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…Then another Angel, carrying a golden censer, came and stood before the Altar. He was given a great quantity of incense so that he could offer up the prayers of all the holy people of God on the Golden Altar before the throne.
(Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4, The Message)
Are there times you wonder if your prayers are ‘working’? Times you seriously wonder if prayer is rising any higher than your room ceiling? There are times I identify with Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem “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.”
When I pray and my heart feels as dry as dust, I like to turn to todays’ scripture from the Book of Revelation. Here God pulls back the curtain for us to see the throne of heaven. In wondrous symbolic language, the apostle John tells of seeing world history, not as historians and journalists see it, but as God sees it. John struggles for words to describe as best he can, “living creatures” and “elders” caught up in worship of the Lamb. John describes each living creature and elder as having a harp, for praising God, and a golden bowl of incense. John adds that each bowl holds “the prayers of God’s people.”
“Bowls full of incense” are significant because in Biblical times incense was burned in the temple as symbolic of the fragrant aroma of the peoples’ prayer to God. Each perfumed scent was intended to remind worshippers of God’s delight in their prayers. Keep praying!
Additionally, John notes that the bowls of incense are “golden bowls.” This is important as the gold symbolically emphasizes the preciousness of our prayers. Prayers are treasured and kept safe in bowls of gold so that no prayer is ever lost or forgotten. Bible commentator William Barclay calls this scene of heaven a good reminder that “We are, so to speak, not left to pray alone. No prayer can be altogether heavy-footed and leaden-winged which has all the citizenry of heaven behind it to help it rise to God.” (William Barclay, Commentary on Revelation)
The Bible reveals God as always more ready and eager to listen than we are to pray. Some years ago, Eugene Peterson wrote about the preciousness of our prayers to God and the playing out of history:
“We live in a noisy world…Everyone has an urgent message for us. We are surrounded with noise: telephone, radio, television, stereo. Messages are amplified deafeningly. The world is a mob in which everyone is talking at once and no one is willing or able to listen. But God listens. He not only speaks to us, he listens to us. His listening to us is an even greater marvel than his speaking to us…Prayer reenters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken daily by it.” (Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder)
Coleridge was right! It is a “wicked whisper” that would make our hearts as “dry as dust” when we pray. Our prayers shake our earth daily!
A fellow traveler,