August 26, 2013

Divine Appointments and Caller I.D.

A few months ago, my husband and I took one small step out of the Dark Ages. We got a home phone with caller ID.

Never one to overuse my emergencies-only cell phone, I find the full disclosure of caller ID to be a sanity-saver. No more running to the phone—the last bite of breakfast still in my mouth—to answer with a breathless “hello” and be greeted by a computer. No more pausing the earnest kindergarten tales of my child in order to speak to a recording of the front-running congressional candidate. No more losing my place in a carefully written paragraph, an interesting novel, or my daily life—simply at the insistent ring of a customer service representative enquiring about my latest minivan oil change.

But the luxury of knowing who’s on the line comes at the cost of temptation.

What if it’s not a computer on the other end? What if it’s not a salesperson, a survey-taker, or even a charity volunteer soliciting donations? What if it is a brother or sister in Christ?

What if I look at that number and I know, as certainly as I have ever known anything, that the number on my phone’s little screen represents 30 or 40 or 75 minutes, gone from my carefully scheduled life. What if I see the number that, by rights, ought to display as “Complaint About The Church” or “Frivolous Gossip?"  What about when it’s “Impossible Emotional Demands?" 

What then?

Do I run to snatch it up and answer? Do I give heartfelt thanks? Or, do I look away, ignoring a human being in favor of the washing machine?

Some days, I’d be ashamed to tell you.

This is not to say boundaries are never appropriate. In our family, we have a rule that no one answers the phone during dinner, for example. And when I am fellowshipping with someone face-to-face in my home, I try not to neglect them in favor of a long-distance line. I don’t answer when I’m praying or in the shower or having a little cry. But these boundaries are no respecter of persons. At certain times—even for a seminary president or childhood friend or my own mother—I simply don’t answer the phone.

But I’m on shaky moral ground if I answer the phone for one person but not another.

Once, when Jesus’ blood relatives wanted him to come away from teaching the people, he responded: “’Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matt. 12:48b-50)

Jesus gave me a place of honor as his sister. Can I do less for others? If I have time for my biological brother, I have time for my spiritual brother.

And it’s not just the phone. We can exercise our inner caller I.D. when, seeing someone making a beeline toward us at a gathering, we duck into the nearest restroom. Or when, seeing our neighbor on the sidewalk, we pull silently into the garage and quickly push the remote to send the door gliding to the floor, leaving us in darkness and solitude.

At it’s root, this is a problem of trust.

When the phone rings, when I know answering it is going to be time commitment or emotional commitment I hadn’t budgeted into my day, I must trust my Lord.

The Lord who had written in his book all of my days before one of them came to pass. (Ps. 139:16)
The Lord who recreated me so that I could do specific good works. (Eph. 2:10)
The Lord who works all things for my good and His glory. (Rom. 8:28)

When my caller ID displays a number that I know will require sacrifice on my part, I can choose to see it as an inconvenient interruption. Or I can welcome it as a divine appointment.

In her book Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home, Gloria Furman writes: “We have opportunities every day to delight in God. We’re surrounded by the circumstances he has ordained for our sanctification. God’s grace to us in Christ gives us assurance to follow him where he leads, even when it’s into awkwardness, hard work, and pain. But every day we ignore the instruments that God would use to make us holy.”

That ringing phone is God’s appointment for me. A living soul to whom he wants me to minister. An instrument to make me holy.

Answer it.

1 comment:

  1. This also applies to the times when we are called on to just sit and do what seems to be nothing. For example, we need to come alongside those who are mourning or stay with someone who is sick and doesn't want to talk. If you are a doer or have a tight schedule, this may seem like wasted time. However, these times of stopping and sitting can be valuable times of ministry.


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