And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely today’s Scripture gives pictures worth many, many more. Here are pictures of wondrous, dazzling wonders set in motion by your prayers. The apostle John, the Revelator, reports back to earth things revealed to him before the throne of God. The imagery and symbolism are powerful: prayers ascending to the Lord God, the Almighty!
John’s readers are hard pressed, suffering saints in the first century Roman Province of Asia Minor. Read chapters 2-3 of this book of The Revelation and you will see the dire danger the saints are facing. There is danger from without and danger from within; persecution by the Empire and false teaching within. It must have seemed to the early Christians as though the score read: “Lions: 100 and Christians: 0.” Without any political, economic or military might, the Christians were powerless before world powers. All they could do was pray. They might have wondered what had happened to all their prayers of “Thy kingdom come.”
But John pulls back the curtain for them and for us to show what is really happening as we pray. John’s imagery is compelling. In the upheavals of history we see the prayers of God’s people going up to heaven’s throne. Their prayers go up to God, unnoticed by world rulers, but returning to the earth in unimaginable power.
John reports on seeing seven angels standing before the throne of God who are given seven trumpets. We’ve seen these trumpets before in Scripture as they symbolize God ready to act, God ready to intervene in history (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
It is important to stop and pay attention to the symbolism of what happens as prayers goes up before the throne: an angel sprinkles incense from a golden censer on the prayers! Prayer and incense are often associated in Scripture (Psalm 141:2; Exodus 30:8; Luke 1:10). Your prayers ascend to God as a precious, perfumed, pleasing savor to Him.
As the prayers are received by God He is ready to use them. The same golden censor that had sprinkled incense on the precious prayers now throws the fire of cleansing and renewing on the earth. The prayers for God’s Kingdom to come are put into action. New Testament theologian Eugene Boring comments on this revealing, incredible scene:
The prayers are “heard”; they have an effect. The effect Is not merely a subjective release in the worshiper; the prayers of the saints on earth cause things to happen on earth. The saints’ prayers do not result in deliverance from historical troubles but the deliverance of the world and history, by the eschatological appearance of God’s kingdom. (Revelation)
This picture from the Revelation show that prayers are not an escape from the world, but practical and effective involvement in the world! Know that your prayers ascend to God as a sweet, well-pleasing savor, and they will descend to the earth in powerful action. French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, said, “God instituted prayer to communicate to creatures the dignity of causality.” In God’s grace and goodness, He permits us “secondary causality”, or, to be the “cause” of things happening in the world. The “dignity of causality” means that God allows us to make things happen through prayer that will not otherwise happen. That’s something to think about! That’s something to act on! It is little wonder that Jesus said that we “need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
- Take a few moments to reflect on today’s Scripture about your prayers going up to God as a sweet smelling fragrance.
- Using your various senses put yourself into the scene from the Revelation: see the radiant brightness around God’s throne; hear the trumpets; smell the sweet incense; feel the heat radiating from the fire on the altar.
- Give thanks to God for including you in the “cause” of bringing in His Kingdom.
- Conclude by praying The Lord’s Prayer.
Grace and peace,