Joe was lost.
The night was dark. No street lights for miles on those old rural roads. No moon tonight either. The only lights Joe saw were the beams from his headlights and the incredible display of stars in the sky.
Under less frustrating circumstances, the starry night would have fascinated Joe. Where he lived, city lights dimmed even the brightest stars. Tonight, however, Joe was miserable as he drove alone along those lonely back roads.
“Where is the highway?” Joe asked out loud. Nothing looked familiar. The terrain was mostly flat with only a few clumps of tall trees here and there. He squinted as he looked out the window of his pickup truck.
“I think I need new glasses,” Joe said to himself—again, out loud. He never cared what people said about people who talk to themselves. He often thought his best thoughts when he talked aloud to himself.
“This happens way too much,” he said.
Joe did get lost a lot, especially since he started preaching two and a half months ago. Of the five churches that had invited Joe to do some fill-in preaching, four were tiny country churches. Of those four, he had gotten lost going to two of them.
At least this morning he had made it to the church on time. However, with all the turns he had taken on the way down, he had a strong fear he might not be able to find his way back after nightfall.
Suddenly the truck started shaking. Joe quickly stepped on the brake.
“This is too much, Lord,” he said as the pickup came to a stop.
He grabbed a flashlight from under the passenger side seat and hopped out. He shined the light at the front and back tires on driver’s side. They looked good. He walked around the back of the truck to the other side.
“No, no, no, no,” he said as he knelt down for a close look at the flat rear tire. “Now I wish I had gone ahead and bought that jack and spare tire.”
He stood back up and looked left and right—nothing but darkness in any direction.
“This has been the worst day,” he said as he felt around in his suit coat for his cell phone. “Well, surprise, surprise. No service out here.”
He walked back to the other side of the pickup and got inside.
“What am I going to do, Lord?” he prayed. “God help me.”
Joe was exhausted.
He had preached during both the morning and evening services at the little country church. In between services, he was invited to have lunch with one of the families. Although he enjoyed meeting new people, spending many hours with many people always drained him of energy. Preaching itself took a lot of energy, too.
When Joe was exhausted, he often became discouraged. Sometimes he even wondered if he was on the right path. He was certain God wanted him to preach. At least he was certain of that at one time. Perhaps he only thought he was certain then. He was not certain about anything anymore.
What frustrated Joe the most was that no one had responded to his preaching. He strongly felt that preaching was more than giving a speech. Preaching was supposed to make people think about their lives—and move them to make changes. If God wanted Joe to preach, why had there been no response from the people who heard his preaching?
A flash of light brought Joe out of his thoughts. He squinted and saw two headlights.
“Please let them be friendly,” he prayed quickly.
He turned on the emergency flashers and stepped out of the truck. An SUV stopped several feet in front of him.
“What seems to be the trouble?” he heard a voice ask.
Joe could not see the man in the vehicle because the headlights were so bright. “I’ve got a flat tire. Nothing to fix it with.”
“Which tire?” the voice asked.
“The back one. Passenger side,” Joe replied.
The man drove past Joe, did a three-point turn in the road and pulled in behind the pickup. After several seconds, the door opened. The man walked to the back of his vehicle and opened the trunk.
Joe stood still and watched as the man started toward him. As he got closer, Joe could see that the man carried a toolbox.
“Nothing to fix a flat with?” the man asked. “You should be more prepared.”
“Uh, I know. I was—” Joe started to make an excuse, but the man turned and walked toward the back of the truck. He sat the toolbox down, opened it, and examined the tire.
The man laughed. “Now that is definitely a flat tire. Have you noticed it going down, or did it go out all at once?”
“Totally all at once,” Joe replied.
“Probably picked up a nail,” the man said. “Those Terry brothers rumble through here all the time with their so-called ‘home improvement’ truck. Never let ‘em work on your house, fella. They’ll ruin it like they ruined your tire.”
Joe walked closer to the man. “Can it be fixed?”
“Of course it can,” the man replied. “But not tonight. You got a spare?”
