When Interruptions ARE the Ministry

I hate interruptions.

One reason I dislike them so much is that I try, first thing in the morning, to give God my day. So then whatever plans I make under His leadership must be what He wants me to do. And anyone and anything that disrupts those plans must not be of God, right?

One former Sunday School teacher said that whenever his phone rang during family devotions, he was tempted to answer the phone saying, “Do you know you’re being used of the devil right now?”

I understand the frustration. But then I noticed Jesus didn’t react that way when people interrupted His time alone with His Father. The more I read the gospels, the more I saw that Jesus’s earthly life was full interruptions. But He never acted flustered or put out.

One of the most significant incidents that changed my view of interruptions was when Jesus went with Jairus to heal his daughter. A woman with an issue of blood touched Jesus’s clothes, hoping for healing. Immediately, Jesus, “perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him,” asked who touched Him. The Bible doesn’t say whether Jairus was patiently waiting or upset and fidgeting. While talking with this woman, a messenger came and informed Jairus that his daughter had died. But Jesus told him, “Do not fear, only believe.” And He went on and healed the girl.

That taught me that even if interruptions come, they are not a hindrance to God’s plans or abilities. Interruptions are often an avenue of service.

Take the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two whose jobs were ministerial passed him by, lest he hinder their calling. The Samaritans were at that time enemies to the Jews, yet one of them stopped and took care of this man. The Samaritan became the prime example of loving one’s neighbor.

Interruptions abound not only in Jesus’s life ministry, and teaching, but all through the Bible. When Abraham saw three visitors passing by his tent, he called them in to eat. That wasn’t just a matter of calling for pizza delivery or slapping sandwiches together. He asked his wife to make cakes (possibly bread) from scratch and one of his hired hands to prepare a calf. Even though the young man “prepared it quickly,” it had to have taken some time to kill and skin the calf and then cut meat and cook it.

Some Biblical interruptions, I noted, were from God Himself: Noah’s call to build and ark, Moses’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Lot’s call to leave Sodom, Gideon’s call to save Israel from the Midianites, Mary’s call to birth the Messiah, Paul’s call on the road to Damascus, just to name a very few.

Though those incidents interrupted what each person was doing, they were of God. As C. S. Lewis said, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day” (from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis). Claudia Barba put it similarly in her “Monday Morning Club” newsletter:

Are you annoyed this morning by the wrench some monkey has thrown into your careful plan for today? Relax and remember: interruptions aren’t hindrances to ministry. They are ministry.

So not only is God sovereign over all the interruptions of our day, sometimes He orchestrates them to call us out of what we’re doing into what He wants us to do.

But doesn’t Satan interrupt sometimes? Yes, he interrupted Eve in Eden, Jesus in the wilderness, Paul while he was witnessing to Sergius Paulus. The “strange woman” from Proverbs tries to interrupt people to sin. How do we know if an interruption is from God or Satan? Well, in these cases it was obvious by what the interrupter said or wanted. It’s vital that we know the Word of God so we can correctly discern between good and evil. Then we need to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

But sometimes it’s hard to discern whether an interruption is a call from God for service or a distraction from God’s will. Missionary Isobel Kuhn, when she was trying to discern if an obstacle was from God or Satan, used to pray: “If this obstacle is from Thee, Lord, I accept it; but if it is from Satan, I refuse him and all his works in the name of Calvary.” Jesus taught how to resist Satan: with the Word of God. If God allows temptation to come into our lives, He’ll provide a way of escape.

Satan’s catastrophic interruptions in Job’s life were allowed to by God. If God allows fiery trials, He’ll give grace to endure them.

On the other hand, Jesus did not view every interruption as a call to service. During one of those interruptions of His prayer time, Peter told Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus has spent the previous evening, as well as previous days before, healing people and casting out demons. Evidently people wanted Him to do more of the same. But instead of saying, “I’ll be right there,” He said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:29-39). Though healing was a major part of His ministry, His prime mission until the cross was to preach and teach. And he was called to go to various places, not stay in one town.

It’s not wrong to seek to avoid interruptions. Jesus often went out alone late at night or early in the morning to pray. When He was interrupted anyway, He handled it graciously. He called the disciples to come apart and rest. As it turned out, the crowds followed them and they didn’t get to rest. Finally, when it grew late, the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to get something to eat. But He didn’t answer, “That’s a great idea: finally we can rest.” No, He said, “You give them something to eat.” What? They were depleted and weary. They had just a small bit of food. But Jesus told them to share that, and He blessed and multiplied it to be enough for 5,000+ people, with twelve baskets leftover.

I still don’t like interruptions. But I’m learning that dislike is usually due to my own selfishness and desire for control. I’m seeking God for help to respond graciously and His discernment to know what interruptions are from Him. And when I feel I don’t have any more to give, I’ll seek His provision and blessing, which abundantly cover the needs of the day.

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