When I was in the early
stage of writing Overcoming Shyness, my computer crashed.
It was an unforgiving hard disk failure, and all data on it was
lost. Because I hadnít backed up or printed out my work for over
a week, I lost about two chapters that I had carefully crafted
for the book.
I probably donít need to tell you that nothing
is more devastating to a writer than losing material youíve
written. You feel like youíd rather be mugged on a subway.
Thereís one thing, though, thatís almost as hard as losing
what youíve written--and thatís purposely deciding to discard it
and start over. We writers just donít like to do that; yet
sometimes itís exactly what we need to do to get the best
results. In this case, I had no choice. The decision was made
Because I had to start on a clean slate when I started
writing again a few days later, I decided to try a different
approach to the book. I was pleased to find that this new
direction worked better, and I wasnít struggling for ideas as
greatly. In the end, I never rewrote those chapters that I lost
that morning. Iím now convinced this material would have bogged
the book down and that the book is stronger for leaving it out.
The incident is an interesting example of one way that an
unwelcome interruption sometimes brings us a surprising benefit.
Weíre headed fast down a track that we donít realize is less
than best for us, but the interruption allows us to pause and
reconsider our options. Apart from the computer mishap, Iím
certain I either would have left that material in the book or
taken much longer to decide not to use it.
A friend of mine received a similar benefit from an unwanted
interruption. She had carefully planned a major move, but then
fell ill and had to cancel her plans. ďI realize now that God
simply stopped me,Ē she says. ďWith hindsight, itís clear to me
that this move wouldnít have been right for me.Ē
Interruptions may work to our benefit in other ways as well.
They may be Godís way of bringing new opportunities into our
life, or new relationships, or his means of providing us with
information that we need. Interruptions also bring us some of
our best opportunities for sharing our faith, and for giving
help and encouragement to others.
Putting Interruptions in Perspective
Iím not blithely suggesting that every intrusion on our
schedule is the gateway to an unexpected blessing, or that weíre
less than spiritual if we donít feel like singing the Hallelujah
Chorus every time an interruption occurs. I scarcely need to
describe my own feelings at that moment when I realized that my
computer absolutely, positively wasnít going to boot any more.
Some interruptions are simply that--interruptions. They are
diversions from what God wants us to do, and we need to treat
them as such--to slough them off, or to deal with them as
quickly and efficiently as possible. We can get too analytical
about such interruptions, and try to read guidance into them
that simply isnít there.
At the other extreme, we each experience setbacks from time
to time that are major broadsides to our life--like the death of
a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or the loss of a job
we love. God never expects us to respond to such misfortunes
like robots. It takes time to work through the pain of a major
loss, and to come to the point where we are able to think more
optimistically about our future. We need to be patient with
ourselves at such times, and grief is often our most appropriate
Yet we also experience many less severe but still aggravating
interruptions that have the potential to frustrate us more than
they should. Some people are natural optimists, to be sure, who
see a hidden blessing in every curve ball life throws at them.
Yet most of us instinctively are unsettled by the common
interruptions of life. We view them as nettlesome at best, and
at worst, as ominous signs that God has turned against us.
Itís here that our faith usually needs to stretch a bit.
Interruptions sometimes truly are serendipities in disguise.
Most of us can benefit from developing greater optimism about
them, and about the possibility that God will use them to our
advantage. A higher expectation of Godís extending help to us
through interruptions not only will keep our blood pressure down
when they occur, but make us more alert to the ways that he may
be working for our benefit through the unexpected.
The Surprise of His Life
You canít read much Scripture without finding encouraging
examples of Godís giving someone a golden opportunity, or help
they dearly welcomed, through what they initially perceived to
be an unwanted interruption. One of the most fascinating of
these incidents is the first story recorded about Saul, Israelís
first king (1 Sam 9:1-10:13).
The donkeys belonging to Saulís father, Kish, escape, and
Kish sends Saul and a servant to look for them. Saul spends
considerable time searching for the donkeys, wandering through
the countryside and traveling a good distance from his home.
Finally, his servant suggests they consult the prophet Samuel,
who lives in a nearby town. As Saul and his servant approach the
town, God reveals to Samuel that Saul is his choice to be king
of Israel. Samuel then hosts Saul at a feast and, following the
festivities, explains Godís intentions to him.
Whatís most interesting about this incident is that, while
God could have brought Samuel and Saul together, and revealed to
Saul that he wanted him king, through any process he wished, he
chose to do so through a classic interruption of life. The story
points profoundly to the fact that interruptions in our own life
which seem annoying and purposeless may be the entrťe to
remarkable blessings from God. Weíre reminded there may be more
to a setback than meets our eye. We have reason to stay hopeful
when the unexpected occurs.
Weighing Our Response to Interruptions
While it helps us greatly to raise our expectations about
interruptions having possible benefit to us, we are still left
with the challenge of judging the importance of specific ones
that occur. When should we assume that an interruption deserves
our attention, and when is it best to disregard it?
