Ken W. Smith, President and Founder, Christian Stewardship Ministries

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Summary: When we work as a team, we are bound to get interrupted by co-workers. Knowing how to deal with interruptions is one of the keys to amicable employee relations. And, those interruptions just may be part of God’s plan!

Do you ever resent being interrupted? I know I do. Interruptions can be a most unwell-come bother, but they can also be God’s way of getting our attention and redirecting our steps for His purposes. Every one of us is interrupted many times each day. And some-times we’re the ones interrupting as well. Clearly there are times when we need to avoid distractions. At other times, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But how do we know the difference?

Avoiding unnecessary interruptions. Family time should be sacred. Our family adopted a family dinnertime and simply refused to answer the phone from 6:30 to 7:00 each night. That was before the days of answering machines. But we never missed an important call. And we put a high premium on spending quality time together as a family.

You may need similar blocks of uninterrupted time at work or at home. A secretary or phone answering machine can help here. Or, if you must answer, be brief and tell your caller that you cannot talk right now but that you will return the call at an agreed-upon time later in the day.

Don’t explain why you can’t take the time to talk now. The caller may be convinced his or her message is worthy of immediate response and may not appreciate your priorities. You don’t want to offend the person. Simply say you’ll call back at a time that is mutually agreeable. God has a best time for everything, and you’re just trying to be obedient to Him as you schedule when you will handle an interruption. You always retain the right to talk to anyone at any time. But many of us need to establish the discipline of not talking just because the opportunity presents itself.

E-mail can really help in this situation. E-mail can enable you to avoid being an interrupter as well. It’s great for reaching many people at once, and not interrupting any of them! If you have this handy tool, you can provide information and request a response—usually in less time than a phone call—and the other person can respond when he or she is free.

Responding to telephone opportunities. Would you rather dig ditches and clean latrines than serve time as a telephone solicitor? Most of us would, and we hate to be on the receiving end of those sales calls almost as much as we would hate to make them.

I’ve tried every approach to handling these unwelcome calls. I was rude. I was silent. I would lay down the phone and walk away. I would hang up. I complained to the phone company. Nothing worked.

Then God gave me the answer. Now I look forward to getting these calls. When a telephone solicitor phones, I ask if they will listen to me after I’ve listened to them. They always agree.

When we’ve finished talking about what they wanted to discuss, I remind them of their commitment to listen to me. Then I ask if they know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. If they answer ?no,? I present the gospel. If they are local, I invite them to go to church with Pat and me. I give my testimony. I offer to send them a Bible if they will give me their address. I was really thrilled one evening when a lady working at a phone bank in Alabama gave her life to Christ. I only know her first name, but I still pray for her.

Dealing with unexpected visitors. The same principle of dealing with interruptions works for those who are on the home front. If you’ve developed a schedule for cleaning your house and a neighbor drops by, share your plan and offer to get together another time. Let your neighbor know she’s important by making time for her. You’ll also have the advantage of thinking about how you want to spend the time together. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to pray with a neighbor or introduce one to the Lord.

If you work in an office and you have a door, close it! You might even try a note that says ?Please do not disturb before 10:00 a.m.? If someone knocks, don’t answer. All but the most determined visitors will give up. If you don’t have a door, a divider or screen around your work area will help. Place your Bible in plain sight. Most visitors won’t interrupt you if they think you are spending time with God.

If your visitor persists, get up and walk toward them as quickly as they enter your office or work area. Be friendly and respond politely, but briefly. If they remain in your office or work area, leave and move toward a neutral location like the water cooler or copy machine. Let your guest follow you.

If your work setting is noisy or lacks privacy, you may want to find a place other than your regular work station when you want to avoid interruption. Perhaps your boss can help you.

Avoiding distractions. Often we’re interrupted because we welcome distractions. The first step in avoiding distractions is to decide in advance that you are not looking for any, and if one comes your way, you will resist it.

Many people lack focus. They do not welcome distraction, but they cannot seem to concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing and just drift off into other things. It may be just a lack of discipline. The following suggestions may help:

? Try to work in an interruption-free environment. Avoid radios, TVs, stereos

? Resist talking to other people

? Organize your desk or work area and keep it free of clutter

? Establish a written plan for your time. Work from an outline

? Use a straightedge to help you read

? Plan periodic breaks to get up and walk around, but return promptly

when it’s time

? Get plenty of sleep at night

? Establish the habit of doing the same thing at the same time each day

? Keep track of your time and how you spend it

? Use a timer to break your work up into fifteen or thirty-minute segments

If you suspect you may be distracted because of a medical problem, have your eyes and ears examined. Consult a Christian psychologist who can look at your situation from a spiritual perspective. Or seek help from the Lord. Ask God to give you supernatural insight into what is causing you to fall prey to distractions. Is it disobedience in your life?

Is it something that only He can reveal to you?

Living amidst interruptions. Of course, there are times when interruptions demand immediate attention—when the baby cries, a siren wails immediately behind you, or a dog barks at midnight. I don’t believe God wants us to worry about those interruptions that are beyond our control. Plan your day as best you can, but don’t expect that it will go exactly that way. As often as not, the way God informs us of the differences between our plan and His is through interruptions!

As we grow in knowledge and grace, we learn how to distinguish between those interruptions God wants us to resist and those that reflect His real plan for us. That is called discernment, and we all need to develop it. That can only come from spending quality time with Him on a regular basis.