Are they Obstacles or Opportunities?
Some years ago I met a man working at a local hospital. He was a physician and involved with the care of patients in his office as well as in the hospital. His day was carefully organized with commitments in both locations. He confided in me that the one thing he dreaded and that ruined his day was any interruption in his schedule. He carefully worked out the time to appear different places, where to park, and even the hallways to avoid in order to avoid meeting others and having conversations with them! Few of us may go to these lengths to avoid the unplanned encounters with others in our day but we can all identify with the stress that comes when the unexpected meeting claims part of our day. We typically fill our days with work, as well as other meetings and obligations, leaving little room for any outside additions to our schedule. When these do occur, and most days have these interruptions, we may respond with anxiety, and complain to anyone who will listen, including God, and are ill suited to meet the needs of the person whom the LORD has introduced into our schedule that day!
It has been helpful for me to study the life of our LORD during His earthly ministry. He was never in a hurry. He never turned down an opportunity to heal, or to speak to others because He had a pressing time commitment on His calendar. He never complained to His Father or to others about the demands of His work load. Interestingly when we look at His life and ministry it chronicles many such interruptions! These include encounters with the whole town (Mark 1:33), a man with leprosy (Mark 1:40), and the paralytic in Mark 2:3. The whole of chapter five in Mark is devoted to interruptions. These include the demon possessed man, a sick woman and a dead girl. Whether it was the Pharisees with their questions and condemning attitude, the rich young man, Bartimaeus or Zaccheus, He always was fully available to them to meet their needs. Why did He manifest such peace and contentment? One reason is that He was convinced that His life was under the guidance of His Father. He was continually doing the work of the Father, dependent upon His Father to provide the opportunities for His work to be manifest. He knew also that the timetable of His life was under the Father’s control. On several occasions, he stated that His time had not yet come.
We, likewise, are given many assurances that our lives, like that of Christ, are under the control of the Father. We are told the following in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Our LORD not only prepares us for each opportunity, He prepares each opportunity for us. In Psalm 139:16 we read that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” This includes not only the number of days, but everything that each day brings to our lives! The Living Bible states it this way. “You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your Book!” These are not just days of activity which He plans for us. He knows that we need time to get apart and rest. He even plans that for us as well! It is recorded in Psalms 139:3 that “You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me where to stop and rest.” How do we know that we are sufficient to handle all He brings? We have His promise to us in II Corinthians 3:5. “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” In light of His great promises to us and equipped with His abundant provision, how, then, should we prepare ourselves for interruptions that come our way?
Let me suggest two words which have been helpful in my life. These are anticipate and listen. We need to anticipate that the Lord will bring unexpected opportunities for us to interact with others. Our days are, after all, to be filled with His agenda, not ours. If we are to anticipate interruptions, we need to live with a margin in our day. I remember a story of a study done on a college campus years ago. Ten students were told that their next class was starting in ten minutes on the other side of the campus. They were told that they had little extra time in order to get to the class and remain on schedule for the day. Situated along the path was a person who was sitting on the ground, in obvious need, with a bent wheel on his bicycle. The situation was staged to simulate a recent accident. Only one of the students stopped to render aid. The study was then repeated with another group of ten students. This time they were told that there was plenty of time to get to their next class. In this group, nine of the ten students stopped to provide assistance. When my schedule is packed and I am running behind, my thoughts are on my agenda and not open to anyone the LORD might bring in my path. For this reason I have found it helpful to leave unscheduled time in both the morning and afternoon hours during my years of medical practice. Nearly every day, unscheduled opportunities to visit with others, to provide medical care, or to pray for them would arise.
When given these opportunities from the LORD, my task is to listen to the Holy Spirit as He provides guidance in each individual situation. Why was this person introduced into my day? Was it just medical care? Are there other needs? Do they know the LORD? How should I pray for them? Is there some booklet that may help them in their journey to Christ? Is this someone with whom the LORD desires me to establish a friendship? The LORD foresees all of our days (Jehovah-Jireh) and thus will provide these answers as we listen to Him. He knows, plans, and provides for each day of our lives in advance. If we are to make our lives available to His plans, not just our own, we need to anticipate these opportunities and listen to Him as He provides direction for each encounter. On several occasions over the years He has used these opportunities in my life to help others in their spiritual journey.
Our LORD says the following in John 12:26. “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” Our LORDS’s life was always available to interruptions from others. Is your life also available to others who interrupt your day? If we anticipate these interruptions, and listen to the Holy Spirit, we will likewise be available to those he sends to us. We, then, will be with Him in His ministry to those who are not obstacles, but opportunities for His Grace to touch their lives.
In Christ, Richard Spann