Plan to Be Interrupted
Slow Love in a Busy World
At one time, I thought the best test for our faith in the sovereignty of God was our fidelity to the five points of Calvinism. But lately I’ve wondered if a different test might be more appropriate: how we respond to the interruptions, inefficiencies, and unforeseen delays strewn throughout our days.
Many of us cheer at the high sovereignty celebrated by Charles Spurgeon:
I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes — that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens — that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. (“God’s Providence”)
Yet where do our cheers go (or my cheers, at any rate) when God, in his providence, arranges the particles in his universe against our plans for the day? When our computer mutinies, or our toddler summons the attention of the entire grocery store, or our coworker knocks in the midst of our brilliant productivity? Too often, my internal response amounts to the following: “The dust motes may be subject to God’s rule, but this must have slipped past his sovereignty.”
But the God who is sovereign over our salvation is sovereign also over our schedules, including all the interruptions.
Faith, Not Efficiency
We cannot say that God has left us unprepared for such interruptions. Scripture’s story of redemption does not give the impression that efficiency is one of God’s chief values. If it were, the Bible’s plotline would be much straighter (and much less interesting). Over and again, God hands his people some important piece of work to do — work we might imagine is simply too important to be delayed — and then he bids his people to trust him through interruption.
“We want to move through our tasks without interruption; he wants us to trust him in every interruption.”
He tells Nehemiah to build the wall around Jerusalem, and then he allows a host of enemies to halt the work for a time (Nehemiah 4:7–14). He calls Jeremiah to prophesy in Judah, and then ordains that he should be tossed into a cistern (Jeremiah 38:1–6). He commissions Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and then lands him in a prison cell (Philippians 1:12–13). Time would fail to tell of Joseph’s wait in Egypt, of David’s flights from Saul, and of the multitudes who intercepted Jesus as he was heading somewhere else.
What do we make of such sovereign delays? Apparently, as Jon Bloom writes, “God is not nearly as interested in our efficiency as he is in our faith.” Regularly, even if subconsciously, we walk into our days with efficiency as our agenda: fold the laundry and write the paper and cook the meal and prepare the Bible study and get to bed with no task unchecked. Yet often, God’s agenda for us is not efficiency, but faith — for “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6).
We want to move through our tasks without interruption; he wants us to trust him in every interruption. And so, he will regularly, even daily, disrupt our plans.
So faith, not efficiency, is God’s main agenda for us each day. As we consider how we might prepare for the daily interruptions he sends our way, we would do well to keep one clarification in mind: we should not receive every interruption as a holy interruption — as a God-sent, sanctifying inefficiency. Not every interruption is created equal.
For many of us today, interruption is the air we breathe. We can scarcely go fifteen minutes without our phone buzzing, our email binging, our calendar reminding, our news app updating, our social media flagging. We have grown accustomed to a mind fragmented by technology. Indeed, many of us have grown more than accustomed — we enjoy the quarter-hour (or more) dopamine hit that our smartphones provide. If separated from our screens for an afternoon, we might fidget like someone in withdrawal.
Interruptions such as these rarely sanctify. In fact, they regularly do the opposite. Instead of propelling us into the lives of the neighbors around us at that moment (Matthew 22:39), they lure us to give our best attention elsewhere. Instead of slowing us down to listen (James 1:19), they train us in the sorry arts of swiping, skimming, and “multitasking.” Instead of inviting us to cast our burdens on God (1 Peter 5:6–7), they regularly feed low-level anxiety. Yet too often, I resent the interruption from my neighbor next door, yet relish the one from my news feed.
By all means, bolt the door against such interruptions. Turn off notifications for stretches of the day. Decide how often you’ll check your email. When you go to sleep (or better, well before you do), put your phone to sleep as well. Whatever it takes, cultivate the kind of calm and focused mind that is ready to receive real interruptions.
Enough Margin for Love
Beyond ridding ourselves of counterfeit interruptions, we might consider another practical step toward welcoming the interruptions God sends: leave enough margin in your schedule for love. Margin is the blank space on our calendars and our to-do lists — the empty, unplanned parts of the day that are available for the unexpected.
Perhaps interruptions frustrate some of us because we simply have no margin. I sometimes pack one appointment or task on top of another, leaving me to run between responsibilities with little room to breathe in between — and no room for interruptions. Such planning (at least for most of us, most of the time) reflects an almost laughable amount of hubris, as if I expect the minutes to march on according to my good pleasure.
“Those who trust deeply in the sovereignty of God learn to leave enough margin in their days for sovereign interruptions.”
Consider how Jesus lived. For as full as his schedule was, he was never so booked that he could not linger for a few minutes on the way. Have you ever noticed just how often he is interrupted? How regularly a disciple or stranger interjects (Luke 12:13)? How commonly someone on the roadside cries for help (Mark 10:46–48)? How frequently even his meals were invaded by the needs of a neighbor (Luke 7:36–38)? And have you ever noticed how Jesus was never flustered or rushed?
When the Son of God walked among us, he was perfect in patience. And not only because he was the Son of God, but also because he had the healthy, sane realism to expect interruptions and to leave enough room in his life to love his neighbor. How many times have we become irritated at interruptions because, unlike Jesus, we had no space in our schedule for them? In that case, repentance means more than pleading with God for patience; it also means planning more space in our schedules.
Those who trust deeply in the sovereignty of God learn to leave enough margin in their days for sovereign interruptions. Because faith not only relies on God when the interruptions come; it also plans for interruptions before they come. It leaves pockets of the day and week blank, and over the rest it writes, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).
Far Better Plans
Even still, a focused mind and a schedule with margin will not prepare us for every interruption. Many interruptions will come our way that feel inconvenient and unwelcome. And in such moments, we do well to step back, catch our breath, pray, and remember all the good that God sends through interruptions.
Think big for a moment. Where would we be if God hadn’t interrupted Abraham in Haran, Moses in Midian, David among the sheepfolds, Mary in her betrothed innocence, Peter in his fishing boat, Paul on the road to Damascus? And where would you be if he hadn’t interrupted your life — if Jesus hadn’t invaded your comfortable rebellion and beckoned you to repent and believe?
Once God turns our lives upside down, he doesn’t stop using interruptions (large or small) for our good. Through them, he chastens our pride, slows our pace, opens our eyes, bends us toward dependence, and teaches us to trust. He reminds us that he is not after our maximum efficiency, but instead our maximum conformity to Christ, who was never too busy, too preoccupied, or too impatient to be interrupted.
If we know all that God does through interruptions, we may do more than avoid them: after we’ve planned the best we can, we may even pray that he would be pleased to interrupt us with his better, perfect plans.