I came across this powerful passage when preparing for a message on prayer. It is in Revelation 5 verses 1-14. Follow along for a second…
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.
What a powerful passage and image! Flip it back to verse number 7: Each elder had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
Notice John didn’t say the good deeds were in the golden jars, not the amount of time they served, not the opportunities for outreach they took, not the mission trips, not the powerful sermons, not the incredible worship. All of these things are great things, godly things, things God uses to really impact people. But what the 24 elders had in their hands were harps and golden bowls filled with our prayers.
Serving and mission trips and sermons and worship are great things, but they are all things where we have to fight pride. We look good when we do these things. People could look at us and say, yeah they are really good Christians. But prayer, that is something God wants us to do on our own time in secret. Matthew 6 is where Jesus tells us, “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Prayer is something personal that you do just because you love God and want a relationship with him. I think that is one of the main reasons the bowls were filled with prayers that are personal rather than deeds which are public. God loves the prayers of his people.
In that text, verse 7, the Bible calls the prayers of God’s people incense. You know what incense is? Those little sticks you burn to fill a room with an aroma. That is the whole purpose of incense. How amazing is it that the one scent God wants in his throne room 24/7 is the sweet smell of our prayers? Knowing that God loves our prayers so much that he perfumes heaven with the scent of them should make us want to pray more. If he likes prayer that much, I want him to have mine.
So take a moment out of every day. Spend that one on one time with God. Don’t treat it as a duty. Treat it as a honor. The God that said let there be light so badly wants to spend time with us that he literally fills the atmosphere of heaven with our conversations with him. What a God he is.