Prayer Is Not a Token for the Divine Wish Machine

By April 12, 2010 culture, faith 5 Comments

Too often I have submitted my grand plan to God in the hope that He would endorse it and make it come to pass.

In my limited, finite understanding, what I have concocted for my life—and for those around me—seems good, right, best. So I put forth my request, just like I would insert a token in a machine, and I await the prize that is certain to come tumbling out the shoot. (The super bouncy balls are my favorite!)

Is this really how prayer works?

When the right prize comes out, this does seem to work. I pray for resolution to a conflict, and it dissipates. I pray for a different job, and a job comes calling me. I pray for a close parking spot, and one opens before me. All these things happen for my happiness, for my betterment, for my convenience. And I even turn and thank God for giving me the very thing I hoped for.

But when a different prize comes out, my token-in/preferred-answer-out concept crumbles.

Such as when I pray for superb editing eyes, and an error slips by me and makes it into print . . . or when I pray for healing of old wounds, and they ooze still with emotional infection . . . or when I ask for the right words for an awkward situation, and instead, I make silly comments.

What do I do with that? Do I turn and thank God for how these prayers were answered? Do I ask Him why He’s straying from the plan? My reaction to how life is unfolding tells much of what I think about God and prayer.

I’m reading a small book that has a compilation of quotes from Oswald Chambers on the topic of prayer, called Prayer: A Holy Occupation. The book has sat on my shelf for quite some time. I’ve wanted to read it . . . but then again, I haven’t. Prayer isn’t something that comes easy for me. Knowing the passion of Oswald Chambers, I knew this read would jolt me spiritually. I finally pulled it from the shelf, determined to be brave. Quotes such as the following have slashed my heart and soul:

There is a difference between God’s order and God’s permissive will. We say that God will see us through if we trust Him—“I prayed for my boy, and he was spared in answer to my prayer.” Does that mean that the man who was killed was not prayed for, or that prayers for him were not answered? It is wrong to say that in the one case the man was delivered by prayer but not in the other. It is a misunderstanding of what Jesus Christ reveals.1

Whoa. That is both harsh and freeing. Prayer is easily maligned in this quick fix, get-it-now world. But prayer is not a token with which we can purchase our requests from God. God is no magic wish machine that merely pumps out the goodies we long for.

But what is prayer? And what is its purpose? If it’s not for super bouncy balls, then what is it for?

Do share your insights and struggles with prayer: the act of it, the analysis of it, and the response to it.

Somewhere in all this is the reality of prayer: the lifeline of communion with our loving God. That’s what I want to track down.

1. Oswald Chambers, Prayer: A Holy Occupation (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1992), 89.

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