In my experience followers of Jesus universally struggle from time to time to know that their prayers are heard and have an impact. Sometimes we get an almost immediate answer, this week I have had the joy of seeing two prayers answered in the space of just a few hours. More often it seems that we bang on, again and again, with no apparent impact. It is not that our prayers bounce back off the ceiling, it can seem they don’t even get that far! Is this the reality? What happens to the prayers that seem unanswered, or when the answer does not pan out the way we were looking for? A verse jumped out at me from Revelation that I find provides a helpful insight.
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Revelation 5:8 (NIV2011)
At the start of chapter 4 John sees a door standing open in heaven and together with him we are invited to enter the Throne Room of God. What we see is the present reality of what is happening in the spiritual realm; the usually unseen parallel reality where good and evil are exposed for what they are. It is into this context that we encounter the twenty-four elders, representing all of God’s people. If, as I believe is the case, we are to understand that this is a picture of what we are doing in the spiritual realm when we engage with God in worship and prayer in the physical realm then this is massively encouraging. In Revelation 5:8 God’s people are depicted as having harps, musical instruments for worship, and golden bowls of incense which we are told are our prayers. This reassures us that our prayers reach their destination, and furthermore are a pleasing aroma to God. The image is extended in chapter 8 where we read:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Revelation 8:3–4 (NIV2011)
Even though our physical senses may not always be touched, and although our emotions may not always be engaged as we worship and pray, that is only half the picture. Revelation draws back the curtain and reveals that our prayers do in fact reach the very throne of God. The next few verses of chapter 5 tell us that God’s people sing a new song of praise to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. This is an indicator that the balance of our praying needs to be praise and worship towards God so that we get caught up with his kingdom purposes, rather than seeking to bend his will to ours though our requests.
This blog post featured in the March 2014 edition of Lifelines