Parking Lot Theology

The convenience store is a staple of any town in the united states.  My family and I have visited all manner of them during our cross country vacations, and some days there is nothing better than stopping in for a quick cup of coffee and a newspaper.  Typically there is a friendly smile behind the counter, some small talk, and then back down the open road we go.  But these stores often share one big thing in common - a very dangerous parking lot.  

Try to envision the last time you stopped in for drink or a latte without coming within inches of the cars next to you.  I remember on several occasions I had to wait quite some time before I could safely maneuver out of my own parking spot because other vehicles were whizzing by so quickly.  Add to this the fact that many people are also texting or talking on their phones while pulling out, and you can have quite a situation on your hands.

But what stands out to me the most is that the convenience store parking lot is often a focal point for the 'quick grab' mentality.  It's a symptom that represents a bigger issue.  This isn't the store's fault of course, they are set up this way by design.  We pull in and leave the car running, grab what we need,  then off we go (and you had better get out of the way in time).  After all, I'm in a terrible hurry ... aren't you?

The entire process involves getting the best parking spot, getting in line first, getting out as quickly as possible, and then trying your best to avoid an accident along the way.  It is so often also an exercise in immediate gratification gone wrong.  I want that one, and I want it now.  Perfect for a culture and a society constantly on the run. 

If we think about this kind of parking lot concept when it comes to theology and God, I think it is possible to draw some remarkable parallels.  A parking lot theology can prompt us to want to get in and out of church as quickly as possible.  It can cause us to only send up prayers to God when something goes wrong, or when we need His help desperately.  Then as soon as a prayer is answered, it is back in the car and down the road we go.  We are doing a 'quick grab' from God's backpack of miracles, and hoping that we don't get into an accident along the way.  I want this healing, and I want it now God. 

But the parking lot is a dangerous place.  There are cars everywhere, and people rushing around between them.   There are often accidents, and there usually isn't much order to all of the coming and going.  First come, first serve, with goal being a successful quick grab each time.  

Yet still God is patient with us.  He is willing to wait on us to offer him our prayers, even if they are hurried and sandwiched between a latte and a newspaper.  What the heck, maybe I'll even throw in a lottery ticket this time?

Fortunately we have the Scriptures to fall back on here.  If we turn to the Old Testament, Isaiah 30:18 says, "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for Him."  

Even with all of our running around, and even in the midst of the parking lot, Isaiah reminds us that God the Father can be found extending us more patience than we can possibly merit.  Patience in order to bring us back around to thinking about Him, rather than thinking about ourselves.  Patience that if embraced, will put an end to the 'quick grab' mentality for good, and position us in such a way as to begin asking different spiritual questions.

The question begins to change from 'what can I grab quickly from God', to 'what can I give back to God?'  This isn't an overnight change or course.  Spiritual maturity takes time and work, but it is not a hopeless situation.  For every dangerous parking lot we encounter during our travels, God will also offer us enough time for quiet contemplation - if we will only accept it.  And if we are lucky enough to hear His still, small voice, then may we also be brave enough to respond in kind.  

I have a feeling that if we respond to Him often enough, our parking lot theology will begin to change.  The quick grab gives way to the quick offering, and getting back down the road as fast as possible will give way to the feeling that we may just decide to stay a while.  

The great irony of course, is that God meets all of us where we are at.  No matter how entrenched we may be in the quick grab philosophy, He will wait on us.  No matter how many accidents we end up in while trying to flee the parking lot because we are late for work, He will continue to show up in our lives.  This is love in action; this is what God does.

Just the other day I was forced to park next to one of the gas pumps at a convenience store because there were no regular spaces left.  It didn't bother me, I thought it was kind of funny really.  I walked inside and picked up a coffee and exchanged some small talk with the nice woman behind the counter.  On the way back to my vehicle I noticed that the sun was beginning to set.  Pink and red clouds that looked like streamers flowing in the light evening breeze.  No quick grab for me tonight.  Time to stay a while and soak up the view.  I hope for many more evenings like this, I'm looking forward to a different kind of parking lot.



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