One of my fondest memories as a child was going to drive-in movies with my parents.
My father was a John Wayne fan, so we went to Westerns regularly. There was a strange sense of community in watching a movie along with people in hundreds of other cars all parked in front of a giant screen.
Now that memory is becoming one of the iconic images of the coronavirus pandemic. Churches are holding drive-in worship services where members stay in their cars, watch the minister and screen in front, and listen through their radios. And more and more people are finding drive-in theaters to watch movies during stay-at-home restrictions.
CNN reports on this phenomenon, but in a generational sign of the times, the article must first explain what a drive-in theater is: “The drive-in experience allows people to watch a movie projected on a screen from the safety of one’s vehicle.”
Four months ago, who would have imagined that I would writing on this subject today?
Hearing the surprising voice of God
In Acts 27 we find Paul and his missionary team traveling toward Rome. It was the fall, a “dangerous” time of year to be sailing the Mediterranean (v. 9). Nonetheless, “when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore” (v. 13).
However, it only took one verse for fair weather to turn to life-threatening storms: “But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land” (v. 14). The English Standard Version Study Bible notes: “Such northeasters are extremely dangerous in this region, appearing suddenly with violent, whirling winds caused by a meeting of opposite air currents.”
This storm caused the crew and passengers to despair of their lives. Then Paul addressed them: “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island” (vv. 22–26).
And this is precisely what happened. As a result, Paul made his way to Rome, where he spent two years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). He wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon during this time as well.
None of this could have been imagined when he and his fellow passengers were fighting for their lives on the Mediterranean.
God will speak to us if we will listen. He will lead us if we will follow. But we must give up the pretense that we know the future without his leading and that we can make sense of our lives without his direction.
Henri Nouwen: “While realizing that ten years ago I didn’t have the faintest idea that I would end up where I am now, I still like to keep up the illusion that I am in control of my own life. I like to decide what I most need, what I will do next, what I want to accomplish, and how others will think of me. While being so busy running my own life, I become oblivious to the gentle movements of the Spirit of God within me, pointing me in directions quite different from my own.
“It requires a lot of inner solitude and silence to become aware of these divine movements. God does not shout, scream, or push. The Spirit of God is soft and gentle like a small voice or a light breeze. [He] is the Spirit of Love.”
When last did you make time to listen to his voice?