“Pray that God would set up divine appointments this week. Ask him to interrupt your life and use you to talk with someone about Jesus.”
That was my final encouragement during Sunday's message from Romans 10.
Sure enough, right after the service a young man was in our parking lot looking for someone to help him get his life on track. And sure enough we had four screaming kiddos in the mini-van and plans for the afternoon.
Moments like those tempt me to change my prayer from “Lord, use me” to “Lord, use me when I have some free time.”
Ministry can be lots of things, but convenient is usually not the best way to describe it. The fact that our interruptions are divine appointments ensures that they probably won't fit neatly into our schedule.
So if the Spirit is willing to set up divine appointments, how should we prepare to respond—even when our schedule is full? There are no magic answers, but here are a few things to prayerfully consider.
1. Pray for divine appointments.
God is sovereignly working out his purposes in history. He places people where he wants them (Acts 17:26) and amazingly arranges circumstances to draw people to himself (Acts 8:26-40). As his followers, we should be ready, willing, and desirous to be a part of introducing people to him (Isa. 6:8; Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20).
Pray for God to use you. Pray for him to use your church. Regularly pray for him to interrupt your schedule and arrange circumstances so that you will have opportunity to speak to others about him. Ask him to open doors for the Word to go forth (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; Col. 4:2; Rev. 3:8) and for him to open your eyes to see the appointments he is arranging.
2. Plan for divine answers.
When we pray, we should expect that God will answer. We serve a God who delights in finding and using available people (2 Chron. 16:9). That means when we awake each morning, we should fully expect that the Lord of heaven will use us on earth that day for his glory. Some days this process will be more obvious than others, but we should always expect him to work.
My wife has long said, “Every brief encounter is from the Lord.” Since there is no such thing as luck or chance, we should always remember that when we encounter the people in our family, neighborhood, workplace, and checkout counter (get off your phone) it happens because God has arranged it to happen that way.
Are you seeking open doors in conversations? Are you asking people questions about their lives? Are you asking people how you can pray for them? Are you pushing on doors in relationships to see if the Lord makes one swing open?
I know an elder and his wife who would make a crockpot meal almost every Sunday morning so they could invite people they met at church home for lunch. I've heard testimonies of people who sat in front of them at church and then got the invite to join them for lunch. That elder's family was ready to be used by the Lord.
Another practical way to plan for divine answers is to stockpile resources you can give to people who might be interested in hearing more. I have copies of the Scriptures and a gospel tract called 2 Ways to Live in my backpack when I travel, in my car, in my home office, and at the church. I also have a reading plan to give someone who shows interest in starting to read the Bible. You may not use these resources all the time, but they're nice to have around in case the conversation gets that far.
3. Pray to know when you should walk away from a possible gospel opportunity.
Jesus never lacked for opportunities to minister. But Jesus didn't minister to every person who came to him. Sometimes he said “no” to opportunities before him because he had other business from the Father to attend to (Mark 1:36-38).
Jesus did have an advantage, being omniscient and all, but he gives us his Spirit to guide us (John 16:33; Acts 8:29, 10:19, 13:2) and wisdom as we ask for it (Matt. 7:7-11; James 1:5). There are times we aren't able to share with people because we have other things the Lord would have us do.
For instance, we didn't stick around and share the gospel with the young man in the parking lot on Sunday after church. It just wasn't the right time. We exchanged e-mails, and I introduced him to a few of our other members, but it was best for me to keep the commitment I had with my family on that day. On other days, we may have invited him to lunch, or I may have told the family to head home, and I'd stay back to talk.
Pray for the Lord to help you walk in wisdom and rest in the fact that you are not the Savior.
4. Pray to know when your plans are getting in the way of God's plans.
There are times when the good things we're doing get in the way of the greater things the Lord wants us to do. In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus encounters three would-be followers who when asked to follow him gave what seem like good excuses. Ensuring shelter, burying a dying parent, and saying farewell to your family seem like better reasons to delay following Jesus than I usually come up with.
This passage should remind us that we must not “lean on our own understanding” (Prov. 3:5-6) and help us choose the “better portion” (Lk. 10:38-42). We need grace to see things in our schedule that might be able to go in order to free up available time. We should be prayerful that God would cultivate a sensitive heart in us like young Samuel had (1 Sam. 3:1-11) so that if we ever sense him calling us to do something, we will step out with expectant faith.
This is where being in loving, intentional, truth-speaking community with other believers is essential. I need people in my life to help me think through my priorities. I am not above allowing comfort and personal plans to creep in and cloud my ability to see what the Lord has set before me. Let's help each other be attentive to divine appointments and create a culture in our churches where we are surrendered to the Lord's call to make his name known.
5. Rest in God's grace if you miss an opportunity.
We will all miss divine appointments. We are sinners who, for many reasons, are prone to deaf ears, hardened hearts, and dulled senses. Certain instances still haunt me where I missed what appeared to be a divinely ordained opportunity to point someone toward Christ. And while we must always learn and repent when appropriate, we must also rest in the fact that God's grace covers all our failures.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died and rose for sinners, including those who miss divine appointments. So if you've been too busy to notice, or too fearful to speak, cast yourself upon the Lord's matchless mercy—and get ready for the next opportunity he lays before you.
The Spirit is willing to use us, so draw near to the Lord and ask him to do so. Nothing is better than having the message of God's grace and a schedule full of divine appointments. Lord, use us!
Thanks to Blake White (@ablakewhite) for his tweet “the Spirit is willing but the schedule is tight,” which got me thinking about this article and to Tim Challies (@challies) for this post on getting things done that had a section on being ready for divine appointments.
I also want to strongly recommend Kevin DeYoung's Crazy Busy and Matt Perman's What's Best Next for your reading. These wonderful resources will help you think well about having a full schedule for the glory of God.