“No,” Joe said.
The man sighed as he stood up and leaned against the back of the truck. That’s when he noticed Joe’s suit. “What are you all dressed up for?”
“I preached at Goodwater Church today,” Joe said.
“A preacher, huh?” The man laughed. “I guess it is Sunday. I hardly keep up with ‘em anymore. All my days blur together. Ever since I retired, anyway.”
“I was there all day,” Joe said. “Then it got dark and I got lost on the way back.”
“Unbelievable,” the man said as he looked at Joe. “Lost and unprepared.”
Joe could not tell if the man was being condescending or friendly with his insults.
“Tell you what I’ll do,” the man said. “I’ll let you have my spare.”
“Do you mean that?” Joe asked.
“Yeah,” the man said. “We’ll trade. You give me your tire. I’ll take it home and fix it up tomorrow. Then you come pick it up and return my spare.”
“Thank you,” Joe said as the man walked to his car to get the spare tire. “And thank you, Lord,” Joe whispered.
As they switched tires, they talked. Joe was interested in people when he wasn’t focused on himself and his doubts. He was curious about others. He always asked questions, and most of the time, people would open up to him.
This man was no different. Joe learned that the man had been a mechanic most of his life. What he called retirement was simply not working at the service station in town. He still worked on people’s cars at his home. He said being a shade tree mechanic kept him from being bored—and alone. The man’s wife had died of cancer four years ago.
As they continued talking and working, it occurred to Joe that there might be another reason for the flat tire. Maybe God wanted him to talk to the man about salvation.
That’s what his friend, Maggie, called them. Those were moments when God brought two people together for a higher purpose. If that was what this was, it wouldn’t be the first time that unusual circumstances led him to talk about God with someone. Although no one had ever decided to become a Christian right there on the spot, he strongly felt that God had arranged those meetings.
“There you go,” the man said. “You’re ready to roll.”
As he started putting away his tools, Joe felt a rush of nervousness come over him. If he was going to turn the conversation toward anything spiritual, this was the moment.
“Bring the tire,” the man said as he walked toward his SUV with the toolbox. Joe grabbed the flat tire and followed the man.
“I really appreciate you stopping and helping me,” Joe said.
“Glad I could help,” the man replied.
Joe whispered a quick prayer, “Help me find the words, Lord.”
“Just throw it in here,” the man said. Joe did and the man shut the back.
“Hey, I was wondering,” Joe said as he searched for the right words. “Do you ever—or have you ever—I mean, do you go to church or anything like that?” Joe cringed as the words came out all wrong.
“No sermons, preacher,” the man quickly replied.
“No, sir,” Joe said. “No sermons. I already preached two of those today. I just wondered. That’s all. Just wondered if you did go to church.”
The man looked up at the stars briefly then said, “My wife used to go. Every Sunday.”
Joe began to relax. At least he was talking.
“I think I went maybe six or seven times—just wasn’t for me,” the man said. “And it still isn’t, so if you don’t mind, I’ll be on my way.”
Joe got nervous again. “But, sir, I don’t mean to—”
“Look, preacher,” the man interrupted. “You needed help with your truck. I’m a mechanic. I was just doing what I do.”
“And I’m just doing what I do,” Joe said.
The man looked at Joe curiously.
“I’m a preacher,” Joe continued. “It’s what I do, you know. I’ve got to ask questions like this.” Joe smiled, “It’s in my job description.”
The man chuckled and leaned back against his SUV. “Yeah, I guess it is.” He stared up at the starry sky and sighed. “Tell you what. Let me do my job with this tire. When you come back to pick it up, I’ll listen to what you have to say.”
Joe couldn’t believe it. “That sounds great. We’ll talk then.”
The man climbed into the SUV as Joe headed back toward his truck. Then Joe stopped and turned around. “I almost forgot to ask you something. I’m kind of lost. How do I get back to the main road?”
“You’re not lost,” the man said. “It’s less than half a mile ahead. Just keep going.”
A work of fiction from Stories I Tell