Yesterday I wrote to our children and spouses suggesting that we all pray regularly for a special need in the family, thereby joining our individual prayers into a choir of intercession to God.
This made me reflect more generally on the place of prayer in the Christian’s life. In that some prayers seem to go unanswered, it is not surprising that Christians might be tempted to ask from time to time: Do my daily prayers make any difference? Is God aware of them?
In the closing book of the Bible — the Revelation of John — there is an encouraging answer. John recounts his mystical vision of heaven there. In chapter 5:8 we are in the throne room of God and worship is about to begin.
A lamb is there that appears to have been slain but is yet fully alive. We know who this lamb represents – the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Around him are “four living creatures” and twenty-four elders. Some Bible scholars believe that, taken together, they represent all of creation.
The lamb takes a scroll from the hand of the Majesty (God the Father), and suddenly the four living creatures and the twenty-four 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. John tells us that this incense represents “the prayers of the saints.”
This imagery makes a powerful connection between two spheres of existence: on the one hand, that heavenly realm unseen by us now, where our God reigns and harmony and order prevail; on the other hand, our visible world, so clouded by conflict and struggle.
The connection between these two worlds appears to be the collective prayers of God’s people. Imagine: while we are yet on earth, our prayers contribute the aroma of incense to worship before the throne of God.
It encourages me to learn from this passage that our prayers matter to God. However ineffectual they may seem to us in our limited earthly existence, God receives them as a fragrance in his throne room.
They must gladden 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 also encourages me to know that without the “incense” of the prayers of the saints, 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 infuse our prayers with renewed faith and fresh ardor. We will still have petitions to offer and unanswered prayers will still perplex us.
Yet 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 times and places.
Image info: Dave Gough (via flickr.com)