Be honest - is the prayer list the place where you get most of your gossip?
It happens far too often; we read someone's name and a blip of their story on the prayer list, and that's how we figure out what we're supposed to talk about with everyone this week. "Did you hear about _____?" Oh, yes. Of course, I did! It's on the prayer list.
If we're reasonable persons, we do, at least, pray for the person while we're talking about them, but in my experience, it seems most church folk are still doing a lot more talking than praying.
But what if this image we've been talking about from Revelation was in the front of your mind when you read that prayer list? What if you were thinking not about what you could be talking about, but about the real difference a little holy fire might make in that person's life?
This is another way that this passage changes the way that I think about prayer. When I realize that my prayer is going to be carried around the heavens as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, then filled with holy fire and poured back out on the earth - poured back out on the life of the very person I am praying for - then it changes the way that I am praying for that person.
I can't pray mindlessly any more. I can't check their name off the list and move on. I can't pray without thinking about that person, without considering what it is that they're actually asking for, what they want or need from God, what their life would look like if they actually got it. I can't pray from a mere list; my prayer has to be personal.
It has to take into account your actual life, the actual struggle you're having, the actual hope that you're holding onto. It has to think about what it must be like to be in your shoes, what it must be like to ache with the heart that you're aching with.
And through all this, you become not just someone else that I am praying for, but someone that my soul is connecting with. Someone that my heart is tied to. Someone that I can't help but think about off and on during the day with real interest, with real curiosity. You become...a friend.
That's the way that it's meant to be, by the way. Prayer is meant to be a thread that ties us together. Not a mere knot, but a strong braid - an interweaving of our lives, our stories, so that we are stronger together.
It's too easy for us to forget this. It's too easy for us to neglect this. It's too easy for us to think that our prayer, even our prayer for one another, is still just something between us and God, something that doesn't involve you, even when you're the catalyst for it.
But when we remember this image from Revelation, this truth that our prayer is filled with holy fire and poured back out, well, we can't help but remember one another, too. I can't help but remember you. Not the you who is just a name on the prayer list, but the you who lives and breathes and hopes and grieves and who has reached out and trusted me with the heavy things on your heart.
And that changes the way that I pray for you.
I hope it changes the way that you pray for me.