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.
There are times when I don’t feel like praying, and times when my prayers feel lifeless and dull. Times I wonder if my words will float up any higher than the ceiling of my room. My struggles with prayer are aptly described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gushed,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.
My heart can feel as dry as dust as wicked whispers would turn me away from prayer. But today’s Scripture text again and again fires me with encouragement to pray as I see how much my prayers mean to God.
These are the words of the Apostle John who is in exile on the island-prison of Patmos where the Roman have sentenced him to live out his remaining years. John is “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10) when he is caught up into the very throne room of God to see the world from heaven’s vantage point. Before God’s throne John is granted a behind the scenes look at history and what God is doing in the world. Here is a Revelation of God’s ultimate purpose of what He is accomplishing through Jesus and His followers. In this transcendent moment God reveals to John what “the prayers of God’s people” mean from the perspective of heaven.
John seeks to convey in symbol and images, things difficult for mortals to comprehend. Here is the book’s first glimpse of heaven. It is rich, majestic scene. Let your imagination play with what is revealed to us. What John can describe only as “living creatures” are joining with “elders” in falling down in awe and worship before the Lamb, Christ Jesus. They will be joined by a chorus of angels and every creature made by God (Revelation 5:11-13). And it is here in their worship that we see how very precious our prayers, even our fumbled half-hearted ones, are to God.
John shows us these heavenly beings offering up your and my prayers to God. Note that he says our prayers are presented to God in “golden bowls”. That is the value of our prayers to God! Bowls that are golden emphasize the value of what they contain. They are precious to God and treasured by Him in vessels of great price.
The other thing we would notice in this scene is how are prayers are sweet to God. They rise up to Him like fragrant incense that is pleasing to Him. In Old Testament Israel the priests would stand before the veil of the Holy of Holies in the temple and offer up sweet incense as the people prayed outside. As the fragrance of the incense wafted into the Holy of Holies, it was a symbol of the prayers of Gods people rising up to Him. Each day the people were reminded that their prayers rise up to God as a sweet fragrance that He loves and desires. Thus, David prayed: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” (Psalm 141:2).
It often warms my cold heart to be reminded of what my prayers mean to our heavenly Father. Every parent understands what I mean here. God thrills when His children spend time with Him. What might feel to us perfunctory and routine, God delights in. Every prayer matters to Him. None will ever be lost, but will be a sweet fragrance treasured in bowls made of gold. And then one day before God’s throne we too will see, like John saw, how our prayers moved heaven and earth.
Grace and peace,
photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious