Let's face it, life is busy. With important meetings and pressing deadlines, time becomes a precious commodity. In an age when the quality of your day is measured by the productivity in it, we have little room for interruptions. We move to and from appointments with expediency and tunnel-vision.
As a pastor, I enjoy time with other people... providing they're on my calendar. My schedule helps me maximize daily appointments and ministry. Anyone who needs me otherwise, well, should make an appointment. It's stewardship of time, right? After all, I have many spiritual things to do... like blog. Even Sunday mornings, with all the final details, I sometimes find myself irritated by the interruptions of those who need to talk to their pastor (the audacity of some people - didn't I just talk to them last Sunday!).
But as I look into the Gospels I find a different model at work. It seems much of Jesus' ministry happens between appointments - interruptions while he's in transit. I'll share three examples:
- The rich young ruler - "As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him..."
- The ten lepers - "On the way to Jerusalem... he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance..."
- Blind Bartimaeus - "As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar..."
No doubt you could find more... many more. In fact, it appears that a large portion of Jesus' great teachings, parables and miracles happen with people who've stopped him along the way - with no appointment! As I watch Jesus it becomes painfully clear, these people weren't interruptions to his ministry, but interruptions for his ministry. Which, I guess, doesn't make them interruptions at all.
This makes me wonder: what we so often see as "in the way" people, does Jesus see as "along the way" people? Are we passing by people that Jesus would have stopped for. Have our finely tuned schedules actually squeezed out some meaningful ministry? If so, we need to re-model after Jesus to have a better "along the way" ministry.
WHO ARE MY "ALONG THE WAY" PEOPLE?
- "Along the way" people are those God-appointed interactions that come to you outside your own scheduling - these interactions are unplanned and unexpected. They are God-appointed - that is God brings them to you. Note: these people came to Jesus, he didn't go looking for them. Not every person is an "along the way" person. Remember, Jesus healed all who came to him, but he did not heal every person he set eyes on.
- "Along the way" people will often come at inopportune times - people came to Jesus when he was "setting out on a journey", on his way somewhere, or just leaving. Expect "along the way" people just as your about to go on vacation, sit down for dinner or run into the supermarket to quickly pick up a gallon of milk.
- "Along the way" people will often appear to be "needy" or "dirty" - notice the ten lepers... they stood at a distance. People who came to Jesus often had a significant need which left them separated from general society. Maybe for you it's the homeless man at the Metro stop, or the beggar at the intersection near work. It may be that person you're embarrassed to be seen with.
- "Along the way" people will not always result in a high return - In the 3 examples above, Jesus saw different results. For the rich young ruler, there was no return. For the ten lepers, there was little return (only one). For Bartemaeus, there was a large crowd and a high return. But the return never stopped Jesus. He ministered to people out of love for them, not love for the results.
- "Along the way" people need Jesus - Jesus didn't simply heal people. He ministered to them. He appealed to their faith. "Along the way" people don't need a handout from you, and for heaven's sake they don't need a tract. These folk need the touch of Jesus, a friend to minister to their faith (or lack there of) and need. They need you.
HOW CAN I GROW IN MY "ALONG THE WAY" INTERACTIONS?
- Pray for divine appointments -These are God-appointed interactions, so pray for them. Prayer also helps set your eyes to see when those "along the way" people come.
- Schedule "along the way" time - Give yourself a little more time between appointments. Look around and turn off the tunnel-vision. Slow down when you walk the hallways or sidewalks, and make eye-contact with people (not in a creepy way, please).
- Prioritize people - God loves people the most. It's okay to love your job and being productive in what you do. But keep your highest priority on people. This is why God has given you the ministry of reconciliation.
- Avoid the "in the way" people - There are still "in the way" people. In Mark 11 Jesus meets a few. Ironically, it's because of the ministry he'd had with "along the way" people. He politely excuses them without answering their questions. People who only seek religious rhetoric or question your motives for serving others are "in the way" people. The more time you give to explain yourself to "in the way" people, the less time you'll have to serve "along the way" people.
Father, help me to SEE people, SLOW DOWN for people, and SERVE people... just like Jesus. Amen!