Just about every day in Los Angeles I jog back and forth to the 24 Hour Fitness downtown to get my cardio exercise then spend a little time on the weights when I get there. I plan it so I can get back to the mission just before it gets dark for safety reasons. It’s become my routine.
My routine got interrupted this week.
I was heading back after my workout when I noticed a young man sitting on the street corner with a cardboard sign in the downtown area. I walked by and felt the right thing to do was to make eye contact and greet him. He answered back and I never missed a step.
Before I got to the end of the block I felt the Spirit of God bringing a scripture verse to mind. It was Philippians 2:4… “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I was friendly to the young man but I can’t say I was obedient to the command in that verse. There’s nothing wrong with looking after my own interests unless that’s the only person’s interests I’m looking after.
I tried to defend my position in my own mind. I didn’t ignore the young man. I did more than everyone else. I am in the process of working out and stopping would interrupt my routine. Yikes, when I rehearsed my own argument in my mind, I couldn’t even convince myself that it was acceptable.
No sooner did I lose that debate when God gave me another opportunity. I was stopped at the street corner waiting for the street light to change when I glanced to my left and there at the doorway was an older man (more my own age:) reading a book that looked like a bible.
Again, my first inclination was again to keep my routine. After all it will soon be dark. However, the Spirit won that argument and after exchanging greetings I asked him what he was reading. “Philippians chapter four”, he said. I quoted it… “be anxious for nothing but in prayer and petition let you requests be made known to God.” He smiled.
I asked him his name and he told me it was John. I asked John what he was anxious about that I might pray for him. John opened up and told me he had just lost his job as a caregiver as his client grew worse and needed professional care in a hospital. This was a live-in occupation so he was not only out of work but out on the street.
I asked John if he had eaten dinner and he had not. So I invited him to take a walk with me and we’d find a diner and continue our conversation.
Over a burger and fries John told me more of his story. I gave him my card and encouraged him to consider joining the one-year discipleship program at the mission. He was very interested. We prayed together and I asked him to call me to keep in touch.
As I left the café I noticed it was dark.
I’ve never let myself get caught outside in the dark. That’s not the wisest habit. However, I knew this was not really an interruption. It was the purpose God had me work out that day. That gave me all the confidence I needed to brave the balance of the journey back to my room at the mission.
If we are too busy with our own interests and routines then we will be too busy to notice God’s spontaneous ministry promptings. Note to “self”: Interruptions are God’s Introductions to people whom he wants me to meet and share his compassion.
A good prayer for all of us… “God, may I allow time in my day’s activities to “look” to the interests of others in my path and give me the flexibility to submit my own interests for theirs.“
This picture is worth a thousand words and is a sad reminder of this truth… “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We don't know what happened before or after this snapshot so let's not judge but in this moment it sits oddly in contrast to this scripture.