"We can never know God as it is our privilege to know Him by brief repetitions that are requests for personal favors, and nothing more."
- E. M. Bounds
One of the handy conveniences of our day is the vending machine ("automatic retailing" is a term now being used to enhance its image). Just pop in the proper coins or dollar bills, press the selected button or code, and the machine gives one the instant gratification of receiving the desired item immediately.
Praying to a Vending Machine?
The idea of someone praying to a vending machine sounds absolutely ridiculous; although when we consider the many things that people idolize in our nation, it wouldn't surprise me if it happens. Yet, it's easy for us as Christians to slip into a mindset where God becomes our "Divine Dispenser" of whatever we want or desire. Fix-it prayers, gimme prayers, and more, fill the rare moments when we pray. Prayers adoring God for who He is, thanking Him for doing things for us, for salvation of others, expressing desire to grow in hunger for the Word, and depth in relationship and closeness to God, are often missed or neglected as we quickly deposit our brief gimme or bless me/them prayer, then walk away with barely another thought about God the entire day. It's disgusting to think of the many ways we attempt to manipulate God for our own personal benefits and good feelings. Yet we often do just that!
When We Don't Receive What We Want
Have you ever deposited money into a vending machine that didn't dispense? How did you respond? Did you seek help? Did you verbally or physically attack the machine? Did you slump your shoulders, sulk, and walk away disappointed?
Much like a vending machine, God receives these type of responses when He's approached with a vending machine mindset. The prayer didn't seem to be immediately answered, or He dispenses something other than what we hoped or desired. We often will lash out at God, sulk or complain, or ask other Christians to join us in an attempt to pressure or gang up on God; just so we'll get our way. Have you prayed or responded to God in one or more of these ways before? I certainly have! It's a petulant and selfish mindset, but one that most of us have held at least once in our lives. Afterward, some will question if prayer is effective, if God truly loves or cares for them, or some will create excuses as to why they didn't get their way. But there lies the likely reason... man is attempting to play god to God Himself!
Re-Adjusting Our Lenses
In our fallen world, it's easy for our vision to go out-of-focus. We can easily lose sight of God's majesty, perfection, completeness, wisdom, and other attributes. We also can easily focus in so closely on one specific attribute of God, that it becomes all-consuming instead of God Himself being all-consuming. Entire cults and false doctrines have formed by over-focusing on the love of God, and only His love; at the neglect of all others. An unbalanced understanding or lack of relationship with God can yield some treacherous results!
When we slip into a vending machine mindset of God, it's likely that we're over-focusing on God as our Provider. He is our Provider, but He's so much more!
Expanding Our Relationship with God
Let's consider this challenge.
If you limit or restrict the time you focus on God each day/week, ask God to help you in some of these following ways; then watch and listen for how He changes you, your heart, and attitudes:
* Ask the Holy Spirit to draw you into God's presence when you prepare to enter into your "quiet time" (time set apart with God).
* Ask the Holy Spirit to stir your heart in worship and adoration of God the Father and Jesus Christ (He may do this through music, by reflecting on Scripture, attributes of God, walking in nature- if you're more of a nature person, and other ways). Go, or position yourself, in a manner where your heart and mind are inclined to gaze upon God's beauty and glory, then dwell in awe of Him- with no urgency to move on to something or somewhere else!
* Ask the Holy Spirit to search you for anything that conflicts with God's heart or will for your life- as He sees fit (within your attitude, your desires, thinking, life or lifestyle, and more). Confess to God (agree with God) anything the Holy Spirit brings to light or focus.
* If your times of prayer with God amount to a recitation of a list of wants, needs, and desires only, ask the Holy Spirit to point your heart and mind toward specific things God has done for you (recently, and also in the past). Listen or be attentive to what the Spirit brings to your mind, then thank God for these specific works He's done as the Spirit brings them to mind. This will develop a thankful attitude of prayer as you pray.
* Some additional things to consider praying:
- God would grow your desire to meet with Him, be mindful of Him, and involve Him in your activities throughout each day.
- God would expand and grow your desire to read His Word, take it to heart, and apply it daily.
- God would expand your knowledge, desire, and ability to pray in many ways, circumstances, and places.
- God would help you to become one who prays without ceasing (meeting with Him continually throughout the day/night).
The Vending Machine Scrap Heap
It's been said that prayer has a greater effect in changing the person praying than it does on the matter receiving prayer. That's not to say that prayer is ineffective, but that God does immeasurably more than we ask or imagine when we pray and seek Him first! He expands our vision, understanding, and relationship with Himself. As a result, we see and experience Him more fully than when we saw Him only as our Provider.
Prayer isn't nearly as effective in changing anything if we miss meeting and knowing the God we're praying to and with. Prayer was created to be a two-way conversation. If your voice is the only one you hear when you meet with God, it may be an indicator that it's time to revisit Psalm 46:10
and begin practicing what it says! The vending machine mentality of depositing and dispensing via prayer can go to the scrap heap- never to be recycled or refurbished again!
"Many of the most blessed seasons of prayer I have ever known have begun with the feeling of utter deadness and prayerlessness; but in my helplessness and coldness I have cast myself upon God, and looked to Him to send His Holy Spirit to teach me to pray, and He has done it." - R.A. Torrey