By Brandon Lemons
Last week, as I prepared a Christmas sermon about Mary and the trustworthiness of God, I was struck with some new perspectives on interruptions. I’m just like anyone else in terms of not being a big fan of having my plans disrupted. Yet I realized that it’s possible and even healthy to develop a “theology of interruptions” in order to prepare us to respond well and honor God when our plans get interrupted.
Biblical Examples of Interruptions
God interrupted Mary’s plans for her life. We don’t know what those plans were beyond getting married to Joseph. But like every other human, I know Mary had expectations and hopes for how things would go. Needless to say, any plans Mary had in mind were interrupted by the angel’s message about Mary becoming pregnant while a virgin and giving birth to the Messiah. She had no way of anticipating these events. She appears to have struggled with this interruption initially (at least momentarily), as she was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting (Luke 1:29) and questioned how God’s plans would play out (Luke 1:34). But she quickly surrendered to God’s plans, because she recognized His trustworthiness and sovereignty. This interruption had a wonderful outcome, which shows that interrutpions can be good rather than bad.
As I considered the fact that God interrupted all of Mary’s plans for her life, I began to realize that practically everyone in the Bible who was close to God and was used by Him had their plans, and their entire lives, interrupted. On Sunday, I listed a handful of examples: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joseph of the Old Testament, Joseph of the New Testament, the twelve disciples, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, Paul, Timothy, Lydia. Here are more: Sarah, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Hannah, Samuel, Hosea, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Lazarus, Priscilla, Aquilla, Apollos, and James (brother of Jesus). It’s hard to find anyone in the Bible who was used by God in a positive way who didn’t have their lives interrupted by Him in a major way. This should make us open to God disrupting our plans so He can get us onto His plan.
The book of Proverbs supports the distinction between our plans and God’s. For instance, Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” This shows that in order to get us onto His plan, God must interrupt our plans.
How do we know if an interruption is from God?
Mary (Jesus’ mother) benefited from having direct revelation from God (via the angel) about the purpose of the interruption in her life. It is extremely rare to receive this level of clarity about God’s purpose for an interruption – especially as it’s happening. I know we want that clarity, but it’s not how God typically functions. Even for Mary, there were many details that were unknown to her, even when Jesus was born or when he was growing up. The norm is that God essentially says, ‘Follow me.” It’s a walk of faith; we can’t see where He is leading, but He is trustworthy.
It is tempting to think that if only we had more clarity on why we are experiencing an interruption, then we would more easily submit to God’s will in that circumstance. On one hand, I believe it would be easier to follow God, and respond well to interruptions, if we had this type of clarity. Yet this only works if a person is already surrendered to God and is ready to follow wherever He leads. Clarity about God’s call doesn’t automatically lead to obedience. To think it does underestimates our sinful nature and our tenacity for sticking to our own plans. Think of Gideon (Judges 6-8). He balked repeatedly, even when God clearly told him what to do. Jonah ran the other direction when God interrupted his life and called him to preach God’s Word in Nineveh. The rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) clearly heard Jesus’ call yet still turned away. So do countless others who hear the Gospel or who recognize the value of turning away from a particular sin. Our sinful nature compels us to pursue our plans, even when God’s plan is clearly laid out.
Frequently, we only gain clarity about the value and purpose of an interruption after we gain the benefit of hindsight. For instance, looking back on my life, I can think of many times when my plans were interrupted by unexpected circumstances (both good and bad), opportunities, things people said and did, failures, being told “no,” and personal limitations. In retrospect, I can see countless great outcomes that God brought into my life, and through me in others’ lives, as a result of these interruptions. In many of these circumstances, though, I disliked or was uncertain about what was happening at the time. But as I look back, I see good that came out of those experiences. I am deeply grateful for God’s interruptions in my life; without them, I would not be a follower of Jesus or have eternal life, and there are parts of my life that I probably would have messed up in grievous ways. I know I wouldn’t experience the joy, contentment, hope, or sense of purpose I do now, if not for divine interruptions.
I’d like to clarify that not all interruptions seem negative – even in the moment. Some are amazing, even right away. But they still qualify as interruptions because they weren’t part of our plans.
It’s also important to recognize that some disruptions are truly bad, and it’s difficult to find redemptive value in them. Evil and sin are real factors in our world, and they cause deep pain and grief. Yet Romans 8:28 remains true, that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
At the end of the day, if we trust God and seek to honor Him even when our plans are interrupted, we can be assured that He will work through the interruption in ways that lead to our good and His glory.
Surrendering to God is Paramount
The way we respond to interruptions indicates a lot about whether we are surrendered to God as Lord. Recognizing God’s Lordship means we understand that His ways are better than our ways. Therefore, we understand that there will be times when He must interrupt our plans so He can get us onto His plans. Submitting to God’s Lordship means we will have humility, flexibility, and a readiness to seek God, especially when something doesn’t go the way we expect.
Consider this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had his life interrupted in a multitude of ways, which ultimately led to his death in a Nazi concentration camp. “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans…sending us people with claims and petitions…. It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God's ‘crooked yet straight path.’” Interruptions may make our path seem crooked, but the interruption makes perfect sense to God. Therefore, it is important that we are frequently surrendering our plans to God so we are ready for where He leads us.
Pray for Discernment & Flexibility
Regularly ask God to give you open eyes to what He wants to do in and through you. In addition, pray for discernment to understand how to handle the interruptions that come your way, along with the flexibility and humility required to respond well when God-ordained interruptions come your way.
As we make the most of the interruptions in our lives, we will experience: more opportunities for meaningful ministry in others’ lives; growth in our own faith and character; and a life that glorifies God.
Thank God for His Work in Your Life
I encourage you to take some time to prayerfully think back over your life’s journey. Identify specific times when your plans were interrupted. Be sure to focus on good and exciting interruptions, not just the ones that seemed negative at the time. Then, consider how God has worked in and through you as a result of these interruptions. Then, thank God for His work in your life through these interruptions. (This may also be a time to lament and grieve the interrupted plans that continue to weigh heavily on your heart.) For those who are believers in Christ, be sure to thank God that He has interrupted your hell-bound path and has given you eternal life.
I am convinced that it is valuable for Christians to understand how God works through interruptions. After all, everyone experiences disruptions to our plans, and having the faith and intentionality to see and seek God through the interruptions makes a massive difference.