When I Started Using God as an ATM
During college, I was home for a weekend when my parents happened to be cleaning out the attic space above the garage. Everyone was in bed for the night, and I sat in the kitchen in the company of my parents’ past. Dusty boxes piled the floor and tables. I found old fraternity pictures, photo albums, timeworn clothes, vinyl records, books. What won my attention though, was a series of prayer journals my mom kept as she was growing. As I read through entry after entry, it was like I could see a video reel of her heart and her past I’d not previously known. My understanding and admiration for her grew with every word I read, and I’ve never forgotten. When I got back to college a few days later, I started my first prayer journal and have kept one every day since. I’m on my 11th, give or take a few. It never ceases to amaze me how God uses every, little, seemingly insignificant detail to do work. You see, my self-important brain immediately drew a 30-year conclusion that my prayer journals would help my future children understand me, and it could be a type of legacy I leave. God planned to use them to teach me about myself.
As time pushed me further from the shore of the end of my relationship and I started to breathe deep again, I observed the very real fact that my time with Christ felt much more authentic… more tangible than it had over the last few years. But I had never stopped going to church, never stopped spending time in the Word, never stopped praying – so I didn’t understand why my time with the Lord post-relationship felt so different, so much better. I had been convinced that my relationship had not impacted my spiritual life at all. Well then, why did my devotional times feel more real, more productive, more connected? I didn’t understand until I went back through my prayer journals, those very ones meant to be a legacy for others.
I dug out my books, sifted through dates, and started reading back before I met the person who ultimately left me – which at the time was about a four and half year difference to the day. Two things stood out to me like fire in the night. The first is that God’s sovereignty is undeniable. The way He works every detail into His master blueprint for each of our lives is nothing short of a phenomenon. I never recognize His might the way it requires until I’m reading my own words in my own handwriting years after I’ve written them. (If you keep journals, go back and read and marvel.) The interweaving of His purpose and our free will is elusive and divine, too great for this world and too great for my mind.
The second torch was the scorching truth that although my consistency in meeting with Him hadn’t changed, my relationship to Him had. I watched my words mean less and less as each day went by. I watched worship and abiding turn into a check in a box. But it wasn’t just that. I noticed the content of what used to be love letters to my Lord, turn into cold, corporate asks. I was using God as an ATM, going to Him simply because I wanted quick cash, an easy fix, and a happy life. Every one of my prayers was a Christmas list from a child ready to stomp a foot at any answer but ‘yes’. Can you picture a doting father heartbroken over a child who has no interest in him, but is simply waiting for a payout? I broke His heart… a thousand times and counting. No wonder my time with Him felt different.
Oswald Chambers said, “God has one destined end for mankind – holiness! His one aim is the production of saints. God is not an eternal blessing machine for men. He did not come to save men out of pity. He came to save men because He created them to be holy.” The production of saints does not come from a life of eternal blessings. It’s not His role to delve out gifts like Santa because that’s not what loving fathers do. And He didn’t delve them out to me and I’m so glad. These journals I meant to be a legacy of faith instead tell the story of Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory demanding, “Daddy, I want it now!” They tell the story of someone yelling, “Crucify Him!” to push the attention and blame away from the person in the mirror.
Dr. Timothy Keller often says the definition of the gospel is that we more depraved than we ever dared think, and we’re more loved than we ever dared hope. I’ve learned this truth more than I ever wanted to, and more than I ever thought I needed to. The sheer difficulty of writing this out to share with you is an indicator of the depth of the depravity I’ve discovered in my own soul. Though the ability to actually write and share it, is proof of the safety and freedom I have in the mercy of Him. I’m so thankful for that liberation, and I hope it freshly frees you too.
– N Ford