Prayer: it’s not a transaction
Have you ever bought a snack from a vending machine? You put your coins in, push the button, and then your treat drops down behind a small swinging door where you can retrieve it. That’s what happens if the vending machine is working right. But sometimes the vending machine takes your money and doesn’t drop any treats. You push the coin return, but no coins come back. So you put more coins in, and this time you choose something else. But then that doesn’t work, either. You might give up, or you might file a complaint, but more than likely, you walk away disappointed. The vending machine is part of a transaction where you put money in and expect to receive goods in return.
Sometimes we get the idea that our relationship with God is transactional. We think if we offer up the right prayer, or get the right number of people praying, God will answer. We might also misinterpret scriptures, thinking they are telling us what to do, when what they’re really telling us is how good and gracious God is. A good example of this is in the parable of the Unjust Judge found in Luke 18.
The story goes like this: there was a judge who didn’t care what anybody thought – he only cared about himself. But there was this widow who kept bugging him, night and day, saying, ‘Give me justice!’ Finally, the judge did what the widow asked because he was sick and tired of being bothered.
Many of us who remember this parable might think that Jesus is saying we should keep praying, much like plugging more coins into that vending machine, until God answers our prayer. You may have heard phrases like ‘storming the gates of heaven,’ referring to a particular style of intercessory prayer. These types of prayer are more interested in outcome than in relationship. This parable is about how not to pray.
Notice Jesus’ words as he interprets the importance of the parable’s meaning:
Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. (Luke 18:6-8 The Message)
The main point of the parable is not about what we do, but it’s about who God is. In the parable, Jesus contrasts the character of an unjust judge with the kind and compassionate character of God. Jesus says that if someone with such low character finally listens to a widow who had no status or money, how much more likely it is that our loving Father God will hear and answer us?
Prayer was never intended to be a transaction, like coins we plug into a vending machine, expecting our desires to be granted. Instead, prayer offers us the chance to develop a relationship with God. Prayer is about knowing God and seeing his divine love and comfort for us and for others. Parables like the Unjust Judge are intended to show us we can always rely on God’s good and gracious character.
My hope is that we all experience prayer as it was so beautifully intended – a life-giving, loving relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Presented by Michelle Fleming
About the presenter:
Michelle Fleming is an elder in Grace Communion International and works in the International Home Office in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA as Communications Director.
The Word of Life each Sunday is taken from ‘Speaking of Life’, (https://www.gci.org/videos/media-speaking-of-life/), a public resource video on the USA website of Grace Communion International.
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