busI had preached that Sunday. In the afternoon I had to take a coach to Kuala Lumpur (KL). I was looking forward to a good nap on the trip. There were many responsibilities waiting for me in KL.

But when I arrived at the station, I saw a couple, two good friends taking the same coach. I had not seen them for a while. They were both very dear to me. I should have looked forward to catching up with them during our five-hour journey. Instead I had mixed feelings. I am a Judger, you see.

No, I don’t work for the judiciary. Nor am I a particularly judgmental person. A “Judger” is a personality type from the Myers- Briggs Type Indicator system.

Judgers prefer a planned and orderly world, living with structure that has a beginning, middle, and end. They like to be in control of what is happening and they like to make decisions. Judgers tend to see things in black and white and like to come down on one side of the other of an issue. They are more comfortable when issues are settled rather than being up in the air — even if they aren’t the ones making the decisions! Judgers may not be particularly adaptable and they generally don’t like surprises. (Paul D. Tieger & Barbara Barron­ Tieger, Do What You Are, Third Edition, Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 2001, p.26)

So while I was genuinely glad to see my friends, their sudden appearance meant that my original plan to sleep through the journey had to be changed.

Fortunately, I had experienced something of the conversion that Henri Nouwen talks about in his book, Out of Solitude.

A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame. Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny twinkle in his eyes, “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.” This is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. (Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1974, p.56.)

And so I didn’t take my nap, well just a very short one late in the trip. Instead I had a long and good chat with my friends. It was an incredibly life-giving conversation. It warmed my heart and stimulated my thinking in a number of key areas I happened to be working on. And because it was a great conversation, it was win-win. My friends emailed me subsequently to tell me that they too had enjoyed our time together.

Time has shown me that often, the very things that are so intrusive to my work and so disruptive of my plans, are in the end key divine initiatives that shape me to be the person I ought to be. And the detours in my journey often take me to destinations I was meant to reach.

Last year, just as my ministry in Singapore was just beginning to pick up, I found myself having to suddenly leave for Kuala Lumpur, and having to stay there for a month. I was extremely frustrated. Yet I found that my unexpected month in KL allowed me to meet up with a number of old friends so that I could properly say good-bye. In the end, the one month in KL “forced” on me became the “gift” of a precious month that enabled wonderful closures with some close friends. (I had lived and worked in KL for seventeen years before relocating to Singapore early last year.)

My conversion to an open stance to life is not perfect. I confess that I still fume and fuss when plans are interrupted and when there are unexpected demands on my time and energy. But I am better. I am more prepared to believe that a burning bush that unexpectedly appears in my path could be a divine call station (Exodus 3: 1-10). Or that the stranger that interrupts one’s duties in the Holy of Holies is old angel Gaby with another important message (Luke 1:5-20).

Indeed I have longed believed that God has a sense of humour. He made me a Judger but He has given me a life strewn with major interruptions. He interrupted me in my final year of dental school and told me He wanted me to be in church relayed work. He interrupted me at the peak of my ministerial career and allowed a wife to die of cancer. And that’s just for starters.

But God has allowed all these interruptions because He wants to teach me that He is the Author and Finisher of my life, and that it will be His wisdom, and not mine, that will be needed for my life and ministry. And so He continues to interrupt me.

I do not know what unexpected interruptions 2008 will bring. Surprises, by their very nature, cannot be planned for. But I remind myself to be open to the unexpected as this Judger continues his adventure under the Lordship of Christ.

Show me your ways, Lord
Teach me your paths
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
(Psalm 25:4-5 TNIV)

NB. This edition of the Grace@Work mail is going out early because of the Lunar New Year holidays. Wishing all readers of this column who celebrate the Lunar New Year, safe journeys and great reunions.