For the last few weeks, I’m sure you’ve noticed how much we, at the SFC love the Hulu TV series The Booth At the End. It’s simply one of the best shows out there right now, and part of its brilliance is that the show is exclusively about characters. The entirety of the series occurs in a restaurant booth with The Man talking to someone who wants something done for them. I
promise I won’t make this a mini-review. As with any great piece of fiction, there are many layers you can peel back from this show that reveal different truths. And, I admit, you can’t really make one-for-one analogies with prayer here, but I think that this show really pointed out some things about prayer that we may miss or may not think about enough.
1. Jesus, The Man at the booth.
In the show, anyone at seemingly any time can visit The Man and tell him what they want from him. In order to even talk to the man, you have to either be invited or know someone who knows him. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says to one of the churches of Asia, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20 NLT). I love this verse. Even when taken out of context like I just did, it really expresses Jesus’ heart to come, sit down, share a meal, and dialogue together. What’s even cooler than that is that the verbiage that Jesus uses of knocking is also used in Matthew 7:7 when talking about prayer. As The Man is the mysterious mediator of something or someone–which kind of creeps me out a little–Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant between the Father and mankind (Heb. 9:15).
2. Tell him exactly what you want.
I love how accurate the characters on the show need to be when expressing their desires to The Man. Almost all of them are succinct and accurate but some are not. Makes me want to ask, “Why would you hold back when you are talking to someone who can give you anything you want?!” You’d think that people would have no problem praying, and that they would know exactly what to say…since you’re talking to a loving Father who cares what you have to say and accepts you even if you happen to say the wrong things. But in my experience, I’ve met far too many people who think prayer is something far weirder and harder than it actually is. Take all you know about prayer and suspend it for a sec. Now, think of all the people who talked to God directly: Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Elijah. How did they pray? Moses talked to God face to face as a man talks to a friend. Abraham was basically an idol-worshiper when God chose him to be the seed of his promises–and even after the fact he still messed up. Jesus revealed the greatest revelation about God: God is our Father. And he tied this truth into a practical application of prayer–pray, or talk to God as if you were going to a loving dad. The book of James reflects upon Elijah’s conversation with God saying, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. “Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops” (James 5:16-18 NLT). When I talk to people who have anxiety about praying, I always come across two problems: first, they think their prayers aren’t good enough; second, they think they aren’t good enough. But what Jesus did declares us righteous and gives us carte blanche on what we want to pray. “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NLT). If I were to go up to the booth and talk to The Man, all my past and my eloquence is moot, because all he wants is to talk and he wants to know what I want. No more, no less.
3. Then, he gives you a task.
I really don’t understand the reasoning of The Man. I mean, it’s cool, but I don’t understand how giving a character a random task will effectively give them their desire. How does that work? Maybe I just don’t know as much as The Man does. It’s not really about what we want, is it? It’s not. In reality, Jesus is setting us up for something far greater than what really understand. My wife is pregnant with our first child, due in January. The other day I caught myself thinking about the similarities of my prayer life to that of a little child talking to their parents. And I suddenly came to the realization of just how little I actually know. I’m doing all the talking to someone who knows everything. I’m pretty sure I sound ridiculous. When we go to God in prayer, most people see this as a one-way street; you just talk to God, yap off his ear for a while about all the things you want in life, and then, amen, time for bed. But really, God wants to talk back. The first task God gives us is a simple one: listen to him in prayer. It’s going to be weird. You’ll think about checking your email in the silence, and your BFF will probably send you a text about how much they hate waiting in line at the License Commissioner. You’ll be strangely aware of your armpit sweat. Then, you will notice that your elbow pits are sweating. Then you’ll ask yourself if those joints are called “elbow pits”. But through all this, suddenly, God will speak to your heart. It may be something simple; it may be something profound; it may be something for you do next or a dream that you thought died years ago. But he will speak. I once heard of a guy who struggled with a smoking addiction. He knew in his heart that God wanted him to quit smoking but he didn’t know how, and all his effort just produced frustration. But when he finally just went to God about it, went to the Throne of Grace since he was in need, God told him to correct some things in his marriage. The guy went to God, told him what he wanted, God gave him a task. Long story short–you know where I’m going with this–the simple act of obeying God and correcting things in his marriage set off a series of spiritual dominoes that eventually ended up with his freedom of his addiction.
4. Our progressive character development.
In the show, there is a really great change in the characters as they try to accomplish the tasks they’ve received. Some change for the better, some for the worse, but the task changes them all. Through all this process of prayer, what we will ultimately experience is that just the act of going to God in prayer–whatever the reason, and with what words you have–actually changes us more than it changes our circumstances. Now, granted, our circumstances change when God answers our prayer, and as 1 John says, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for” (1 John 5:14, 15 NLT). But even more than actually getting what we want, we change as individuals–it’s impossible not to change when you submit to God in prayer. The Bible repeats over and over that God gives grace to the humble, he exalts those to submit to him, and he changes us with his presence. After we tell the Father what we want, after he gives us a task, sometimes the task can frankly be out of the realm of comfort, maybe even possibility. We may come across a few snags, take a few hits, be persecuted, or go through trials and temptations. Yet, through it all, the task God gives us changes us into the people he knew we would be all along. Paul said to the Romans, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Rom. 5:3, 4 NLT). I love watching the character development of the people on the TV show. But even more, I love it when I know I have what it takes to go through a tough time and make it out in the end, because not only do I have the confidence that God has heard me and given me a task, he’s given me His word on it.
What I want right now is for people to comment at the end of this post…and God just gave me the task of doing the dishes. WEIRD!