Cornelius and the Bikini Car Wash – Acts 10
On a hot summer’s day in Phoenix, I hurried home from work. The steering wheel still emanated heat and sweat trickled down my back. I longed to be sitting in my air conditioned house with a cool glass of water. In the distance I noticed a spray of water and as I approached, I observed a group of tan young women in tiny swim suits parading around the sidewalk advertising their new business–a bikini car wash. My first thought was “someone needs to call the city council and get rid of this eyesore.” (The line of cars waiting to be, er…serviced indicated this might not be the view of all citizens.)
But more alarming than the various forms of undress, was my second thought– “I should get my car washed there.” Even as I heard myself think it, I chuckled audibly. It made no sense. But as I sped past the sunglassed men in the waiting cars, I found myself feeling compassion for these women, not disdain. That was new. And, it was my first indication that this message might be something more than a heat-induced delusional thought. God was giving me direction.
And, just like that, my faith shifted. If God were really communicating with me, then a response was required. If God did tell me to get my car washed at the bikini car wash, then to NOT go would be disobedience. Whoa!
Both Cornelius and Peter understood this arrangement. In Acts 10 both men received direct messages from God and both men immediately obeyed. Peter even acknowledged that he didn’t understand the message, but instead of rejecting it, he waited. When Cornelius’s messengers arrived he went with them to a place he’d never been to meet a man he didn’t know.
It makes no sense. Unless you have a history of this kind of interaction. Unless you recognize the voice of God and have experienced the joy of obedience and the reality of God’s faithfulness. Unless you are so in love with Jesus and so attuned to his desires that the ‘strange’ things of this world seem normal.
So, how do I put myself in a position to hear God’s voice? Of course, I do not obligate God by practicing certain things, but I do open myself to the possibility by observing the lives of these men and following their example.
First of all, both men had a discipline of intentional, regular prayer. Not just the casual, conversational, spontaneous prayer that many of us practice. But prayer that also involved listening and reciting the prayers of old (the Psalms) and other common prayers. They both practiced this daily regimen of prayer at specific hours. And, it was during this time that both men were given their instructions.
In addition, both men were characterized by a practical faith. While they spent much time in prayer, their prayer led them to service. Cornelius is noted for his faithful alms giving and Peter displays this behavior throughout the New Testament. As evidenced by their immediate response to the voice of God, they were people of prayer who focused on the obedience to God and service to others.
The lives of these men seem a beautiful balance of doing and being. Of prayer and practice. Of Mary and Martha.
As for me, I eventually went to the bikini car wash. It was awkward. While God had instructed me to go, he had not instructed me on what to do or say. Wisely, I said very little.
While I didn’t obey immediately and it wasn’t fruitful from a human perspective, it did get me started on a journey of learning to pray and listen and obey. I pray this year I’ll be characterized by more regular, intentional prayer and more effective service. And I pray I’ll hear Him when He speaks and never hesitate to obey.
Kelli Gotthardt is a writer, speaker, and consultant. She has spent most of her career in the corporate world, but God is now directing her into full-time ministry. Her current focus is women’s issues and she travels nationally and abroad helping women leaders develop life rhythms that will increase their capacity to listen, lead, and love. Kelli is a frequent blogger and a contributor to Christianity Today. She finds renewal in silence and solitude and exercise like running, yoga, and paddle boarding on the ocean. She has been married to Richard for 24 years, and they live in Santa Cruz, CA, where he is a pastor. They have three teenagers and are adjusting to the new reality of having a son away at college. You can learn more about her at KelliGotthardt.com.