God’s painful interruption multiplies joy

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Acts 8:8: “…there was much joy in that city.” 

Acts 8:39: “…went on his way rejoicing…”

I hate interruptions. I’m especially irritated when my plans are interrupted. A flat tire messing up my daily schedule, a sick child changing my travel plans, an email requiring immediate attention. I loose focus, I become upset, I feel wasted and immediately I turn into problem-solving panic mode.

Foreign mission was born out of God’s intentional and continuous interruption. We see in Acts 8 that God twice interrupted the success, the fellowship and the comfort the church has built and enjoyed. Interruptions came through various means – once through unwanted circumstances (Acts 8:1-4) and later through an unexpected voice of God (Acts 8:26). Through these interruptions one person planted the seed of the gospel in two nations in a very short period of time. None of that would have happened without those interruptions. The person was Philip. The nations were Samaria and Ethiopia.

God used various means to force his people to multiply his mission and placed them where He wanted them to be and where they’ve never planned to be.

God’s interruption came through unwanted circumstances. Acts 8:1-4.

God used the change of the political environment to multiply his mission. God didn’t use a very gentle way to interrupt their peaceful success. Persecution and suffering is a pretty harsh way to force them to multiply. The force of circumstances is used by God to advance His mission. They’ve experienced growth, stability, success, fellowship and fruitfulness. But the goal was multiplication: multiply that in other places.

God will always interrupt our success for the sake of multiplication. He interrupts because He wants something else. 

We read in vs 4 that “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”

This unexpected change was not a small change. It forced families to move and to leave behind houses, jobs, carriers, businesses, schools, relatives and future promises. They had to replant their whole life somewhere else building new communities around them. It represented a total, major life-change. Everything that defined them, they had to leave behind. There were grief, fear and losses involved. Yet God used these painful circumstances to force them into the right direction.

Bad things has happened to them yet the good news has spread through them. 

God’s interruption came through an unexpected voice. (8:26)

Philip went from success, community, fellowship and fruitfulness (in Jerusalem) and built a new success, community, fellowship and fruitfulness (in Samaria).

Again, at the peak of his ministry where he saw great success, incredible fruitfulness, where he was extremely useful, where ”the city was full of joy”, the Lord, again interrupts. An angel appears and gives a command: “rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert place.”

He is called:

  • from the success to the risk,
  • from being well-known, celebrated, honored to be unknown,
  • from the familiar to the unfamiliar,
  • from the multitude to the individual,
  • from the city to the desert,
  • from something he started, built and led to success to start something new again,
  • from being the top leader to be the level one evangelist,
  • from great impact to great risk.

And he is called to all of that without knowing WHY!

God took away the useful and the successful person from his place of success. He took away Philip’s ministry and everything that defined him in that environment. But it’s not Philip’s ministry, but it’s God’s mission. It’s His garden and he takes the hose wherever he wants to water with that hose.

God rarely reveals his reasons when he gives us commands. The reasons behind of God’s commands, interruptions will be understood on the journey of obedience. Philip understood it as he has obeyed. We understand looking back why God interrupted the church through unfortunate circumstances and why He interrupted Philip’s success. It was all for the sake of multiplying His mission.

We need to embrace God’s interruptions. We need to embrace that either through unexpected circumstances or through unexpected changes or through the unexpected voice of God, He wants to advance His mission. He is not interested in our ministry, He is interested in his mission.

The best part is this: both of these interruptions from God led to JOY! First, the city of Samaria was full of JOY (8:8) and then the Ethiopians went away with JOY (8:39). When we walk through God’s interruptions with obedience the end result will always be God’s Joy multiplied.

Wilderness: an awkward reward for a godly life.

“Jesus had a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go.” - Henri Nouwen

Like it or not, our journey sometimes takes us through a wilderness: a place of need, a place of unrest, a place of loneliness. A place where we would rather not be.

What is common in the story of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Jephthah, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus is that they all had a "wilderness experience". Most of them didn't get to the wilderness because they did something wrong, so they deserved a punishment, but because they did something or all things right. It’s an awkward reward for a godly life. So a lot of good people of God were taken to a bad place by God. Yet a bad place can serve God’s good purposes.

WILDERNESS IS NOT FUN (not meant nor designed to be) so it's not a self-choice, but it's always God's plan. (Yes, God's plan is not always fun, but it's always good. Good doesn't equals fun.) Those Heroes of Faith listed above didn't go to the wilderness because they wanted to. They went there, because they had to. They were either forced to go there (cast out, driven out) or were called to go there. It was not their choice. Even Jesus was taken by the Spirit to the wilderness and then later He chose to go there regularly to pray.

WILDERNESS IS WHERE WE BECOME POWERLESS AND LEARN TO LOVE. It’s a place where we loose control and become dependent. Wilderness is where everything is taken from us (position, past, future, influence, relationships) and we are left with nothing (as Moses), yet that's the place where God shows up and will meet with us. It’s the place to learn dependency on God and to learn to give up control. It’s the place where God becomes our only source of life (security and provision). As we give up power and control of our life we learn to love, because the highest form of love (says and models Jesus) is to give up control over our life. It’s essential to learn to give up control and power in order to learn to really love. “Power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.” writes Henri Nouwen.

WILDERNESS IS A PLACE OF PREPARATION to be ready to serve God’s purposes. (See Moses, Jephthah, Jesus.) Without the work of God in us in the wilderness, we can't do the work of God through us in the community. Wilderness is the place where we change. (See Moses, the Israelites.)

WILDERNESS IS A PLACE OF GOD'S REVELATION. It is where God speaks to us, where God meets with us. (See Moses, Elijah, Abraham.) Without the revelation in the wilderness there is no revolution in the community. The revelation received in the wilderness changed the course of history (see Moses) and changes our communities.

WILDERNESS IS WHERE FAITH IS TESTED (see Jesus). Wilderness is a place of sacrifice where we put our dearest on to the altar (Abraham/Isaac). It’s the place where our heart will be truly revealed.

WILDERNESS IS A PLACE OF SOLITUDE, SILENCE AND PRAYER. (See Jesus, Abraham). The place where the true power of life comes from: being alone with God in prayer. Wilderness is a place where we are forced to listen to God (Moses, Elijah), even if we don’t want to.

Wilderness will become the place where we minister from. (See John the Baptist.)

BUT… wilderness is NEVER a place where God's story ends. So go through with hope and a teachable heart!