Category: Prayer

The Holy Vending Machine

This blog was originally published on Facebook on Oct. 21, 2010.


Insert coin here

I had a bit of an epiphany today while doing a class assignment. The class is Spiritual Formation; basically its purpose is to help pastors-in-training develop a vibrant personal spiritual life. Of the myriad of classes I’ve taken during my theology career, few of them have changed my life the way this one is. The assignment was to spend some time in prayer telling God what we desire in our relationship with Him. The professor, Dr. Walshe, had given us a couple of Oswald Chambers quotes to stimulate our thinking. Here’s one of them: “Spiritual lust makes me demand an answer from God, instead of seeking God Who gives the answer. …The meaning of prayer is that we get hold of God, not of the answer.” That really got me thinking about how I view prayer, God, and the relationship between me and prayer and God.

Even though I deny it, and in spite of the fact that I point the finger at others for doing it, I treat God like a heavenly Santa Claus. To me He’s like the Holy Vending Machine. I press the button (I pray) and out pops the tasty treat I wanted (God answers my prayer and showers me with blessings).

Except, I lack faith. So it’s like I’m coming to the Vending Machine and it looks empty. There are a few bags of M&Ms and Cheetos rattling around in the back somewhere, but mostly it’s empty. So I push the button, but I’m not really expecting to get anything. I push it anyway, though, because I’ve been told it’s what I’m supposed to do. Sure, there’s a small chance that I’ll actually get something. It might not be what I wanted, but still, it’s something, right? Odds are, though, nothing will come out of the Vending Machine.

I’ve been to this Vending Machine many times before, and only a few times has it given me anything. Of course, the times that it did, I gobbled up my scrumptious snack and tossed away the wrapper, barely noticing that the Machine had actually given me something pretty good that day. Thus, it’s hard to keep track of how much I’ve actually gotten out of the Machine. Who’s counting anyway?

Some of my friends insist that really the Vending Machine is always full, and that stuff is always popping out of the Machine for them. But I just don’t see it. It’s never seemed to work that way for me. If the Machine is full, it must be jammed. Or maybe I’m not pushing the right button. Or maybe my friends are just lucky. Still, I keep coming and halfheartedly pushing the button, hoping, but not really believing, that maybe I’ll get something today.

The realization that I treat God like the Holy Vending Machine kind of shocked me. I didn’t think I was like that. But sometimes, a lot of times, I really am. I asked God to help me seek Him and not just His blessings. That’s what prayer is really about anyway. The second Oswald Chambers quote goes like this: “We look upon prayer simply as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself.” Instead of praying for things, I want to pray to God. Because He’s my Friend, I want to talk to Him, spend time with Him, and get to know Him. If all I do when I pray is ask God for what I want and need, He becomes to me nothing more than an idol that I bow down to like any pagan would, hoping to incur a blessing. The difference between God and an idol is that God can actually hear and see us, and He can actually give us things we want and need. And He wants to, too! More than that, though, He wants to be our Friend. Do we want to be friends with Him? Or do we just want the goodies? Are we praying, “Our Father…?” Or are we praying, “O Holy Vending Machine…?”


This blog was originally published on Facebook on Sept. 5, 2010.


Lifted Hands Silhouette

The other day I was reading Ephesians 3:14-19. I was struck by the last part of verse 19. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that they would “be filled with all the fullness of God.” It seems as though Paul is referring here to the believers’ spiritual maturity. He wants them to be able to understand just how big God’s love is (v. 18), and not just in an intellectual way. He wants them to experience it, to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (v. 19). The result is that they will be filled with all the fullness of God. This got me to thinking about my own life and the way I’ve thought about spiritual maturity in the past.

I was raised in the Adventist church. I grew up hearing Bible stories, going to church every week, and learning the doctrines of the church. I’ve always known that spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study are important in the life of the Christian. I knew I was supposed to do those things every day, and that if I did so, I would become spiritually mature. But maybe I didn’t really understand the purpose of those spiritual disciplines. I viewed Bible study as a way to learn about God, and indeed it is. But maybe it’s more than that.

In Ephesians 3:19, Paul indicates that spiritual maturity is knowing God’s love. To turn that phrase around: knowing God’s love is the way that we become spiritually mature. I’ve tended to think of spiritual maturity in terms of being “good,” and in terms of knowledge. In other words, I’m spiritually mature when I become a “good” person, when I read my Bible and pray a lot, and when I know a lot about the Bible and about God. But maybe that’s a bad approach. Maybe I should focus on knowing and experiencing God’s love, and being good will happen as a result. Spiritual maturity isn’t knowing a lot about God; it’s knowing God! Spiritual maturity isn’t about what I know; it’s about Who I know. And it’s not even so much about what I do as it is about why I do it.

Here I am, a recent college graduate with a degree in theology. I’m currently studying at the seminary to earn a Master of Divinity degree. I’m trying to “be good.” I’m trying to “be a pastor.” I’m trying to figure out how I can have a deeper relationship with God. I want to be spiritually mature. But now I’m wondering: maybe it’s not just about studying the Bible more, praying more, doing more good things. Maybe it’s about connecting with God through all of the above. Maybe, despite my best intentions, I’ve been self-centered in my attempts to grow spiritually. Maybe I need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and refocus, reminding myself that this is not about me. If I want to grow spiritually, I need to live a God-centered life. Reading the Bible isn’t about me becoming smarter, filling my head full of theological facts; it’s about getting to know God and His amazing love. Praying isn’t about me being pious; it’s about talking to Jesus, my best friend.

As I read that passage in Ephesians, I felt God calling to me and saying, “Get to know Me! Stop trying to be a good person; come sit at My feet, like Mary did, and learn to be a godly person. Stop trying to perfect yourself by becoming better and smarter; instead, learn to follow Me, the only Perfect One, and along the journey you will come to reflect My character.”

If you’ve ever had similar thoughts about your own spiritual journey, I encourage you to take a good look at how you view your relationship with God. Do you study and pray because it’s the right thing, the good thing to do? Do you study and pray because it makes you better and smarter? Or do you study and pray because you want to know Jesus more, because when you’re digging deep into the Scriptures, or when you’re kneeling beside your bed at night, it’s like hanging out with your best friend? Are you trying to be a good person, or are you trying to be a godly person? Someone has pointed out that the two really aren’t different. To be truly good is to be godly, and vice versa. But it’s a matter of focus. If we’re striving to be good, if we’re reading the Bible to become smarter, then our focus can easily shift to self. But if we’re striving to be godly, if we’re reading the Bible to know God, then our focus is on Him.

As we continue to hang out with Jesus day after day, we’re going to become more like Him. We’re going to become good. It won’t happen because we tried really hard to become good. It will happen because we spent a lot of time with a Good Person, and by beholding Jesus we became like Him.