Vending Machine or Parent?

Cow & calfDoes it seem that God doesn’t pay attention to you? That he doesn’t answer your prayers? The problem may be that you believe God is like a vending machine. Something you look for when you need a snack or beverage. You feed money into it, push a button to select your product . . . and walk off immediately with what you ordered.

Fact is, God is a parent, not a vending machine. The particular example of parenting that comes to my mind is that of a cow with her calf. I don’t mean to compare God to a bovine. I’m just saying you can understand a lot about God by observing the animal parents he created.*

A calf looks to his mother for everything. She keeps him well-fed. She is his protector from the world out there. She is his comfort and companion. As his legs develop, he occasionally frolics in circles close to his mother, but he doesn’t let her out of his sight. And, at first, she stays in one small area with her baby.

Eventually, though, the cow walks off with the other cows to the pond to get a drink. Her offspring bawls in protest, “Mommy, come back. Where are you going?”

She doesn’t stop, so he anxiously starts out after her on his spindly legs.

“Mo-o-m-m. Stop! I can’t walk that far.”

But she ambles on.

. . . Fast-forward a few minutes. The calf makes it all the way to the pond, as his mother knew he would. . . . Fast-forward a few months. The calf now knows all about The Pond with its refreshing water–and all the lush, green hillsides on the way.

As a young adult I had a bad habit that made life difficult. I really wanted to get over it, so I prayed  about it often. I was not able to overcome it, and, in fact, it caused me a lot more trouble. I was confused. Why did God not help me?

I did not know how deep the roots of the problem were. But my heavenly parent did. As soon as I prayed for help he set me on the road to success. This road presented enough challenges to keep me running to him, and enough godly influences to help me grow up spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Then, when I was ready, the same situation came around again. This time I overcame, and–in the process–was healed of the emotional pain that had caused the bad habit in the first place.

My point is this: I didn’t get my answer as soon as I put my coins in the slot, so to speak. Because God was not my vending machine. He was my father. I stayed close to him, because he was my safe place, my happy place.  As I stumbled along after him, he led me to what I had asked for–and a whole lot of other things I didn’t even know I needed.

May I encourage to never say, “God did not hear me.” Why do you think he got up and walked off? He’s heading in the direction of your answer. Just follow him.

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG, emphasis added).


*I got the idea for the cow-and-calf illustration from an article in a cowboy newsletter. The name organization was something like “Cowboys for Christ.”


Mary had agreed to a monumental task—to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, who, it turns out, was God’s own son. It was a joy and a privilege, but it also was perplexing and sobering. By the very nature of the assignment—carrying a child who had no earthly father—she would either be whispered about or stoned as an adultress. (She was already pledged in marriage to Joseph). The Lord expected a lot of her.

College studentBut God is so different from most “bosses.” A glimpse into his heart is this statement from the God-Man Jesus:

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).

It bothered Jesus to see someone placing requirements on people without pitching in to help them succeed. That is not what God is like. And Mary’s story is a perfect example of his care for someone who is “working” for him.

First, he inspired the angel to tell Mary that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. It gave Mary the perfect pretext for getting out of town for a few months to process her own miraculous news—and to receive support from someone who would not doubt her story.

When she returned to Nazareth, she had to tell her husband-to-be that she was pregnant. He did not believe her God-is-the-father story, but God intervened in a big way. He sent an angel to Joseph (that’s what it would take, alright) to confirm Mary’s story. (He also had hand-picked the right man to be her husband—one who was willing to stand with her in the privilege and challenge of parenting the Christ.)

Then there were all the individuals God sent to Mary and Joseph with amazing stories of God showing them that their infant child was the Messiah, the Son of God. People like the shepherds and wise men, Simeon and Anna. God knew the chosen couple would need all the confirmation and encouragement they could get when things turned ugly and they had to flee to Egypt.

They were on their own for several years—a young couple far from home with a child to protect and teach, but that was part of God’s protection too. In Bethlehem and in Egypt, no one knew Mary had been pregnant before marrying Joseph.

When they returned from Egypt, they tried to settle again in Bethlehem, but the political situation was too dangerous. They had to return home to Nazareth. Bummer. Back to the gossip and hostility. But, no—the last anyone from home had heard of Joseph, Mary, and their child was that they had been in Bethlehem during Herod’s massacre of young children there. When they suddenly appeared back home, the townsfolk’s relief and rejoicing no doubt drowned out most of their disapproval.

Then there was one more circumstance that would have vindicated Mary in her neighbors’ eyes. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Ah! Folks thought well of Mary’s son. That made her look very good.

There’s a touching picture in Isaiah 40:11 :

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

God gave Mary a special child. And he himself gently led her through the hardships of being his mother.

Making It Personal

• What assignment has God given you? Expect him to pull strings for you; to guide, protect, encourage, and enable you all the way. He’s not like those who weigh people down and then don’t lift a finger to help carry the load.


Balconies, Hard Drives, and Help

I could say I was doing undercover work for the past three-plus weeks and that’s why you haven’t heard from me. But that’s not quite accurate. I was hiding, alright—out on the balcony of my new home in Kentucky. Hiding from the heaps of boxes the movers said were mine. Well . . . hiding out on the balcony happened once. I couldn’t stand the clutter any more.

When the house began to look like home, I drove to the nearest place where I knew there’d be WiFi (my internet was not hooked up yet) to write my next Wednesday blog. . . . Long story, short, my hard drive decided to crash.

. . . In spite of all these crises, I am loving Kentucky! Rolling bluegrass country, criss-crossed by rail fences and dominated by elegant horse barns. Hiking trails along limestone bluffs within minutes from my house. People who say exactly what they think, but have excellent manners (“Yes, ma’am.”). SPENDING TIME WITH MY SON, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, AND TEENAGE GRANDCHILDREN who live right down the road. . . . Yeah, I’m thankful the Lord brought me here.

And I’m majorly thankful that he (the Lord) so regularly guided me and so amazingly provided all the help I have needed with this move. Just like the Bible says he will do: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:4-5 NKJV).

I find, more and more, that these are not just nice-sounding words. They really work. The trick is you have to change the way you think about life in order for them to work.

For example, the part about “lean not on your own understanding” is opposite of everything we are taught growing up. Are we not supposed to be responsible? To use our understanding and skills?

Yes, God gives us wisdom and skill and expects us to use them—but not until he has done his part. It’s like the relationship between two health insurance policies. One is primary and the other secondary. Medical bills are sent to the primary insurance carrier. It determines what it will pay. Then the secondary insurance deals with what’s left (the easy part).

Referring all our everyday situations to the Lord FIRST gives him a chance to

  • get us to the right place at the right time—often in a surprising way.
  • prepare others to respond to us with favor.
  • use the situation to bless others and show them his love. In other words, when God is involved in something, he brings eternal value into it.

Oh . . . so how do you refer things to God? Joyce Meyer helped me greatly by explaining the phrase “In all your ways acknowledge him.” She said it doesn’t take an hour-long prayer meeting to get God’s guidance in a practical situation. You just need to talk to him about it, acknowledge your desire for him to take charge, and step out, trusting that he will inspire your thoughts and actions. And keep your heart open throughout the day for further conversation.

Making It Personal

  • Is God the senior partner in your life today? Or is he someone you consult occasionally?
  • What kind of results do you want today? Human-size results or God-size results?