“I wish prayer was this easy.” The thought bounced across my mind as I put my finger on coveted items via the Amazon app. The corrective thought came quickly, “My smartphone is not good for my soul.”
The Bible book of James gives advice on prayer. “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2b-3) I’m sure that is true. Too many prayers go unprayed and too many are selfishly motivated.
But all of us have also prayed heartfelt prayers that are not answered as we want. The loved one suffers and even dies. The affliction persists. The trouble remains. This is where God and Jeff Bezos part ways. Unlike Amazon, God does not come through for us in the way we want, when we want.
No matter how friendly Amazon may appear their corporate goal for the customer is transactional. They want to make a sale and they want to make a profit. God comes from a different perspective. His desire for humankind is relational rather than transactional. Prayer is not commerce, it is friendship. Prayer is not touchscreen exact but rather friend to friend subjective. Jesus said it, “I have not called you servants, but friends.”
In the earliest passages of Scripture, we see God walking “in the cool of the day” seeking His created human friends. In the Gospels, Jesus, God-with-us, invites people to Himself not to sell or to buy, but to know and to love. I like my smartphone because it is instant. Instant knowledge, instant orders, instant communication. Intimacy is not instant. It takes time. It receives gifts. It endures disappointment. Intimacy learns to love through it all and in spite of the worst. My smartphone is a tool, not a friend.
At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we read of the Devil tempting Him with shortcuts to control and satisfaction. These were smartphone moments for Jesus in which He was tempted to choose the easy and pleasurable rather than the way of obedience and love, waiting for God’s plan to unfold.
As Jesus approached His execution, He prayed to the Father, “Not my will but thine be done.” He submitted control to accomplish the greater good. My smartphone gives me the illusion of control and makes prayerful, submissive waiting seem painful, slow, and unproductive.
Perhaps you remember the old gospel song derived from Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.”
Prayer is not online shopping. I am not in control. Prayer is loving and being loved, listening and talking, asking and receiving, weeping and waiting. Pastor and author Ben Patterson says, “What happens in me while I am waiting is more important than whatever it is that I am waiting on.” Smartphones and Amazon apps don’t teach that.