Monday, October 10, 2011


When God Interrupts:
Finding New Life Through Unwanted Change
M. Craig Barnes
Downers, Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 1996.
160 pp.

“But pastor, we have always done it this way.”

“We don't want to change the order of the worship service.”

“Nobody wants hardwood floors; we prefer carpeting.”

Many pastors can relate to these objections by church members when new ideas are presented. Most people get annoyed or angry when there is any interruption to the normal flow of life. We are creatures of habit and routine. We dislike, and even dread, changes that disrupt our lives.

Something as minor as an interruption in a conversation annoys us. The TV program that we are watching is interrupted by a commercial. Our sleep gets disturbed by a baby's cry or the dog barking next door. As annoying as they are, we deal with these interruptions as a part of life.

Recently, a friend and co-worker told me that his wife wants to move to another city, but he refuses to even consider it. He loves where they live now. He's comfortable, and he doesn't want his life to be interrupted by such a huge change. (I told him that if his wife wants to move, he'll be moving. And he is.)

When God interrupts, it can sometimes bring fear into our hearts, because we don't know what He wants and what is going to happen next, and that is frightening. We can become too happy and comfortable and then when God shows up, we sometimes fear the worst. “I hope that he doesn't want me to leave this church, I'm comfortable here.” “I don't want to move from this city, I love living here.” We don't want to be interrupted, especially by God.

People do not like change, especially when things are going well. As Christians, we are quite comfortable within the stained glass windows of the church. It's our comfort zone and we don't want to be disturbed.

We don't want to go to Nineveh. We would rather not leave the familiarity of the desert to go back to Egypt to rescue God's people. We don't want to sell all that we have and give the money to the poor. And we certainly don't want to go to the cross to die to sin and self.

I like what Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis said about the Lord bringing change to our lives. "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

I first read When God Interrupts when it came out in 1996. I've read it closely and have underlined and made notes on the pages. When I browsed through it as I was writing this blog, I was blessed even more than when I read it the first time. The words on the pages leaped out at me, as they sometimes do when reading the Bible.

During the first reading of this book, the Lord had already interrupted my life and brought about changes, many unwanted. But I learned that as I follow the Lord, not knowing where I'm going, it's best to trust and obey. You come to realize that He knows where He is taking you and it's to a better place than where you are now. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Yes, there is uncertainty along the way. The doubts do creep in. Fear rears its ugly head. There is more darkness then there is light. But, you keep going. It can be compared to a wilderness experience or in the words of St. John of the Cross, it's the dark night of the soul, where things are obscure. We may even feel that the journey is taking us through hell itself. But, as Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

With the interruptions and changes that the Lord brings we have three choices: we can turn back (and miss God), stand still (not progressing in our walk),or go forward in faith.

The Rev. Dr. M. Craig Barnes is pastor and head of staff of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
He is the author of several popular books, including Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls (Brazos Press, 2006), Sacred Thirst: Finding God in the Desert of our Longings (Zondervan 2001) and Hustling God: Why We Work So Hard for What God Wants to Give (Zondervan 1999).

Here are some excepts from his book When God Interrupts that I have found especially encouraging.

...grace often comes in severe ways. We really don't have to seek abandonment. It finds us easily enough. Usually it comes as God's uninvited angel with the announcement of “good news” that we are about to lose our lives. (p.18)

To follow Jesus is to enter the lifelong process of discovering more about God than we know, discovering that “my ways are not your ways,” discovering that we have been worshiping not God but an expectation of God. Nothing makes it harder to see God than our expectations of him. (p.30)

It is impossible to follow Jesus and not be led away from something. (p.21)

Life as they knew it was over. In its place they were given not just a new life, but a new purpose to life. (p.22)

...he takes them to a place they would rather not go and gives them a vocation that changes everything. (p. 27-28)

...conversion is the lifelong process of turning away from our plans and turning toward God's maddening, disruptive creativity. (p.28)

I believe that this book will be a blessing and an encouragement to you as you “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) Amen!