Monthly Archives: September 2016

No Misdirected Calls

Blind Faith (No. 38, 2016)
Weekly Devotional for September 22, 2016
No Misdirected Calls

Nothing much happens if a plea for help is seriously
misdirected. A woman in Barnstaple, England learned that last Thursday. She
was driving home to the town of Ilfracombe from a visit to Barnstaple.
Between Barnstaple and the village of Muddiford she witnessed a car swerve
over the center line in the road, collide with an oncoming vehicle, then
speed away. The woman followed the hit and run driver for about 11
kilometers (7 miles) to Ilfracombe where she confronted the errant driver
and attempted to call the police to report the incident. That’s where her
attempt to be a good citizen began to go afoul. Since the driving incident
had happened between Muddiford and Barnstaple, her friend used the woman’s
digital assistant (like Siri) to find the phone number for the police in the
larger town, Barnstaple. The woman dialed the number returned online.

Mark McWilliams, the 911 dispatcher in Barnstable,
Massachusetts, took the woman’s call. He was befuddled by her references to
Muddiford and Ilfracombe, places he had never heard of. Unable to figure out
the woman’s location he asked, “Can you give me a landmark then?” Finally,
the woman realized she was talking with an officer who was unfamiliar with
her neighborhood. “You’re not local then,” she said, “you can’t be because
Ilfracombe is the next town on from Muddiford.” The dispatcher replied,
“You’ve called the Barnstable police department in Massachusetts.”
“Massachusetts?” she asked. “Yes, Massachusetts,” he replied. “Sorry,
there’s no way you can help me, is there?” The woman said. “Where exactly
are you calling from?” the dispatcher asked. “England.” was the startling
response. Dispatcher McWilliams concluded, “It’s a different town. It’s
twins with Barnstaple, England. Our response time is going to be about six
hours.” They shared a chuckle, said goodbye, and hung up.

No serious consequences ensued from the misdirected call. No one
was injured by the hit and run driver. He apparently did not drive further
after the woman confronted him, so no one else was endangered. News stories
do not confirm whether the caller ever reached the proper police department
to report the incident. If she had been in truly dire circumstances needing
prompt response, the episode could have ended very badly. Siri and her
cohort of digital assistants are, indeed, neither omniscient nor infallible!

On the other hand, our pleas to God never get misdirected.
Mobile phones may link the world as never before possible, but prayer
unfailingly links us with the God of all creation and eternity. Our meager
phone calls may dazzle us even when they erroneously connect us to people
who can’t help us and are 3,000 miles off base. God listens to our prayers –
all of them, from every person – as a loving Father full of grace. Not one
of them is misdirected.

This assurance that our pleas are perfectly connected (yes, God
can hear us now) is attested throughout the Bible. God knows us completely
and intimately. The psalmist sang, “Even before a word is on my tongue, O
LORD, you know it completely.” (Psalm 139:4 NRSV) Paul states emphatically
that God hears our every prayer because God’s Holy Spirit is what we today
might call our carrier or service provider: “God’s Spirit is right alongside
helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.
He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs,
our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our
pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.” (Romans 8:26-27 MSG)
When we call out to our omnipotent, eternal, infinitely gracious God we can
be sure that there will not be any dropped calls or wrong numbers.

While God always hears our prayers, we need to remember that we
can misdirect our calls. Note the lone qualification that comes with the
prayer guarantee given by John: “We have such confidence in him that we are
certain that he hears every request that is made in accord with his own
plan. And since we know that he invariably gives his attention to our
prayers, whatever they are about, we can be quite sure that our prayers will
be answered.” (1 John 5:14-15 J. B. Phillips NT) He reiterates that we can
be absolutely certain that God hears our prayers – IF they are “made in
accord with his own plan.” My prayers to become a multi-billionaire, or to
become a box-office movie star titan, or to have the stamina and ability of
a 20 year-old water skier are self-serving and do not conform to God’s
prayer network protocol. God’s desire is for our desires to be in line with
his love and grace. When I squander prayer on my own selfish trivia my pleas
to God go awry. Some Christians offer their prayers “. in Jesus’ name” as if
those three words are what insure that the prayers “get through” to God. But
the Hebrew concept of doing something in the name of a person indicates that
the actions are done in accordance with the character and essential nature
of the one whose name is invoked. That is the sense of Jesus’ promise to his
closest followers in his final instructions about his role in their prayers
to God: “whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am
doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the
Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” (John 14:13-14
MSG) We have responsibility for making every effort to conform our prayers
to God’s love and grace, knowing that God will keep the lines open to hear
our pleas without fail.

Whatever our situation may be, we have absolutely reliable
connection with God through prayer. If we face problems, we can call upon
God for support and strength. If we are giddy with excitement, we can share
our joy with God who is the source of every good and perfect gift. If we
witness injustice, we can plead with God for righteousness to prevail. Paul
encourages us to pray at all times about everything: “Don’t worry about
anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank
him for all he has done. {7} If you do this, you will experience God’s
peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His
peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-7 NLT) God accepts all calls without any data limits or
overage charges. Whether you are in Barnstaple, England, or Barnstable,
Massachusetts, or anywhere else in the cosmos, you are never in a “dead
spot” with God. Siri may not connect you, but God’s Holy Spirit guarantees
that your prayers will be heard.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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