It’s a warm day and I’m running through a meadow with our dog. There are flowers of every shade and the warm tones of tall summer grass. At every opportunity our dog decides to leap through the grass and her long black fluffy ears clap above her head. As I run, I’m listening to worship music, soaking in God’s presence through the music and his marvellous creation. It sounds idyllic doesn’t it, if you like running! Inside, however, I’m tussling with God about the apparent lack of freedom in the established church and the wonderful freedom outside of it. I just want to be free. As I run God starts to speak to me, and my heart breaks. I head on up the hill to get back home, all sweaty and emotional, to find my ordered communion set on the doorstep. I’m not sure what will happen next, but I know God has begun a conversation with me, to direct my heart and mind towards him and the people he loves. My day, my plans and my dreams were being interrupted.
The Spirit interrupts our lives in so many ways, through the Bible, a moment of prayer, creation, worship, a film, a good book, our next-door neighbour, someone at the local pub, through a sports match, through art… the list is endless. Barrett and Harley have written a book called ‘Being Interrupted’*, which I have dipped in and out of for study. In the introduction they tell a story about a street nativity going on for longer than expected and how the vicar needed to call the church to let them know that the mulled wine and mince pies will be needed later than expected, and that the carol service would be interrupted. Something many of us may be familiar with. Writing in response to this story they say, ‘The (true) story you’ve just read is a parable: of the kingdom of God in the hands of our neighbours, interrupting the plans, expectations and flow of the church’s life and mission, with an undreamt-of abundance that grabs our attention, expands our horizons and reorientates our sense of direction and purpose’. How many of us would have panicked and seen the consequences of a well-attended street nativity as an unwelcomed interruption?
When I think about my day, and all I need to achieve, interruptions are not easy to handle and, to be honest, often unwelcome. I love to have a list of tasks and tick them off one by one, feeling successful and happy when I mark the last tick. An interruption would stop that from happening and perhaps push some work to another day or time which I don’t feel like I have. Is our business preventing us from being interrupted by the Spirit? Are we being attentive enough to God during or busy days to hear or see his interruptions?
I bet Philip was not expecting to suddenly be near an Ethiopian to share the good news of Jesus, and I bet Mary and Martha weren’t expecting Jesus to show up at their house and take up some time from her day, I bet Zaccheus wasn’t expecting Jesus to invite himself over, and I bet Peter wasn’t expecting a dream and an invitation from Cornelius’ household that day. Each interruption led to intimacy with God either for themselves or for soon to be new believers. When we are on mission with the missional Spirit we need to let him interrupt us. He may take us on a different than expected path, but we will find God.
There will inevitably be those unhelpful interruptions in our lives, the distractions that lead us away from God. Let’s be honest, we often know what they are, and if we don’t well, when an interruption comes, ask God if it’s him. If you are drawn close to him through it, then consider stepping out in faith to see what may come of it. We never know, we could find ourselves sitting at the feet of Jesus with new brothers and sisters.
Jo Allen Director: South West
*Being Interrupted by Al Barratt and Ruth Harley, SCM Press