You’ve seen them in video arcades and every parent’s least favorite kid place, Chuck E. Cheese. Known in the business as “coin pushers”, they are the games which you drop a quarter or a token (that in the end will cost you way more than a quarter) into the slot in a strategic attempt to land it where the mini bulldozer moves back and forth, pushing a sea of coins closer to the ledge where you hope they will turn into a waterfall windfall. And if on it’s way your quarter manages to hit the teeny tiny lever on the truck that sits next to the bulldozer, it will empty it’s cargo. A veritable fortune dumped into your hands.
It’s remarkable how we can know how slim the odds are and yet be so enticed by the possibility. We’ve put our coins in the slot before, certain that it would be the one to push many over the ledge only to watch it slide aside and become just another coin on the shiny brushed metal platform. How can it not work? There are coins at the precipice, literally stacked up on each other. George Washington and 33 of his twenty-five cent friends leaning over the ledge, defying the laws of physics. How can it be that my quarter can’t give them the nudge they need to take the plunge?
I was thinking about my life the other day and realizing that, if I’m honest, sometimes when I pray I feel like I’m standing in front of the coin pusher. The blessings are at the ledge. They are stacked on top of each other. And it’s my prayer, strategically placed, that will bump the blessings into my life.
Yet sometimes it feels like my prayer just slides aside into a sea of previously prayed and still unanswered prayers. How can it be? The blessings. They seem so close. I can see them. Yet after all my effort and all my prayers these blessings stack up on the ledge of my life. How can they be so close and yet so far away? Maybe just one more prayer. Or one more week or month of petitioning God will give Him the nudge He needs to bump them over the edge and into my reality.
And still they sit. Piled up on the ledge, refusing to drop into my life.
Frustrating, isn’t it? Maddening, even.
So we think, “Maybe I’m not praying the right way.” We search and scour the Bible to see if there’s something we are missing. God says“we have not because we ask not”. So we ask. He says “not to worry about anything but with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we are to make our requests known” to Him. So we try that, being careful to say lots of “please” and “thank you” as we go. Then we read the parable about the woman who wouldn’t stop pounding on the judge’s door till she got her hearing. So we try pounding on the door, praying with importunity.
As the frustration builds, we even scream and yell. Maybe even cuss. (Though I don’t expect you to admit that like I just did. I’m probably the only one who’s ever done that.)
We may even cry. Out of frustration. Or exhaustion.
And finally we sit in silence.
At least that’s what it’s like for me. I can’t speak for you.
And as the prayers go unanswered and the blessings seemingly taunt me from the ledge, I don’t know what else to do. Everything in my heart has been expressed to God a hundred times in a hundred different ways. There’s nothing left to say. Or as I told a friend some months ago, “I think I’m going to just quit praying for a while”, expecting him to launch into a Christian lecture on why that would be wrong. Instead my friend replied, “That’s actually not a bad idea. Maybe it would be good to take a break for a bit.”
Evidently, I’m not the only one who’s wondered why the coins are stuck on the ledge.
Before you think me or my friend as less than spiritual, what do you do when all the Sunday School answers leave your soul high and dry?
The problem, perhaps, is that in trying to bump the blessings off the ledge and into our life we are viewing our prayers as the magic token. Certainly the heretical theology of too many prosperity preachers on TV lead us in this direction. They teach that God is like a divine vending machine. If we put in the right tokens He will give us what we want. (Interestingly, they tell you your chances of answered prayers are even higher if you slide your tokens their way in the process. But that’s a column for another time.)
There is a significant difference between the coin pusher in the arcade and God. Standing in front of the coin pusher you know that the odds are against you. It’s set up to benefit the arcade, not you. The arcade is blessed when the quarters pile up on the ledge. It will let you win just enough times to keep you depositing more tokens. But when you walk out the door you’ll have less and the arcade will have more. In the end, there will always be more quarters on the ledge than in your pocket.
Standing in front of God, we know the odds are in our favor. In fact, there are no odds. He is 100% for us. Or as Paul put it,“If God is for us, who can be against us?” When we stand in front of God we are not standing in front of a capricious fickle diety who plays games with our lives. We are standing before the One who tells us to“come boldly before the throne of grace”. Grace. Unmerited favor. He doesn’t tease us with just enough blessings to keep us coming back. We always end up with more blessings than our pockets can hold.
So what of all those blessings stacked up on the ledge? There’s no denying that some of our prayers go unanswered. Or at the very least aren’t answered in the time and manner we would like. What do you say to the person who’s prayed for years about the physical healing of a loved one? Or an estranged relationship? There’s no satisfactory Sunday School answer for that. We do each other a disservice when we gloss over heart rending realities with pious platitudes.
It comes down to a simple question, really. Do we trust God’s heart? If we do then we’ll trust Him to bump the blessings off the ledge that are right for us. Always in His time and in His way. Part of that trust means accepting that there may be some prayers that God chooses not to answer. At least in the way we want Him to. When that happens, we need to remember that it doesn’t mean God is against us. God is for us. Because He said He is for us. And God is not a man that He should lie about that. Or anything else.
I was at the arcade on Monday. A play day with my girls. I saw the coin pushers. Boy, were the coins stacked up. It looked like a good sneeze would send $30 down the chute. But I didn’t drop a quarter in. I’d like to think I’m on to them now. But who knows? Some day I’ll probably send George Washington on a mission to take Token Ledge by storm. Until then, I think I’ll keep talking with God and asking Him to help me get a grip on that wonderful truth that He is for me. And if He is for me, then I can trust Him to give me His best.
And that includes holding back from me those things that are not.
Todd A. Thompson – August 3, 2011