John 14: 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Our girls played ice hockey for a few years. Parents would spend a great deal of time sitting out in the arena area, but they would also spend significant time in the lobby. The stands were often extremely cold so the parents and family would quickly flee, post game, to the warm lobby area to take in a hot coffee while the girls got changed. One of the staples of the lobby area was the vending machine. Young kids would be crowded around, eyeing their favourite snack, and you could count on them to run to mom or dad saying: “can I have money for a chocolate bar”? If they were lucky enough to get some coins, they would go to the snack machines, identify their targeted choice, enter the appropriate code (i.e. “E2”), put in the required coins, and wait for the selected choice to drop out the bottom. It was simple, it was quick, it was fulfilling.
We may not recognize it or, perhaps more accurately, we don’t want to recognize it, but as Christians I believe we often treat God as a vending machine. Lord, would you please give me…., Lord would you grant me…. We drop prayers in the coin slot and expect the result to pop out the bottom. After all, Jesus basically said that’s how it works, didn’t he? “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14: 13-14)
Some misapply this verse, thinking that saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer results in God always granting what is asked for. This is essentially treating the words “in Jesus’ name” as a magic formula. This is absolutely unbiblical. Praying in Jesus’ name means praying with His authority and asking God the Father to act upon our prayers because we come in the name of His Son, Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name means the same thing as praying according to the will of God…Praying in Jesus’ name is praying for things that will honor and glorify Jesus.[i]
It’s tough to admit, but there are certainly times where I treat God like that vending machine. Just like the feeling when I drop coins in a machine and the chocolate bar gets hung up and doesn’t fall, I get disappointed when my prayers to God get hung up. “These are good things I’m asking for God, why are you not granting them to me?” Sometimes the answer is “not yet”, but sometimes the answer is “no”, but that isn’t an answer we are too keen to hear. In retrospect, looking back on my life and some specific prayers I had that were never fulfilled, I can often see the reasons today. Some things seemed right at the time, but as I look back, God’s answer of “no” was the best possible answer. I also look back and often recognize that I did not seek God’s will, but rather I was far more interested in my will.
How about you? If you are honest with yourself, have you been treating God like the Almighty Vending Machine? Select your request, throw some diligent prayers in the slot, and expect the result you have prayed for. And if your prayers aren’t answered like you expect, then you get annoyed, angry, sad, or perhaps you even question God’s goodness or existence. If this is where you are at with your prayer life, then you probably need to re-evaluate your relationship with Christ. Are you truly one with him? Are you more interested in partaking in what he is doing around you, or more interested in what you are doing?