I’ve come to love all the bells and whistles on my iPhone. I download tons of weekly podcasts which I listen to as I drive and walk. I receive up-to-date news and weather reports. And I have an entire field guide of birds downloaded onto my phone that comes complete with photos, descriptions, and recordings of bird songs.
I even use my iPhone to make and receive calls! It’s this last feature that I seem to have the most trouble with.
Many of my friends, family, and coworkers can attest to the tendency I have to make accidental phone calls. This happens when I’m putting the phone in my pocket, dropping it in my brief case, or placing it on the seat beside me as I drive. As I’m handling the phone, my fingers unintentionally touch the list of recent calls or they brush against the “contacts” icon that brings forth a couple hundred phone numbers. Another bump as the phone settles into my pocket dials a number without me knowing it. Friends and family receive calls on their phones that reveal my caller I.D., but when they answer, they hear me walking in the woods or paying for a sandwich or listening to the radio. They hang up and call me back to ask what I had called them about, and then they have to listen to my mystifying and confusing denials of having called them in the first place.
And sometimes when I want to call someone, I accidently press the wrong line on the small screen and suddenly find myself talking to somebody other than who I intended. Since all the people on my contact list are people I know, I usually end up enjoying a pleasant conversation with someone, even if it was unplanned. Accidental calls bring unexpected grace.
I’ve heard hundreds of people describe their call to pastoral ministry or to some form of lay ministry in their church. Many describe direct and powerful moments of sudden awareness. Others tell about a constellation of experiences over time from which emerges a growing conviction of God’s call.
Occasionally someone describes overhearing their call. They describe an experience not entirely unlike those accidental calls I make and receive with my iPhone.
First, there are those times when we think God may be calling us, but we need to have deeper conversations to determine whether we have discerned correctly. It just plain seems like God must have gotten a wrong number. Exploring the call to ministry requires soul work. It’s not easy or obvious to test the validity and depth of the sense of calling. Prayer, scripture, worship, and the gifts of community—mentors, peers, friends—help us sift through toward a more clear notion of whether or not God is calling us to particular work and ministry. Like young Samuel hearing voices in the night, we check the call over and over again.
Second, there are instances when we perceive that God designs to reach someone else when in fact we are the ones spoken to.
“We volunteered to drive the church youth to a retreat, and as the preacher was speaking to them, I suddenly found myself struck by her message.” God reaches out to our children, and finds us instead.
“My wife wanted to attend a Bible study and I went along to support her. I never imagined I would be the one changed by the experience. Now here I am leading a Volunteers in Mission Team!”
“My brother always felt passionate about helping the homeless. I figured if God was calling him to do that kind of work, I could at least be supportive. It certainly wasn’t for me. Then I went along one time to volunteer for a day at the soup kitchen. His passion spilled over into me, and now I’m the one returning to the kitchens every chance I get.”
“My husband heard a clear calling to ordained ministry. It wasn’t until later that I discovered God was using his calling to call me as well.”
I’m not suggesting that God has as much trouble getting the lines of communication straight in attempts to reach us as I have trying to use my iPhone correctly. But I am comfortable with the idea that sometimes events, experiences, and insights that seem to us to be so clearly directed toward others are in fact occasions God uses to reconnect with us.
Scripture uses fishing as one of the metaphors to describe God’s attempts to reach us. Never does the Bible describe a single fishing line cast from rod and reel toward a specific target to the exclusion of all others. Instead, scripture speaks of nets cast wide across large expanses of open water gathering in unexpected plenty.
Maybe what seems to draw us in toward God in such random and accidental ways has more intention than we realize.
Yours in Christ,