Japan leads the world in vending machines per capita. They are everywhere, congregating by the dozen in parking lots, standing as sentinels on street corners. The wide variety of merchandise available for sale is truly amazing. In addition to the usual array of cold soft drinks, you can also purchase hot drinks from the same machine: cans of coffee (various blends, black or au lait), green tea, Chinese tea, or English tea (with or without lemon, sugar or milk added).
But that is only the beginning. Other products available from vending machines include: beer and sake; flowers; batteries; bags of rice; compact discs; pornographic comics; eggs; watermelons; and live beetles!
And of course, in this nation of smokers, there are cigarettes as well. In addition to the familiar imported American brands, there are brands produced by Japanese tobacco companies with names that strike a discordant note to biblically tuned ears: Seven Stars… Hope… Peace.
I wonder what goes through a smoker’s mind when he buys a pack of cigarettes called “Hope”?
“Hope I can quit this nasty habit?”
“Hope these things don’t kill me?”
Whenever I see a pack labeled “Peace,” I can’t help but picture the words “Rest in” inserted in front of the brand name….
But regardless of the claims of manufacturers and advertisers, everyone knows you can’t get hope and peace out of a vending machine. Or do they?
Consider: a vending machine is an ideal metaphor for the convenience offered by modern technology and the selection offered by economic prosperity.
How many people, in Japan and in America, pin their hopes for the future on advances in technology?
How many are driven by a lack of inner peace to purchase an ever-widening array of goods in an attempt to fill the void in their souls?
How many look to the giant vending machine of techno-capitalism to supply them with hope and peace?
But we Christians know better. Don’t we? At least we understand that hope is not to be found in the things we produce, nor peace in the things we possess. We know that God is the source of these precious commodities, as well as of the rest of the necessities that nurture our souls.
Still, all too often we seem to bring a vending machine mentality into our dealings with God over these matters. According to the need of the moment, we make a selection from the stock of heavenly treasures — hope, peace, love, patience, whatever — pull the lever of prayer, and wait for the desired spiritual product to fall into our lap. If nothing happens right away, then the machine must be out of order, and we get out of sorts.
But Scripture gives us no reason to expect things to work this way. While hope and peace are promised to us as Christians, they do not drop out of the sky on a silver platter.
How do we acquire hope? Listen to the Apostle Paul: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that our suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3, 4).
Here Paul describes a process which produces hope, a process that begins with suffering. As we persevere through the trials we face and see how God delivers us out of them or carries us through them, our confidence in Him grows.
To be sure, our hope for the future is founded upon the promises of God, and guaranteed by His faithfulness. But this hope is strengthened in our subjective experience as we see His faithfulness confirmed in the tribulations He brings us through.
What about peace? Here is Paul again: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7).
Here peace is said to be the result of learning to replace worry with prayer. Not a one-shot perfunctory prayer for peace, but a concentrated presentation of each concern to God, bringing it under his benevolent and attentive gaze, with gratitude for His loving care, His surpassing wisdom, His limitless power, His precious promises, and His gracious invitation to submit our needs to Him.
Peace comes to us as we train our minds in the habit of continual, earnest, believing prayer.
Lord, forgive us for treating you as a cosmic vending machine dispensing material and spiritual gifts. And give us a more biblical understanding of how you work through circumstances and spiritual disciplines to conform us to the image of Christ. Amen!