In some cases the answer is obvious. We have an emergency on
our hands, and ignoring it isnít an option. When my computer
crashed, I had little choice but to put my writing on hold and
spend the time needed to fix the problem. Saul probably faced a
true emergency when his familyís donkeys escaped, and had no
choice but to drop everything and go searching for them.
Yet many interruptions present us with a choice--to respond,
to say no, or, in some cases, to delegate the problem to others.
The right response to an interruption isnít always obvious, and
no one rule of thumb works for every situation. It is, in fact,
the unpredictability of our lives that most throws us back to
our critical need to live by faith and depend upon Godís
What Jesusí Example Teaches Us
The example of Jesus himself is especially helpful from this
standpoint. During his three-year ministry, Jesusí daily life
was riddled with interruptions. It is fair to say that his
ministry was largely a response to interruptions. As a
personality, Jesus seemed to thrive on them--much as a physician
or high-energy leader might. Yet he also displayed uncanny
wisdom in handling them.
In many cases Jesus did respond to them, and the Gospels give
numerous examples. He put an especially high premium on healing
physical and emotional wounds people experienced, and never
turned down anyoneís request for healing in the Gospels,
regardless of the intrusion on his schedule. While he never
taught that every Christian must have this same commitment to
healing in their personal ministry, it was a high priority for
Yet he did turn down certain requests for help that people
made to him. He refused to arbitrate a manís dispute with his
brother over their inheritance (Lk 12:13-14), for instance, and
denied a manís request for permission to travel with him (Lk
Perhaps the most interesting example of Jesusí saying no to
an interruption involved a request upon his time that a group of
people made in the early days of his ministry, described in Mark
1:35-39. His disciples come to him and tell him that many people
from Capernaum, the town they are visiting, are looking for him.
In this case Jesus has a waiting audience--a significant opening
to teach and heal. Yet he chooses to turn away from this
opportunity and travel to other towns instead. He replies to his
disciples, ďLet us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so
that I can preach there also. That is why I have comeĒ (v. 38).
How was Jesus able to reach this decision so quickly and
confidently, particularly when it meant walking away from a wide
open door for ministry? Mark gives us an important clue, in
noting that Jesus was praying when his disciples
approached him (v. 35). It was also early morning, so he was
likely praying about the day before him and establishing his
priorities. Quite possibly, he had already resolved in prayer
that it was time to move on to new communities. If so, then the
offer to stay and minister in Capernaum was a diversion from
what he had determined God wanted him to do, and so he had to
say no. Even if Jesus hadnít made up his mind yet to leave
Capernaum, Mark is implying that prayer helped him decide what
Scripture records another incident when Jesus resolved his
priorities through prayer--though in this case he decided to go
along with an interruption and accept the agenda others had for
him. Through an intensive period of prayer in Gethsemane, he
determined to allow Herodís soldiers to capture him and take him
away for crucifixion (Mt 26:36-46).
Taken together, these examples demonstrate that through
prayer Jesus gained wisdom and courage to respond decisively to
interruptions--sometimes to say yes, sometimes to say no.
The Daily Step That Makes a Difference
These examples from Jesusí life, and others like them
throughout Scripture, suggest that prayer can play a vital role
in helping each of us better manage and respond to interruptions
in our own life. Most of us will benefit greatly from having a
regular time--preferably early in the day or late the night
before--when while praying we establish our priorities for the
day ahead of us.
A good approach is first to ask God to guide us, then to
spend a few minutes thinking through a schedule for the day.
Then we should commit this schedule to him, asking him to help
us recognize if and when we should deviate from it to handle
interruptions that occur. We should ask him to give us, as much
as possible, clear reasons for making exceptions to our
schedule. It is just as important to ask him to guide our
instincts--to give us the right ďsenseĒ of what to do--at those
moments when we have to make a quick decision about responding
to an interruption and donít have the luxury of time to think
things through carefully.
While praying in this fashion wonít guarantee we make no
mistakes in managing our time, it will increase our confidence
about the choices we make, our alertness to what God wants us to
do, and the likelihood that we will make the right responses to
interruptions. And over time, as we make praying in this manner
a daily priority, weíll likely find that our judgment about
interruptions improves--to the point that weíre better able to
recognize by instinct which ones truly deserve our attention,
and which are simply part of ďthe tyranny of the urgent.Ē
We should ask God, too, to increase our optimism about
interruptions--especially about those that seem to be setbacks.
We should also make a point of reflecting often on
examples--from Scripture, the lives of others, and our own
experience--of cases when an unwelcome interruption in the end
brought about welcome results. These steps will go a long way
toward helping us develop a more positive attitude toward
interruptions, which in itself will contribute to our having
better judgment about them.
This past week I received an e-mail from a woman with some
comments about an article I had written on the challenge of
waiting on Godís timing. She notes that for the first time she
is realizing that ďgodly anticipation is part of Godís tapestry
for building our faith.Ē I like the way she puts it. Christ
desires that each of us develop godly anticipation--about daily
life and about our future.
Changing the way we think about
interruptions is a good place to start, for in them we sometimes
encounter the unseen hand of God.