God is not a vending machine. How many times have we heard that statement? We know that we can’t manipulate God—that while he does promise to reward us when we follow Him, that reward is only guaranteed to arrive once we’re in heaven. A quick read of Hebrews 11 makes this abundantly clear: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” While prosperity preachers may promise riches here on earth if we’ll only send them our money, our true treasure is waiting for us in heaven, safe and secure.
Yes, I know very well that God is not a vending machine. But this morning He woke me up and reminded me that He’s not a slot machine, either.
I realized that I’d developed the subconscious belief that God couldn’t be trusted. Not really. He may or may not answer prayer—it was almost a random outcome. I put in the prayer requests, pull the lever, and then wait to see what happens. Would He come through this time? Next time?
Tied to this was the view that if I put enough “into” God—reading and obeying His word, spending time in prayer, discipling younger believers and learning from older ones—I could skew the odds. While God might not answer my prayers the way I prefer for any particular situation, sooner or later the dials inside would all line up and I’d hit the jackpot.
Of course, once God exposed my thoughts, I realized how wrong, and utterly foolish they were. I’ve learned that when I need to turn away from something wrong, it’s much easier to change if there’s a corresponding right thing to turn to. I asked God’s help to see the truth.
It was very simple, really. God is a Person.
We’re not praying to a set of rules, or a logical construct of ideas. We’re praying to Someone with a personality. And since we’re made in God’s image, we can get a small but crucial understanding of what this Person is like. God has likes and dislikes, just like we do. He has emotions that affect his decisions. He’s not a machine.
Unlike us fallen humans, however, God is completely good—pure, holy, utterly loving. And He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present. Those attributes determine how He answers our prayers.
From our limited vantage point as finite creatures, we ask God for what we want him to do. We ask for our needs, our wants. If we’ve spent much time getting to know Him, we pray according to His will as we understand it. We know He desires everyone to come to know Him. We know He heals our infirmities. We know He has a good purpose for our life. So we pray, “Please let me get into this university.” “Please send me a husband (or wife).” “Please let my father come to know you.” “ “Please heal my daughter.”
And that is exactly what God wants us to do. He delights in being our provider, our healer. Like any good Father, He delights in giving good gifts to His children. He wants us to come to Him with our needs, and then come back to Him with our thanksgiving.
So why doesn’t He always give us what we ask for? He’s certainly capable. He could be an all-powerful, cosmic sugar daddy. But His omniscience lets Him know what will be the best for us, and His goodness compels him to do it, even if it isn’t what we think we want.
Rees Howells, Intercessor is a book that’s been around for a long time. (For a helpful review, click here.) I read it about ten years ago, and highly recommend it. It’s the story of a man who lived in Wales during the early part of the twentieth century. He was called to lay down his life in prayer. The book documents his initial conversion as a young man, his maturing as an intercessor, and the influence he gained through his intercession for world events. It’s full of stories of answered prayers. It seems God always said “Yes” when Howells prayed.
I remember being surprised and confused by one aspect of Howells’ prayer life. He would first pray and ask God for what he was to intercede for. If God didn’t direct him to pray for a situation, he wouldn’t do it. In a sense, he already knew God’s answer before he even started to pray. Then, as God allowed him to participate in what He was doing, Howells would pray and the sinner would repent, the patient would be healed, the orphans would receive food and care.
This book pointed out to me an aspect of prayer that we often overlook. God wants us to pray because it brings us closer to Him. He isn’t so much answering our prayers—He already knows what He wants to do—as He is changing our hearts. He’s making us more godly. He’s opening our eyes to see things from His point of view.
Many believers treat prayer as a chance to show God our list of requests—commands, if we’re honest. God, please do this. God, please do that. That’s a start, but we’re missing out on so much! Perhaps it’s time that we start treating prayer as a window into the very core of a Person who loves us so much, He wants to share every aspect of His life with us, if we’ll only let Him in.