Unscheduled Stops

In our family, we love a good road trip. Part of the magic of trekking across this vast landscape we call America is leaving room for new adventures that might present themselves as we roll along. A few years ago, as we were driving through the Southwest, we saw that we were closer to the Petrified Forest than we realized. So, we stopped and spent a lovely few hours hiking through ancient (or beyond ancient) rocks–marveling at the grandeur and majesty of God. This past summer, we headed East to Washington, D.C. With no plans one evening, we made our way to the U.S. Capitol and sat on the steps of this hallowed seat of government, visiting with a group of veterans who had come to exercise their Constitutional rights in the push to secure funding for service members who had become ill in the course of their duty. More recently, on a work trip to Philadelphia, I spent half a day wandering the city and exploring some of its history–going wherever the spirit of inquiry led me, delighting in learning more about the marvelous mayhem that was our nation’s founding.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that you didn’t click onto this post to read about my travel history…and that’s a fair critique. So let me get to the point…In this day and age, we lead hyper scheduled lives. Look at your calendar and see how many empty days you have. We don’t have a free Saturday until February 25. Our daily schedules follow a same pattern–minutes carefully accounted for from the moment we wake to the moment our heads hit the pillow once again. Yet all of this scheduling poses a problem for our practice of faith, because God doesn’t move according to our schedules. He has his own, and it often looks nothing like ours.

I love this passage from the Gospel of John. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who wants to believe in salvation, but Jesus’s words just don’t gel with his understanding. Everything in Nicodemus’s life says to follow the path of tradition. Hold fast to your education, maintain your daily practices, adhere to the schedule established in the Book of Law. And so, Nicodemus says to Jesus, “This doesn’t make any sense. It’s completely illogical.”

And, in the most aggravatingly awesome way ever, Jesus responds…Yes. You’re exactly right.

Instead of walking Nicodemus through the law (see Peter’s speech in Acts 2:14-41 for that), Jesus essentially tells him that God’s plan goes against everything Nicodemus has ever expected, and that he just needs to get over that and accept that things are going to be different. God’s Spirit goes where it wants to, Jesus says. You can follow, or not.

Personally, I find a lot of relief in Jesus’s response to Nicodemus. It takes the pressure off my already overtaxed brain to figure something else out. It’s one less thing I need to have an answer for. God has his own plan, and I can follow or not. But like Nicodemus, following God’s spirit might require some unscheduled stops–or even a full-out detour from the present path.

God doesn’t care about our schedules, which I know from personal experience, as He has disrupted nearly every plan I’ve ever had for my life. If you don’t believe that God is the Great Disrupter of Schedules, a cursory glance through Scripture should confirm this truth. Try Abraham, or Jacob, or Joseph, or Moses, or Hannah, or Ruth, or Mary, or Peter, or Paul….the Bible is full of human plans usurped by God’s eternal ones.

Part of being a follower of Christ means that we must be ready for unscheduled stops because we know that the Spirit blows wherever God wills. Maybe it’s a co-worker who needs some encouragement when we have a deadline to meet. Or maybe it’s our child who wants to talk ad nauseam about seemingly mundane things (but really just wants to be with us) when we’re simply trying to relax and unwind from a hectic day. Perhaps it’s a request for financial assistance when we had planned to use our resources on something completely different (and likely more fun). Sometimes, it’s even upending our calendars to make room for work that God is doing somewhere else.

Jesus reminds us, in the Gospel of John, that wherever he is, there his servants should be. If we truly seek to follow the path that Jesus has laid out, then we have to be okay with unscheduled stops along the way. As you and I ponder our calendars, make plans for the days ahead, I would encourage each of us to leave some room to follow where God’s Spirit leads. As with some of our best vacations experiences…the unscheduled stops are sometimes the best.

Blessings and Peace,