Is God Your ATM?

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

My little dog Annie is a great companion and a constant source of joy. And she’s always very happy to see me. When I return home from the office or from running some errands, she’s always at the door to greet me – jumping, tail wagging, barking excitedly. And then she quickly turns and runs to the place where we keep her favorite treats, to be rewarded accordingly.

But that routine got me wondering. Is she really happy to see me as her human “best friend,” or is she excited just because she knows she’s getting a treat? Does she really love me, or am I simply a dependable ATM – her “automatic treat machine?” I guess I’ll never know.

But the inscrutable motivation of Annie’s friendly behavior leads to an interesting, more profound reflection about our relationship to God. What is our image of God? Why do we pray?

Think about it – when you pray, is it always because you’re asking God for favors, for spiritual treats? Now, keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with asking God for a favor, for his assistance, especially during difficult, trying times. After all, Jesus urged us to ask and seek, to knock insistently on God’s door.

But, do you also sometimes pray in adoration of God, to recognize and praise his transcendence, his perfection, power and presence in the universe? Such prayer to the Creator from his lowly and humble creatures is very fitting. Do you pray to thank God for his goodness and care in your life, to thank him when indeed your prayers have been answered? Are you the one cured leper who returned to give thanks, or the nine who went about their merry way, forgetting the source of their healing? Do you pray to beg God’s forgiveness of your sins, knowing that it’s only by God’s mercy that you have hope of salvation? “Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense.” (Ps 51: 3)

One reason to pray is that we see God as our spiritual ATM, our automatic treat machine. But there’s another, better acronym we learned in elementary school that reminds us of the various forms of prayer: “ACTS,” that is, Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication. It’s a formula that still works.

Something to think about: When you pray, what is your primary motivation? Is it usually for adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, or supplication?