There is nothing quite like getting a crisp new dollar bill, feeding it into the slot of your favorite vending machine and getting … nothing. No ice-cold Pepsi. No change. Nothing. Talk about annoying! Especially after playing by all the rules- using a nice new dollar bill, feeding it in just right, and pushing the selection button. What gives? It’s not fair.
Sometimes we develop the same type of expectation in our relationship with God. If we follow the rules, present the right prayers or acts of service, He is obligated to deliver our selection when we push the button. And when He doesn’t, we walk away annoyed with our faith damaged.
With that tinge of frustration, we’ve betrayed the fact that we consider the omnipotent sovereign God of the universe to being nothing more than a genie who serves our whims. It also twists our faith from being the evidence of trust and submission to God into being a currency for manipulating Him. Or at least we think we’re manipulating Him. God isn’t, can’t be, manipulated by the likes of us.
That vending machine mentality reveals several things about us.
We don’t understand prayer.
What if our only conversation with our family and friends was a laundry list of what we expected them to do for us? Needs we wanted met? Prayer is a beautiful gift of intimacy God gives us. It’s the closest thing to Eden we will experience this side of heaven. What? Your prayer life isn’t like that? Mine either. But now we know, so we can work on it.
It’s also important to remember our prayers are always answered. Always. Everyone of them. Sometimes the answer is ‘no’, and sometimes it’s ‘not today’. Now we only count them if God answers the way we want Him to, but that’s not fair. Think about it this way- Did your parents give you everything you asked for? Do you give your kids everything they ask for?
In our immaturity we are too focused on this life.
This life is important, but God is preparing us for something much bigger and the way He answers prayers is directly related to that something bigger. He cares less about our comforts than our Christlikeness. In fact, a careful survey of the New Testament reveals that suffering is the mark of His favor. (I’m not sure I’m ready to pray for that kind of favor.)
The Bible says we can come boldly and we can have confidence when we pray, but that doesn’t necessarily give us a license to dictate our terms to God. Read through Isaiah 42-48 and notice how many times He says, “Beside Me there is no other,” or “I will not give my glory to another.”
Prayer is an invitation and a gift. We miss out when we treat it as anything less.