I hate telemarketers and phone scammers! What kind of sick people would do that kind of work?
We all feel the same way about those calls, I’m sure. Not too long ago, cell phones were a glorious escape from those swarms of annoying sales-gnats...but no longer. Now, we must screen every call and be wary of answering anything from an unknown number. And those of us who have somehow side-stepped the cell-phone revolution and are still using old-fashioned land-lines—you too are mouse-meat for the lions of phone-scams. In a way, we may view the increase in predatory calls as a litmus test for how the world is going and where. Nowhere good, in either case. And yet.
God knew we’d have rabid salespeople and phone-scammers to deal with, so why don’t we look at it as an opportunity? Perhaps the Lord sends situations to us in order to smooth away a rough-spot in our character? I realize this sounds like a clergy lecture coming on...and I’m not a big fan of those either...but the truth is, challenges and problems often masquerade as tests from the Lord. Tests are designed to elevate us to the next level, and they don’t work unless they arrive as a pop-quiz. “Who are you when no one is looking,” is the idea. When we’re caught off guard with a knee-jerk response to something, the Lord is checking to see how much Jesus is actually percolating inside us. Anyone can behave like a Christian at church. It’s how we fare out there in the world, T-boned at the intersections of life, that makes a difference. As we harangue pushy sales people, curse them and slam the phone down, how are we explaining the love of Christ to that person? I’ve learned this lesson the hard way this year, and I can tell you; my failures flashed a white-hot magnifying glass on many rotten places in me.
The people who work the phones in this context are usually broken, wounded and desperate. How do I know? Because I was one. Many times in my strange journey to the pulpit, money was so sparse that I took any job I could get. Often my income streams involved making sales-calls on the phone for shady companies who hired hordes of people who needed immediate paychecks. I had to do what I was told by ruthless overseers, make hundreds of calls per day, follow a relentless script when speaking, and become a faceless manipulator designed to sell items or services by any means possible. I got fired a lot because I refused to lie. Yet there are people sitting behind those phones right now who are feeding children, or taking care of elderly parents; or barely surviving themselves and they don’t have any choices when it comes to money. Jesus loves them and he sends them across our paths. What we do with those encounters says a lot about who we are.
The Bible’s book of Colossians, written by the Apostle Paul, is basically a celebration of Jesus Christ and how to walk, talk and behave like a true follower. We are wisely instructed: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person,” (Colossians 4:6, NASB.)
I’ve finally learned to answer the phone with my attitude in check; the expectation of a God-encounter is always a possibility. Two nights ago, I got a call in my office: “I’d like to place an order,” a man quipped. I chuckled. “Sir...you’ve called a church. What can I do for you?” Silence. Then, “Oh...nothing, sorry. Have a nice night.” “God bless you,” I said, smiling. “You too, ma’am.” When I hung up the phone, I had the distinct feeling that we both needed that blessing.