In the closing book of the Bible – the Revelation of John the revelator — there is an encouraging answer. In Chapter 5:8 we are in the throne room of God and worship is about to begin. The prayers of the saints are to be featured.
A lamb is there who appears to have been slain but is yet fully alive. He stands at the center of the throne. We know who this slain lamb represents – the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Around him are four living creatures and 24 elders. Together, some believe, they represent all of creation.
The lamb takes a scroll from the hand of the Majesty who occupies the throne and suddenly the four living creatures and the 24 elders fall down before the lamb. It is time for worship in the heavenly realms.
All have harps in their hands, heavenly instruments of worship. They also hold bowls full of incense. In one of his few interpretive words John tells what these bowls and the incense in them represent: “the prayers of the saints.”
This imagery makes a powerful connection between two spheres of existence: on the one hand, that heavenly realm where our God reigns and harmony and order prevail; on the other hand, our visible world so clouded by conflict and struggle. The connecting link at this point is the collective prayers of God’s people. These prayers of beleaguered saints contribute to the worship life carried on in the throne room of the universe by giving worship the aroma of incense.
It encourages me to learn in this way that our prayers matter to God. However unproductive they sometimes seem to us here in our limited existence. God receives them as a fragrance in his throne room. They must rejoice the heart of the Father. They are apparently more than merely a list of our needs; they pour out all the possibilities of adoration, homage, praise and awe.
It encourages me also to know that without the prayers of the saints — offered under the imagery of incense — the very atmosphere of the throne room would lack something important. Our prayers apparently fill that place with a lovely fragrance, thus enhancing heavenly worship.
This larger view of prayer can send us to our prayer closets with renewed faith and fresh ardor. We will still have petitions to offer and unanswered prayers will still perplex us. But in those moments when we are “lost in wonder, love and praise” and even when we are perplexed or afraid, we will know that in that glorious throne room our prayers are being mingled with the prayers of saints from all regions and of all ages. Let us pray.