There are many people in this world, including in the church, that view God as some sort of cosmic vending machine. You insert a prayer or two and out pops your fulfilled request. While this sounds good, it is horribly mistaken. God is not a genie in a bottle that exists to answer our wishes. He is the one true God who is the creator and sustainer of all that is.
Those who try to see God as a cosmic vending machine that should do our bidding are looking to a god made in their imagination and not the true God who has made us in His image. It is sad to hear people tell stories of disappointment with God for unanswered prayers and how it causes some to even lose their faith. Why have we given people such an expectation from God? The Bible is filled with stories of righteous people that have suffered. If a man like Job had to endure so much pain and grief, why should we think that God will give us a pass?
The Bible does speak about God answering prayers when we ask, but there is a key component that people often overlook. The Bible teaches that we will get what we ask for when we ask according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). So, the question we should ask ourselves is whether or not we are praying according to our will, or God’s? I contend that our prayers are often driven by personal desire.
But how can we know the will of God? I am not certain that we can always know what God’s will is in every circumstance. But, there are many times when we can discern God’s will because of clear Scriptural teaching. Still, there are also times when things are not so clear. While I do not have a perfect answer to this question, I do think the key is to draw as close to God as possible.
The more we immerse ourselves in prayer, the reading and study of Scripture, sharing in the fellowship of other believers, and similar disciplines, the more we will be able to see God at work in the world around us. As we draw closer to God and observe and reflect on His handiwork, we will increasingly be able to discern His good and perfect will. And, in those circumstances when we simply cannot make sense of what God is doing in the world, we will have learned enough about Him and experienced enough of His love to know that we can trust Him even in the dark moments of life. As we draw closer to God there will likely be a change in our prayers. We will notice them becoming more God-centered and less focused on us.
So, to tie this back together, let me reiterate that God is not a cosmic vending machine. When we lift up our prayers we lift them to the one true God, the very creator of all that is.