God’s Will if Often Disguised As Divine Interruptions
It is God Who is working in you, Enabling you to will and act for His good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)
I remember how I first learned about flexibility and the divine will of God—after several years in Christian service and the pastorate. It was a very freeing spiritual growth time.
I am innately a shy and introverted person (really!). Through my high school years and three years in the service of my country, I was comfortable with myself only when I was able to plan well ahead, when I felt I knew what was coming. When if finally came to being the pastor of a church with no additional staff and with three different preaching and/or teaching services scheduled weekly, I always felt more secure being fully prepared and organized.
In my first pastorate, I was very grateful for one week set aside during my vacation every August exclusively for study and preparation time. There was a resort-type campground where my wife and two youngsters could take advantage of the activities provided for children while I could study undisturbed from dawn until noon, when I joined the family for the rest of the day. That time offered me the hours I needed to plan out my preaching schedule and outlines through Easter. It was an established schedule that became my format, except for weddings, funerals, or other unexpected surprises. Actually, it worked out very well for both pastor and congregation, with growth and expansion coming in that church and in my second pastorate as well.
But then, by God’s grace, something happened that took me by surprise. Part of my daily schedule would include, or course, making phone calls to take care of the church’s administrative details. On several occasions, I had opportunity to phone Mrs. Betty Benson regarding a Sunday School or nursery situation. If her husband answered when I called, I would simply leave a message with him, simply asking him to have her return the call. I had never met Jim Benson, nor had I seen him in church. I had the impression he was rather cold to the idea.
One particular day, for whatever reason, instead of leaving the message with Jim, I went in a new and different direction. “Mr. Benson, we really appreciate everything that Betty does for us here at the church, but I’m sorry to say I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you.” Actually, he hadn’t been there since I arrived, and I later found out that he had not attended for many months prior to that. His response took me by surprise. “Well, I’m pretty busy here all the time with this business, but why don’t you stop by my office here at the Buick dealership. I’d like that.”
“Sounds good to me,” I answered. “How about if I stop by this Friday before lunch?” “Good!” I could hardly believe what I had done in departing from my accustomed routine. Perhaps I should have been asking, “Why did God lead me to risk taking this new adventuresome confrontation?”
On Friday, after a quick greeting and some general conversation, I felt comfortable to remark, “No question about it, Jim, this place is jumping. I can see why you must be very busy most of the time, but I heard that you used to worship with us. Why don’t we ever see you in church anymore? I haven’t seen you since I became pastor.” His answer to my query was one of the most direct and real that I’ve ever heard, “Pastor, right now I’ve got to tell you that I’m in the worst backslidden state that I’ve been in my entire life.”
You can well imagine my surprise at his honest revelation and his willingness to discuss his personal frustration over his own spiritual status. What a breakthrough after following the Holy Spirit’s leading to become flexibly open to God’s divine interruption! We talked quite a while about his concerns, and he returned to church the following week. Soon after, I began to realize a new excitement in anticipation of what God would open up next, and I gained a new perspective of every seemingly ordinary event—looking for God’s purpose in all things.
In another situation, I found that in my role as a representative of the college and seminary, or even later during my interim pastorates, I would be away from home a few days at a time and would have some meals alone in a restaurant. Each meal was an opportunity to do some extra reading, so it was my pattern never to be without reading material.
Often a waiter or waitress would inquire about the book, its plot or theme, or my profession. When they learned that I was a pastor, some would almost recoil or groan disappointedly, indicating they didn’t want to go there with a “man of the cloth.” With others, however, a piqued interest indicated that there was possibly some issue they wished to address with an authority.
One particular morning my conversation with a waitress centered on her question, “Do you ever meet with couples who need help in their marriage?” The conversation took place between my coffee fill-ups, flipping pages, and her other customers and presented a worrisome problem. She had been married two years, and they were now in their first home, but her husband’s temper flare-ups were apparently going to bring on bankruptcy. Each time she purchased a new table or chair, papered a wall, or hung a picture, her husband’s frustration would send his fist through a wall, crash a piece of furniture, or trash a picture. She lightheartedly tried to lessen her hurt by remarking, “What’s the sense of us both working to earn money to furnish our home when he only smashes it all?” Good question!
Somehow through all the turmoil, I did perceive a basic love for one another. After one or two more coffee meetings with Annie, she told me that her husband, Tom, had agreed to meet with her in my office. He arrived with his invisible chip firmly implanted on his shoulder. She was trying to apologize as many times as required in order to find some kind of peace.
The couple couldn’t seem to grasp how two uniquely different creatures ought to comprehend the proper equation in marriage. What illustration could help capture the idea of coming together in agreement about unity, one flesh? Then this thought occurred to me. I made the comparison between the nature of water and the marriage relationship in which two distinctly different elements, hydrogen and oxygen, when combined, produce a brand new substance. Water is born. Neither of the two elements involved takes over; neither one becomes the other, nor is one smothered by the other. They are miraculously one. And united, they can produce a dynamic blessedness to the glory of God.
The same should happen in marriage. I suggested that a successful Christian marriage, or for that matter any marriage, is not to be a 50-50 bargained contract, but rather a 100-100 new covenant by both parties with no individual winners or losers, just one common heart. That seemed to be a brand new concept to Tom, who smiled rather sheepishly as through he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He felt he should have known this himself since it was so simple.
We then talked about authority in the relationship, that in a true loving marriage, the “lord” or ruler of the home is neither one of them in the sense of a dictatorship, but rather the Lord whom they should both earnestly seek to honor. When two people seek first of all to honor God and live by His precepts, the prospects for success are most hopeful.
I drew a picture of a triangle with God at the apex and each of them at one of the lower corners. They could quickly see that the closer they drew toward God they were also drawing closer together. So simple!
I was truly amazed at how their bonding seemed to blossom so obviously. Their new comprehension of scriptural precepts revealed a genuine hunger for the truth. After we had prayer, a quick hug from my coffee girl and a hearty handshake from Tom, the couple left.
As I chanced to look out the window prior to closing my office for the day, I was pleasantly surprised and gratified to see them holding hands as they walked toward their car together. Subsequent breakfast times proved to be sincerely joyful, sprinkled with reports about their life together—with no further destruction of household furnishings!
For me personally, ever since those surprising God-ordained “divine interruptions,” my schedule has been more flexibly open for response to the Spirit of God’s welcome redirection of my once formerly systematized ritualism.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (1 Timothy 1:7 HCSB).