Monday, July 23, 2012

Vending Machine Prayers

It's been a hard day. I planned to take my boys swimming after a relaxing picnic lunch with their dad at work. Ariel was out of town visiting my sister in Colorado.

As lunch concluded rather quickly, we decided to take a walk in the area of my husband's work. For thirty minutes we traveled about, crunching the dry grass beneath our feet. The boys enjoyed climbing through tunnels which followed under the streets above. We saw an old building which housed a church. It was a hot afternoon, but it was fun just the same.

We were a few feet away from parting with my husband, and about to get into the car, when I realized my keys had fallen from my waist. I had shorts with an elastic waist band on and my keys had been safely tucked inside... or so I thought.

Somehow in the past thirty minutes, where we covered roughly a mile of ground, in a very haphazard direction, the keys had fallen to the ground. There was no good way to retrace our steps. My husband works on the outskirts of town where there are big open fields. It seemed to be an impossible task to find the keys.


Me, trying to be a woman of faith, stopped right at the beginning and said, "Let's pray! I know God will show us where the keys lay." This was serious business for my boys. We had just picked up the key to the swimming pool and it was on the lost key ring. Gabriel said a prayer that some person would find them and bring them to us in the same way that his shin guards were walked over to him in the past. I thought this was a great example again of childlike faith, however, I didn't hold out for it happening.

The longer we looked for the keys, the more desperate my prayers became. It's 104° degrees outside today. The temperatures are not very forgiving for a woman who has lost her keys and needs to find them. My boys were dying in the heat, not literally of course, but you can imagine the complaints that came out of their mouths.

After two hours of looking, I was defeated. I knew I had to give up. This went against everything in me. How was God going to answer my prayer if I just gave up? I was still certain the keys would be found. It was a large area of land we covered, but we were systematic about our search. The keys had to be found.

God promised me.

"You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" John 14:12-14

I figured this wasn't a prayer that would hurt anyone if He answered. Surely, He cares about my keys, right? I hated to admit my failure. I felt like I had let God down. I wanted to have a great story to share. I lost my keys, but now they are found. The odds were against me, but God came through. Wouldn't that be awesome? Something worthy of praise?

Unfortunately, we get disappointed when our plans are not always God's plans. But really, what a relief! My brain is too small to hold such a big God, and I should be okay with that.

As we were making the trip back home, sunburned, tired, overheated, and crying about all that we were missing out on; God spoke. He didn't speak in a loud voice. He spoke through the Adventures in Odyssey we were listening to. The story had started on our way to the picnic, and on the drive home we listened to the conclusion.

There was a young girl, Donna, who was learning about the power of prayer. Her younger brother received a bike on the same day that he asked for it, so she decided to give it a try herself.

Donna prayed, "Dear God, if you really answer prayer make it rain on Monday so I won't have to go out for gym class."

Of course, we can look at her prayer and see the silliness, and see why God wouldn't answer her. But how often do we do the very same thing. We pray expecting God to answer just like a vending machine.

"A vending machine for prayers. You decide on your prayer, you push a button, and the answer comes out on the bottom. There's a button for just about everything. Money when you don't need it. Good grades on a test you didn't study for. The latest fashions. The newest toys. Popularity. What else should I add?"

"This is a joke, isn't it?"

"Is it?" Mr. Whittaker says, "I'll finish the machine. But it won't work. I'm doing it to make a point. We often think of God like a giant vending machine that will give us what we want if we just push the right buttons or if we put in enough coins. Or maybe if we kick it and shake it hard enough and long enough. God isn't like that.

"But he says He'll give us what we want if we'll believe."

"First we have to decide, what is prayer? It's talking with God. It's a conversation. We don't have conversations with vending machines. He wants to hear what you're thinking and feeling."

"We can ask, but He doesn't always do it."

"There's a very simple reason for that. Because He loves us. Every time we ask for something, you should believe that He gives your prayer His loving attention and response. That response doesn't always mean He'll say yes. Sometimes He responds by saying, 'No.' while sometimes He says, 'Wait.' It may not always be the answer we want, but He will answer. And He'll answer at a time that's right for us."


I knew I was guilty of a vending machine prayer. I put the coin in the slot, pushed the button, and waited. No, I didn't stand in one place waiting, but I was still expecting God to answer me just because I asked. I didn't see how or why He would want to say no. I thought I just needed to be diligent enough to keep on looking.

There comes a time when we must stop and wait. I don't believe God was asking me to keep my kids out in the hot sun any longer. It was time to go home and wait. Waiting can be so difficult, especially if you are a person of action. You won't catch me being lazy. I put my heart into whatever the job is that needs to be done.

It was so hard for me to walk away from the fields and admit defeat. I was the one who got me into the mess. My husband offered to carry the keys for me, and I was too stubborn. I told him, "I've done this before. I'm fine." Because the fault rested on my shoulders, I felt like I was the one who needed to fix it. Maybe I would give credit to God, or maybe I just needed to know I could do it? What a mess we make sometimes!

Right now, I am content to wait. All things on the key ring are replaceable, and we might very well replace them. But for a little while, I'm going to wait. I know that I am commanded at this moment to step away from the situation. God has my back. And I'm certain He has a reason for not showing me the keys at this exact moment.

The world is so complicated, and we have a God who understands everything about it. Maybe God did it for my protection? Maybe while we were looking for the keys, He was keeping me and my children from being in a situation that we weren't meant to be in? Maybe He was protecting my husband from harm? Maybe something will happen when we go to buy our new set of keys? Maybe there's a person we're supposed to meet or talk with? Or maybe He just wanted us to learn a lesson in disappointment and how to deal with it? There are a million different reasons for why things happen that we are never even aware of. God has got our back.

The important part is our trusting in Him. It's that conversation we're supposed to be having, not the putting our coin in the slot to get what we want. We have to stop kicking the machine expecting to get our treat. God really does want to know our thoughts and feelings. He cares so much!

Last night when I was studying my Bible, I came upon this verse. I knew it was a word for me. I stopped right then and there and committed it to memory. All day long it has been running through my head. It's given me comfort, and patience to make it through the day.

"May the words of my mouth,
and the meditations of my heart,
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."

Psalm 19:14

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