I don't know about you, but when I read things like the verse I cited in Revelation yesterday - things like, your prayer becomes the incense of heaven and is then filled with holy fire and thrown back onto the earth - it changes the way that I think about prayer. More specifically, it changes the way I think about what I'm praying.
There's a little quip that makes its rounds in Christian circles every now and then, and it's hard to pin down who said it first or when or where, but it's some version of this: "if God gave you everything you prayed for today, would it change anyone's life but your own?"
That's certainly part of it. Would I want the holy fire of heaven to be thrown down just for my own meager benefit, just for the things that I desire in this life? Just for my own comfort or prosperity or whatever? And so, I do wonder whether my prayer is too selfish, whether it's just for me.
But even if it is, this image that we find in Revelation has to challenge us to push a little further. Let's say, okay, you pray a selfish prayer, a prayer that isn't going to change anyone's life but your own. Let's say that your prayer becomes the incense of heaven, is filled with holy fire, and comes down onto the earth, onto your very life in the very place where you're living it, and God answers your prayer resoundingly. Let's say you get exactly what you're praying for.
For many of us, the answer is simple: we pray another prayer. We figure out what else it is that we want in our lives, what else we need God to do for us, and we start praying that prayer because, we figure, we might as well strike while the iron is hot. If God is answering our prayer, then let's get as many in before He hangs up the line as we possibly can. So we pray another selfish prayer. And another selfish prayer. And another selfish prayer.
Fine. Sure. But...then what?
The point is, what are you doing with the selfish prayers that God answers?
It's not wrong to want healing in your life. It's not wrong to want strength. It's not wrong to pray for yourself, for your own needs, for the life that you want to have and the opportunities you want to have and the doors that you want to be opened to you. None of that is wrong. But...what are you going to do with it?
Just make your life better? Just make your life bigger? Just make your life more comfortable?
Holy fire from heaven pours down on you for much more than this.
And when I think about that image, about that bowl being poured out, about that holy fire coming down to answer my prayer, it makes me think about what I'm doing next. What am I going to do with the goodness God has just given me? How am I going to let this holy fire burn in such a way that the smoke is intoxicating to the world around me? How can I use the prayer that "only" made my life better...to make others' lives better? How can I use to further God's glory and God's mission in the world?
What does this holy fire let me do that I couldn't do before? And...what am I going to do with it?