How does God get our attention? We live in a world flooded with information. How do we know when an event, a conversation, a news story or a Facebook thread is more than just an interesting fact or tidbit of information? How do we know when God is trying to get us to notice Him? I believe God uses interruptions to get our attention, but how do we know when something is a divine interruption or just normal noise?
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama right in the middle of what is known as the Bible Belt. In case you don’t know, the Bible Belt runs from Texas to Georgia and roughly from Florida to Virginia. This region of the United States was given this strange title in the 1920’s because Christian church attendance in these states was higher than the national average. The statistic is still true and as a result conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in the South in both culture and politics. Let me give an example. In 1987 the social activity of horse racing was completely acceptable in New York and California, but in Alabama it was frowned upon, and it was creating cultural clash in Birmingham.
I was seventeen years old and Birmingham had just opened its first and only horse track. Gambling was the hot topic in social and religious circles. Churches from all over the city began sending its members to the racetrack…not to gamble, but to evangelize. The poor souls at the racetrack—either employed there or just gambling—needed to be saved. The churches of Birmingham saw it as mission field. My church was no different. I signed up to go “witness” to people at the racetrack. For some reason I thought I was on high moral ground and I needed to do my part to scourge the city of this evil. I didn’t go with love. I went with contempt.
I prepared myself by studying a curriculum called CWT: Christian Witness Training (don’t waste your time Googling it…no one uses this or remembers it). The reason I remember CWT is because it encouraged me to start a conversation about God by asking this question: “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”
The material provided different responses someone might give to answer the question and armed me with Biblical comebacks. The purpose of this: To encourage someone to think about a relationship with Christ, and hopefully influence them to accept Jesus as their personal savior. I went to the racetrack ready to talk to someone about God, but little did I know God would interrupt me.
When I arrived at the track, I was given permission to go to the stables. I spoke with a jockey. It was the only conversation I had and I’ve never forgotten it.
He was a small man, at least six inches shorter than me, and really thin. He was rugged. His face looked experienced and tired, but he was friendly. I don’t know if he knew why I was there, but he stopped tending his horse and began to speak with me. I went through the pleasantries of introducing myself and getting his name (although I don’t remember it). Finally, I asked him the question I had come prepared to ask. Let me recall for you word for word what I remember.
Me: If God were to ask you “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?Jockey: If God were to speak to me, I’d shit in my pants.
Needless to say, CWT had not considered this a possible response to the question.
I was unprepared for his comment, but I noticed something. He looked sincere. I’ll never forget it. He wasn’t trying to shock me. He wasn’t trying to trip me up. He wasn’t mocking me. He was sincere. And because honesty was in his eyes something moved in me, I began to care about him. BOOM! God interrupted me.
I internally cried, “God, help!” I then departed from the CWT script and said the next thing that came to my mind. “Why would you do that if God spoke to you?” I then got an education on how some people view God.
I learned three things as I talked with him:
1) He felt his life was tiny and unimportant. In the grand scheme of the universe, why would God even want to speak to him? He did believe in God, but he believed God had more important things to do.
2) He felt his life was far from God…so different from God’s expectations…that even if God did speak to him would it be relevant? He believed God was out of touch with his life. What could God say to a jockey that would remotely help him?
3) He felt God personally speaking to him would not be pleasant. In fact, the thought terrified him. Hence, his bowel moving comments. He was not being crass or irreverent. He was being honest. If God were going to speak to him, it certainly must not be good and it would absolutely be terrible.
As we talked, God interrupted this man’s life. He was just tending his horse, like he had done hundreds of times before, but this time God sent a humbled, foolish 17-year-old to question his thoughts about God. Using the same moment and conversation, God interrupted both of us for different reasons.
I realize what I’m calling an interruption others might call fate or chance, but God does not work that way. He is intentional with his interruptions. He says, “I know the plans I have for you.”1 God is the Master Interrupter, but how do we know when He is interrupting us? That’s the next blog.