On the Receiving End of Prayer

Have you seen the movie Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, and Morgan Freeman? The film received mixed reviews upon its release in 2003, but it was popular at the box office. Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a TV news reporter in Buffalo, New York, who complains about God’s actions and then gets a chance to try doing God’s job himself. Bruce hears thousands of prayers, but even after setting up an e-mail system to handle the influx, he can’t keep up with all the requests. Exasperated, he answers every prayer with an automatic “Yes”—and chaos results. 

Despite its flaws, the movie raises interesting questions. What is it like to be on the receiving end of prayer? How does the Lord keep track of it all? How does he deal with requests that contradict one another? What if 10 different workers pray to get one job? What if three different men want to marry the same woman? How does God sort out millions of prayers, respond wisely to each request, and weave it all together for good?


God’s thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, but he has revealed his will in Scripture and made himself accessible through Jesus Christ, who insisted that prayer is more than repeating religious words. Prayer is relational, not transactional. It’s not like programming a computer or putting money in a vending machine to get what you want. Talking with the heavenly Father is about building a relationship, not just getting a certain result.

My 1-year-old grandson is learning to talk. I don’t criticize him for mispronouncing words. I am delighted he wants to communicate with me. I wonder if the heavenly Father feels that way about my feeble attempts to pray.

A friend showed me a handwritten letter she received from her son, who is in prison. In the letter, he expresses love for his parents and apologizes for the pain he has caused them. My friend treasures that letter. I wonder if that’s how the Father feels when we approach him like the repentant tax collector who prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

A football coach doesn’t mind if his players consult with him during timeouts; he wants to help them win. A teacher doesn’t mind when students raise their hands to seek clarification about the lesson; she wants to help them learn. A doctor wants his patients to explain their symptoms so he can outline a plan for healing. A tour guide doesn’t mind when travelers come to her with questions.

We should approach the Almighty with humility and reverence, as servants deferring to our Master—deserving nothing, demanding nothing. But because of God’s grace, prayer is also like talking with a trusted friend over coffee. It’s like confiding in an empathetic counselor who listens well and offers a fresh perspective. It’s like sitting across the desk from a wise lawyer or judge who can help us untangle perplexing problems and find solutions. It’s like phoning Dad and Mom to stay connected and seek their advice.

I can’t comprehend the brilliant mind of God, fathom the depth of his love, or explain exactly how prayer works. But I know God treasures our communication with him, because heaven contains “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:8). I know that the Lord is for us, not against us. I know that Christ is the “one mediator between God and mankind” (1 Timothy 2:5). And because of Christ, I know that God is our Father, teacher, counselor, friend, and guide. So, even when I struggle to articulate my thoughts—even when I feel unworthy and inadequate—I am determined to keep praying.

David Faust

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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