What is prayer? Is it a ritual, a routine, or a meaningful pouring out of our hearts to God? In my New Testament reading this week I came across two beautiful pictures of prayer being offered before the throne of God.
In the fourth chapter of Revelation John is given a glimpse of heaven. He sees God’s throne. He does his best to convey in words the glory that he sees before him. In the next chapter, Jesus, the Lamb slain to ransom people for God from every tribe, language, people, and nation enters the scene. All fall before him and proclaim that he is worthy to open the sealed scroll that no one else in heaven or earth is worthy to open. Then in Revelation 5:8 (ESV) we are told:
When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
In the sixth chapter the seals begin to be opened. In the seventh God ensures the protection of his chosen people, and then a great multitude from every nation on earth gather in glorious worship of God and the Lamb. Then comes Chapter eight. Jesus opens the final seal, and there is silence in heaven. As the scene witnessed by John continues to unfold, Revelation 8:2-4 says:
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
In both passages quoted above we see reference to “the prayers of the saints.” It needs to be clarified here that the word “saints” simply refers to those who have been forgiven of all their sin through trusting Jesus and his death on their behalf. Through Jesus alone we are reconciled to God and can draw near to him as his people and offer worship, thanksgiving, and prayer.
This picture of the prayers of God’s people rising up like incense before the throne of God serves to remind us that our heart-felt cries to God are, indeed, heard. We are reminded that God hears the prayers of his people in numerous passages. Among them is Jeremiah 29:12-13 which reads:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Prayer can include times of worshiping God for who he is. It can involve praising God and thanking him for his grace in saving us through Jesus and for his numerous blessings. We can even thank God for the trials of life that bring us closer to him and teach us to trust him more than we otherwise would. And prayer can also focus on our needs and the needs of those we most dearly love. All these elements of prayer are beautiful expressions of our love for and dependence on our God and King.
And yet there’s still more to prayer. Through prayer we can enter a form of warfare that is unknown to all but God’s people. Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. In the NIV this says:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
As can be seen throughout the Book of Revelation, God’s enemies are numerous. Pure evil is bent on keeping people from God, and on seeking to destroy those who come to God through Jesus. The good news is that we know how the story ends. And yet before the end, it’s our privilege to participate through prayer and through our actions in this epic warfare.
Many within the military, law enforcement, and larger security community see any form of “religion” as weakness. For the most part, they’re right. Religion based on false teaching is useless. And yet, being reconciled to God through Jesus is not religion, it’s a relationship. Biblical faith is based on truth. It provides a relationship in which those who have pledged their sword to God through Christ are saved, and have the indescribable privilege of participating in warfare that has eternal consequences.
As we pray, let’s recall that through Jesus we have access to the very throne of God. As we cry out to God in numerous ways, let’s remember that our heartfelt prayer is heard by our King. Let’s commit to praying for those we most dearly love, and for many others. And as we enter warfare through prayer and life, let’s trust God to lead us on the paths that are most pleasing to him. Amen!