied, “I’m going to be a doctor. I’m finishing up med school to be a radiologist.” Laughing I said, “Oh wow, that must be the whole thing with your IQ. I just want you to know that God has given you your intelligence as a gift and he wants you to use it for good. And it sounds like you already are!”

He thanked me for praying for him and asked about me. I shared that I was a pastor. He asked a few questions about my church just as the girl from our row returned from the bathroom. That seemed to go well and gave me a little more courage to try out the other words.

The plane landed and parked at the jetway. I stood up to stretch my legs as people prepared to leave the plane. I didn’t want the girl next to me to leave before giving her the word. So I decided just to jump in and explain to her that sometimes I pray and ask God how He sees the people around me. I asked her if she wanted to know what I heard God say about her. She looked very skeptical. And with more than a little attitude she said, “Sure.”

Unexpectedly, the guy next to the window chimed in and said, “He did the same for me. And he was right. Trust me, it will be good.” Now I was the one a little shocked. This guy who I just met was helping me out. So cool. The girl confirmed again that she wanted to hear what I had to say.

I said, “I heard the Lord say that you’re really good with kids. I saw a picture of you helping kids who had been forgotten and on the margins. He said you are good with kids because you weren’t given the chance to have much of a childhood.” Still looking skeptical, she nodded and said, “Okay?” She seemed to be processing it all and not knowing what to do with it.

I asked, “Can I ask you what you do?” She said, “I’m a nurse.” Pointing to the guy next to the window I said, “Oh great, he’s a doctor.” Surprised, she turned and had a short conversation with him about what he was doing in medicine. She then turned back to me and said, “Yeah, I’m a travel nurse but I used to work in pediatrics.”

This was a gracious lifeline to me. She could have left that detail out, but she decided to throw me a bone. I was so encouraged by this little detail because it meant that I wasn’t totally off in hearing the Lord. I said, “Oh wow, so you are good with kids, and probably some of those kids were really struggling.” She nodded in agreement. I said, “Well, maybe God will give you an opportunity to return to pediatrics. Clearly, you are really good with kids and God loves that about you.” She was still reserved in her response and didn’t seem totally convinced, but I considered that conversation a win.

We were all getting off the plane before I could deliver the other two words to the other two ladies. But then I noticed that the heavyset hispanic lady was walking right beside me as we entered the airport terminal. I tried my best to give a quick, 30-second summary of how I listen to the Lord and that, for her, I got a word about her cooking for her family. She looked a little freaked out and nodded in a way that said, “Please leave me alone.” Ha! She quickly darted in the the women’s restroom before any conversation could happen, and I was off to baggage claim. I never caught up with the lady in the business suit.

Two out of four ain’t bad. But it confirmed to me that God has thoughts about every person on the planet (read Psalm 139:17-18). He knows us intimately and in the most detailed ways. His heart posture toward us is love, not condemnation.

As followers of Jesus, not only is God willing to share his thoughts through the Holy Spirit (read 1 Corinthians 2:9-13), but He is willing to share his feelings as well. When God gives me words about people, I find that I can’t help but love them in that moment. It’s like God’s love is so big that the residue of His love sticks to every prophetic word He gives. Each word is just a fragment of all the thoughts He has for that person, and each one carries a tiny fragment of His love with it. As His word for them flows through me, the residue of His love for them rubs off on me and changes my heart for them.

Prophetic words weren’t designed to come as raw data. They were meant to come wrapped in His love. They are a kind of incarnation. The word becomes flesh, even on a plane.

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