When we use the word “encounter” in Christian circles it is frequently in reference to a person meeting God. For example, someone might say that Moses encountered the Lord at Mount Sinai or that Saul of Tarsus encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Those statements are true; both men had a direct divine encounter, but it is equally appropriate to say that we have encounters with people. I might say to my wife, “Guess who I ran into at the store?” or “You’ll never guess who I spoke to at church today.” These statements mean that I met a particular person and had some interaction with them.
Most of us, if asked, could probably name at least one person who has had a significant impact on our life. Some might mention their parents, others a favorite teacher or a person that they have met from another country, and still others a pastor or a good supervisor for whom they have worked. A child who has been in ill health for a prolonged time, but remains joyful and persevering, may also have an impact on those around them. This is only a sample list: I am sure that other individuals could also be mentioned. But one thing is clear—all kinds of people can make an impact on another individual. These influencers may be young or old, family members, or people from outside of our family. Some may be female and others may be male. But these individuals can help shape, or impact, different aspects of our life. Their wisdom or example may help form our morals, work ethic, or spiritual life.
In many cases those who make a significant impact on us are people who we have had a long association with—which may span months or even years. Though long-term associations often make lasting impressions, that is not always the case. Sometimes a brief encounter can make a significant impact on a person. Never assume that a short encounter cannot change a life, whether yours or someone else’s. The Bible indicates that brief encounters can have a significant impact. In the remainder of this article we are going focus primarily on two short encounters that had life-changing results. Both of the cases that we will be looking at come from the New Testament book of Acts.
In Acts 8 we read about Philip who was having a successful ministry to many people in Samaria (Acts 8:4-7) but the Lord wanted him to minister to a specific individual. So, through an angel (Acts 8:26) and the voice of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:29) the Lord gave Philip very specific instructions to get him to the right place to meet this person. Philip obeyed the direction he received and encountered the Ethiopian eunuch. This man was ready to hear the good news. He “had gone to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27 NIV) and was reading the book of Isaiah, the prophet, when Philip caught up to him (Acts 8:30-33). And, as if that were not enough, the eunuch asked him who the writer was talking about (Acts 8:34). What an opening!
Philip had an answer for that question—the right one! He began to talk to the man about Jesus Christ (Acts 8:35). The eunuch must have put his faith in Jesus because in the next verse we read that he wanted to be baptized and Philip did not refuse him (Acts 8:36-38). How long were these two men together: ten minutes, a half hour, an hour, three hours? We do not know because we are not told. But we do know that their encounter was relatively short. Acts 8:39 tells us that after the eunuch was baptized the Spirit took Philip away and the Ethiopian did not see him again. Their paths crossed only briefly. But their meeting was long enough to make a significant difference in the eunuch’s life. He passed from death to life (John 5:24)—he became a Christian! Do not underestimate what can happen in a brief encounter!
In the very next chapter of Acts we find another passage that contains a brief encounter between two people. A man by the name of Ananias, who was in the city of Damascus (Acts 9:10), was sent by the Lord to another location in the city to minister to the newly converted Saul of Tarsus. Ananias was not thrilled with this assignment because of Saul’s reputation for persecuting Christians (Acts 9:13–14) but the Lord pressed Ananias to go (Acts 9:1516). This was because He had a mission for Saul.
Before this newly chosen worker could begin his ministry, he needed some things. He needed to regain his eyesight, which he had lost during his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, and he needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:8, 17). Ananias also delivered a word from the Lord to Saul (Acts 22:14–16) that included a directive for him to be baptized. Now it is possible that Saul and Ananias saw one another again after this encounter. Ananias lived in Damascus (Acts 9:10; 22:11–12) and Paul stayed there for a period (Acts 9:19b, 23). But it was the brief meeting of these two men that made a significant impact on the life of Saul of Tarsus.
These two accounts in Acts demonstrate that the Lord can use short encounters to accomplish a significant work (or works) in another person’s life. In Acts 8, Philip led the Ethiopian eunuch to the saving knowledge of Jesus and baptized him in water. In Acts 9, Ananias was used by the Lord to minister physical healing, water baptism, the experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a message from the Lord to Saul. Multiple things were accomplished; Saul was ministered to physically and spiritually.
Philip and Ananias shared a couple of things in common. First, both had very clear directions about what they were to do. Second, both of them obeyed the directions that they received. And even though their encounters with those to whom they ministered were brief, those encounters were likely highly memorable and life changing for the recipients of their ministries. Through the ministry of Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch had an encounter with God: through the ministry of Ananias, Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with God. God can use brief encounters to accomplish significant work in a person’s life.
I encourage you to take a quick inventory of your own life. Perhaps you have been on the giving or receiving end of a brief encounter. If you were on the giving end you may, or may not, have had the same sense of divine mission that Philip and Ananias had. If you were on the receiving end of one of these encounters, you may be more aware that God was ministering to you through another individual.
The lesson from these two passages in Acts is clear. You and I don’t have to minister to thousands in order to be doing God’s work. What we do need is to be open to the Lord and obedient to Him. If we are, He can minister powerfully to the physical and spiritual needs of people even if we only encounter them for a truly short time.