Have you ever wondered what happens to the prayers that you pray?
Most of us imagine that they are carried by the Spirit directly into the throne room of God, where our righteousness and true need and His plan are all weighed out until a decision is made about whether we are worthy of the prayer we have prayed and then, according to His goodness, He answers us - with a yes, a no, or a not now. Something like that.
We might as well just confess that we don't know what happens when we pray. We know what happens on our end of the conversation, but whatever happens after that is a mystery. Ah, yes, a holy mystery, the kind that God loves so much.
But what if it's not?
Tucked inside the Scriptures themselves is a beautiful portrait of what really happens to our prayers, and when we read these words, they ought to change the way that we pray.
Turn in your Bible to Revelation 8, and read:
Then another angel with a gold censer came and stood at the altar, and he was given a great quantity of incense so that he might mingle it with the prayers of all the saints on the altar of gold that stood before the throne. So the smoke of the incense went up before God from the angel's hand for the prayers of his people. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and emptied it upon the earth, and there followed peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake (vv. 3-5).
Think about that for a second. Think about all that is happening with the prayers that you have prayed as a person of God.
Your prayer is taken into heaven, where it is mixed with a holy incense. It is an incense that God tells us about in the Old Testament, when He is giving Moses the instructions for worship and for the Tabernacle. It was against the rules to make this particular incense for anything other than worship, for anything other than use in the Tabernacle (and later, in the Temple). This is sacred incense.
So your prayer becomes mixed with sacred incense, and it becomes heavenly worship. It becomes the kind of worship that the angels carry around in their smokers to spread through the heavens, to season the very air that eternity breathes. Your prayer becomes what so many of the Old Testament sacrifices are described as - an aroma pleasing to the Lord - and it literally fills the heavens.
Then, once your prayers have gone up in worship, have gone up in holy incense, the very same censer, the very same container, is filled up with holy fire from the altar, it is filled up with the holy presence of God Himself, and poured out onto the earth, where the power of God shakes the foundations of the temporal world.
Want to know how your prayer is answered? This is it. With holy fire that shakes the foundations of this temporal world.
It's an incredible image, absolutely breathtaking. And it raises a really important question:
If you knew that God was going to fill your prayer with holy fire and pour it back out on the earth, on the very place you live, on all of those you love...would you be praying the same way that you have been?
Confession: I wouldn't.