Vending machines can be very convenient, even more so since many of them now take debit cards. You don’t even need cash. You just walk up, swipe your card, make a choice, and out comes your desire. Of course, most of the choices are not healthy, but it is our choice to make. However, sometimes when you go to the vending machine it will either not take your money or card, or it will not give you the item you chose. Sometimes it will give you something you didn’t choose. How you choose to respond to the vending machine is a good metaphor for our spiritual lives.
For example, in Sunday school, the teacher was using the vending machine as a metaphor in relation to children and parents. As long as the children get what they want from their “vending machines,” they are happy, but the moment the vending machine doesn’t give them what they want, they react. Think about it. What is your first reaction to the vending machine not acting like it “should?” You punch the key harder. You rearrange the bill or card and try again. Eventually, you resort to rattling the machine to make it drop your choice. Some people will shake the whole machine, or even kick it. Some people have been known to lose all control and either bust the glass or turn the entire machine over all because they didn’t get what they wanted.
I think this metaphor is a good analogy for our spiritual walk, especially prayer. We walk up to the vending machine and give our payment of praise and offer up our choice. Everything is fine as long as we get what we ask for. When we don’t, we get petulant and hurt and angry. How dare God not give us what we wanted! Sometimes we can’t even get Him to respond. Then we are really angry. We deserve to receive our request. But, what if what we requested is not what we need, or what if God has something better in mind? Maybe we are trying to get a bag of chips from the machine when God has a steak dinner with all the trimmings down the road.
God knows what we want, but He also knows what we need. The choices we see with our earthly eyes are not all the choices. God has a universe of options to choose from and the ability to see the future and know what we will need down the road. We might need more protein for the road ahead when we only want a sugary snack. When we hit the middle of the journey, we will be grateful for the protein that will sustain us when the sugary snack will have long since faded. By all means lift up prayers and petitions, but make sure to give it to God and let Him decide what is best for us and accept whatever He gives with gratitude, knowing that one day “we will understand it better by and by.”
In yoga there is a discipline called mindfulness. It is being conscious of what you are doing, focusing. In yoga it is often a focus on your breathing and the movement of your body. It brings a sense of calm when you are able to let distractions go and take a moment to just be. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest emphasizes the need for a private life with God instead of an emphasis on practical work and busyness. Worship should be a time of focus on God through prayer, Bible study, and praise.
Prayer should be a time when we focus on being in the presence of God, letting go of distractions, but it is easier said than done. Distractions are by nature hard to ignore, and the enemy has a world full of options to choose from to distract us. Schedules, family obligations, work, politics, natural disasters, and illnesses are just a few of the options. It was not a time to come to God with a wish list or set of demands. That doesn’t mean we can’t bring our problems and fears to the Father; it just means that shouldn’t be our only reason for prayer. It is a time to simply be in His presence and listen to what He has to say to us.
Time spent studying the Bible is another way we can worship God and build our relationship with Him because it is His directions to us on how to live. In Nehemiah, after the walls were completed, the people came together and listened to the Word of God read aloud for hours. Today most people can’t listen or even read the Bible for more than a few minutes of time without being distracted by something. Society tells us that we should multi-task if we want to be successful in life, but while that may be true in the work place, it is not true in our relationship with God. We need to focus on God’s Word and what it has to say to us so that we can apply it to our daily walk.
The Psalms of David are great models for worship. He usually started with a focus on who God was and what He had done. David would often recount all the mighty works God had done in his life and for the nation of Israel. Recalling victories reminds us that God is always faithful. When we focus on God as Lord, it changes our perspectives. Instead of problems, we see opportunities. Instead of fear, we are filled with courage. Instead of despair, we feel hope. Worship sets our focus on the important things in life, namely our relationship with Our Heavenly Father. Once that is in proper perspective, everything else will fall into place.
None of these things happen by accident. It requires mindfulness on our part. We must choose to pray, study the Bible and worship God. We must focus our minds on what is truly important. Mindfulness requires practice. If we practice every day, when the moments of trials and temptations come, we will be ready to stand firm in our relationship with God and waiting to see how God will work rather than living a life of fear and hopelessness. It is better to take time to be mindful than it is to be busy because it gives us the proper perspective and attitude for handling hard times in a manner befitting children of the King.
In Acts 16:6, Paul said “6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.” Have you ever planned a trip only to have something interfere, like the weather or schedules or accommodations? It seemed like a great idea and you were looking forward to it, but it just didn’t work out. In life, we often make plans and work out a path, a roadmap if you will, to make the plan happen only to run into road block after road block. The idea seemed practical and good. Why was the way blocked?
In Acts 16, Paul had a plan to go to Asia to preach. What could be nobler? However, God not only blocked his path, he forbade him to go. Paul and his companions were forced to go to Troas instead. Why would God do that? As it turns out, while Paul was there, he had a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come to them. How did you get to Macedonia then? You had to take a ship from Troas. God had positioned them to be in the perfect location so that they would be able to leave immediately when the call came.
I have applied time and again for jobs in two fields, trying to get a full-time job using my degree. It seems sound and practical, but I have been blocked time and again. I have spent time and energy applying for jobs and tracking down leads while ignoring my writing plans because I had it in my head that I should be working toward a full-time job, a career, in a real career. The truth is I wasted a lot of time worrying, fretting, and chasing after something when I could have used the time to write. Maybe I have spent too much time trying to go to Asia when I should have been going to Macedonia.
If you have been blocked from doing something or going somewhere, take a look around and see if God has other plans for you. The end result will be greater than we can imagine if we follow God’s leading. The wisdom of the world can oft lead us astray from the greater path that God has for us if we will only let go and follow Him.