I got a scam phone call the other day. The lady on the other end started the conversation by saying something like, “Hello. My name is Jane, and I’m calling from the Business Lending Department. How are you today?” Her voice was pleasant, and her question innocuous, yet my “radar” went off, and I hung up the phone, rather than answering her question.
- I answered the phone by saying, “Hello” and the name of my little shop. It’s a business phone number, and I get many calls from customers, and from salespeople as well. Usually, as soon as I say my greeting, they jump right in with their request, or their name and request, i.e. “This is Sharon. I was in the other day, and I was wondering about…” or “This is Matt from (Name of my insurance agency), and I need to speak with you about a change in your coverage.” A business person may occasionally say something like, “I hope you’re doing well today.” or “Is this a good time to talk?” A friendly customer or a friend will often ask, “How are you?” or “How are things going?” But this was different. There was a long pause, which seemed odd, as though the call might be from far away. The phone number that came up on caller ID was not from a local area code and didn’t include a state listing or a company name (Pennsylvania or Wyoming, State Farm, or Citibank, etc.) This can happen with cell phone calls, but it can also be an indication that the call is coming from a hidden number. “Jane,” while she sounded pleasant, also sounded like she was reading from a script. “My name is Jane” indicated that she was not someone I would have met before, and “How are you today?” sounds like the opening line from a stranger’s sales pitch.
- I have read articles about scam calls. One of the first things they do is ask an innocuous question like, “Can you hear me, ok?” It seems like a simple, silly, harmless question, but if they ask you a Yes/No question, and you say “Yes,” they can record your answer and use it to “prove” that you agreed to a product or program by phone– even if you didn’t. “How are you today?” isn’t a Yes/No question, but it is the kind of question most people will answer without thinking, and it naturally leads to other seemingly innocuous questions, like “Can you hear me?” Call me hyper-cynical or super-suspicious, but these questions seem– from a complete stranger– like “set ups” to me after reading about how they are sometimes used.
- “Jane” is such a common and unassuming name. I have friends named Jane. One of my favorite novels is “Jane Eyre.” I love reading books about Miss Jane Marple, the unassuming, crime solving spinster of the equally unassuming village of St. Mary Mead. She was just “Jane.” Not Jane Torquist, or Jane Sullivan, or Jane Suzuki. And “just Jane” was calling from “the Business Lending Department.” Not the business lending department of a particular bank or business group. Not Wells Fargo, or Chase, or even a local banking chain. Not Visa or American Express. Just “the Business Lending Department.” Again, call me paranoid, but that set all my alarm bells ringing.
Now– what does any of this have to do with prayer? Bear with me, as I tell the “rest of the story.”
After I hung up, I felt bad. Hanging up–even when I suspected the call was far from innocent–seems very rude. “Jane” had been very pleasant. It felt churlish and even cowardly to hang up on her. I started stewing. I don’t like to think of myself as rude, churlish, or cowardly. After all, what would Jesus do, right? So I prayed for forgiveness, even though I wasn’t sure precisely what I had done wrong.
And God answered my prayer immediately. “Jane.” The woman had given her name as “Jane.” I have a friend named Jane who is going through a tough time right now. I have been praying for her for weeks. Had I prayed for her today? Not yet! God had sent me a reminder of my friend Jane via a scam call! Aren’t God’s ways mysterious and magnificent?! He also gave me a great idea to help me be at peace about the phone call. I thought, “if “Jane” ever calls back, I’m not going to answer her question, and play a passive role in the conversation. I will simply ask her what company she works for, and how SHE is today!”
And guess what! About an hour later, “Jane” called back. The call started exactly like the earlier call. The script was exactly the same– the same pause, the same wording. So when she asked, “How are you today?” I simply asked her, “which company do you work for? You said you are calling from the Business Lending Department, but which one?” And this time, SHE hung up! I had been right to be suspicious– right to stand my ground and not get involved in a scam– on any level.
Such a simple encounter, but so many lessons to be learned:
- God answers “little” prayers; “awkward” prayers; He answers earnest and simple prayers when we just don’t even know what to pray or why. Things that seem silly (like whether or not I seemed rude or cowardly to a scam artist!) are never too silly or unimportant to take to the very Throne of Grace.
- God uses simple things to call our attention to bigger things. This woman could have chosen any name, but she said her name was Jane, and I believe that was God-ordained, to remind me to lift up my dear friend– to move my mind from something silly, like a phone scam, to something infinitely more important, like thanking God for Jane’s friendship over the years, and sharing in her immediate concerns.
- God teaches us to recognize authenticity– and insincerity–as we follow Him. My “alarm bells” went off almost immediately when I answered this phone call. Why? Even though “Jane” was pleasant, she didn’t seem authentic. She used words and phrases that seemed friendly and harmless on the surface, but the delivery just seemed “off.” The same thing can happen when I read an on-line article, or listen to an advertisement, or even get involved in conversations. God sends us a spirit of Discernment that is sharper than just “being savvy.” But it comes from Him– not our own intelligence or listening to “smart people.” I know this because I know people who are acknowledged as “intelligent” who fall for amazingly stupid schemes and make appallingly bad life choices, while others who are called “simple” avoid such things without even being able to explain how. It reminds me of a story about a famous pianist practicing a complicated piece. She was playing along and suddenly stopped, saying she had missed a single note. “How can you tell?,” asked her friend who was standing nearby. “Your fingers are flying over the keys. How can you tell that you missed anything. The piece sounded fine to me.” “But I practice hours each day. I’ve heard myself play this piece hundreds of times correctly. I know what it SHOULD sound like. And this time, I missed a note.” When we practice listening to God’s voice– whether in the Bible, or in our conscience, or in the advice of others, we learn to hear “what it SHOULD sound like!”
- God teaches us wisdom, and gives us “second chances” to put it into practice. Jesus faced malicious Pharisees who tried to trick Him with seemingly innocuous questions. They came to Him with polite but false flattery, and tried to catch Him “off guard.” Jesus generally responded by asking them simple questions in return– questions that often exposed their real motives. He didn’t lose His temper; He didn’t passively fall into their traps. He didn’t walk away without an answer, either.
- God can use “bad” experiences to teach us good things. He is teaching me to recognize a “scam” when I start to hear it. But (hopefully) He is also teaching me to speak and act more authentically myself! How often do I ask someone “How are you today?” not because I actually want to hear the answer, but because it is the “polite” thing to do? How often do I ask seemingly harmless questions without thinking? My words can bring healing– or suspicion, harm, or confusion. Jesus asked some probing questions, but always with the intent of helping others see the truth.
Lord, I am so thankful for the lessons you give us– even in the simplest situations in the midst of our busy lives. Help me to listen for your voice– even when “Jane” is on the line. What an amazing and wise God you are!