I recently read that there about a tendency among Christians to treat God like a genie in a bottle. We turn to Him in prayer when we have a need, and expect an almost instantaneous response. I’ve often referred to this as the McDonald’s drive-through mentality. We place our order, and expect God to deliver it exactly as we asked for it. Many of us, therefore, become very frustrated when we don’t receive exactly what we ordered. Such thinking is always dangerous, but it is especially the case in a time of crisis. Whether it be a personal crisis, or a national one like COVID 19, faith can take a real hit when we operate under the genie in a bottle model. The question is, should we be operating under such a model? Is this type of ask and receive relationship really biblical?
The Bible does little to condone the genie in a bottle model of prayer. In fact, the Psalms are full of laments. In these laments, the Psalmist issues a complaint to God. This often takes the form of a need or prayer that has gone unmet. Some of these laments are surprisingly blunt, and sometimes full of despair. In Psalm 88, the Psalmist writes “for my soul is full of trouble, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead” (Psalm 88:3-5). The Psalmist goes even further, blaming God for being the one that has placed him in the pit (Psalm 88:6)! Amidst the complaints and frustration, the Psalmist holds true to their faith, continuing to trust and cry out in prayer each and every day (Psalm 88:13).
Because of the the sinful nature of humanity, there will be no shortage of problems in our world. There will always be pain, disease, poverty, abuse, etc. God has a solution to all of these problems, but it does not take the form of genie in a bottle responses. God’s response to the world’s problems was, and is, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Pentecost. His response was to offer us the gift of eternal life, along with the constant guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit. These are gifts infinite greater than responding to individual requests. Any fear or concern we have in this life has already been resolved eternally because of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. In our moments of difficulty, which most certainly will come, it is alright to mourn, to lament, to cry, and even to call out in frustration to God. These moments are also times to remember that God has already eternally solved all problems for us. Difficult times are times to reflect on the greatness God has done, and on the greatness that lies ahead.