The Great Vending Machine

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.”

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