The smoke of incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose up from the hand of the angel in front of God. ~REVELATION 8:4
Our prayers give God something new to work with.
Do you realize that our prayers are a tangible ingredient which God can then consider and use within the mix of a given circumstance? If we do not pray on something or over someone, then that factor is not in existence to be regarded among the myriad of other factors in that situation. It’s not that God can’t do a work without our prayers, but from what Scripture communicates to us, God seems to choose to work with us in this way.
Just two weeks ago I experienced a wonderfully affirming answer to the incense of my prayer. A friend had reached out who was going thru a sort of crisis of faith, questioning what he really believed after decades of following Christ. I asked him what I could specifically pray for, even though he was having trouble believing in the power of prayer at that moment. He replied with “to just feel God’s presence.” The rest of that day I did indeed pray for Christ to draw near to my friend in an intimate way. And he experienced a heart change quite literally overnite! I believe Christ saw the smoke of the incense of that prayer rise before His face, added that request into the mixture containing countless other ingredients, considered it, and bestowed upon my friend a manifestation of His loving presence and power, drawing his heart to Himself. Here are my friend’s words of what happened: “I was in a place where I had a lot of questions about God, and still do actually, but it’s really interesting how in the midst of that there was an experience of God that was like, ‘OK, I don’t really know how to explain this, but I know He showed up in my life, and saved me.’ I felt like I was about to fall off a cliff, and God showed me what it would look like if I fell, and then pulled me back. It didn’t answer my questions, and didn’t make those particular concerns disappear, but He showed His presence and His power in an undeniable way. And I know prayer, and your prayers for me were a major part of that.”
This picture of our prayers as incense rising before God is a wonderful one, isn’t it? We sometimes need visuals to help solidify what can be ethereal truths. It might be very helpful to imagine each of your pleas as a sweet smelling smoke in front of God’s face. May my prayer be set before you like incense. ~Psalm 141:2
This is not simply fruitless speculation, but rather holy imagination, which is what Revelation invites us into with its abundance of vivid imagery. So many of us have been conditioned to read this book thru the filter of pointless speculation–trying to predict when certain things will happen, who the antichrist is, who the 144,000 are–all the while missing the life-giving encouragement toward discipleship at the deepest level, as well as the display of the unfathomable awesomeness of God.
Revelation 8 picks up where chapter 6 ended, which was the opening of the sixth seal (remember, chapter 7 was all interlude). Now the seventh seal is opened, and there’s silence in heaven for a half hour. In utter silence the prayers of the kedoshim (holy ones) go before Yahweh with the incense. These prayers are the cries of the martyrs from 6:9-10, “Holy and true master! How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers?”
That smoke arose before Yahweh, He considered it, and then acted.
Fire is thrown down on earth resulting in thunder, rumblings, lightning, and earthquake. Then seven Angels with seven trumpets start to blow those trumpets, and all sorts of hell rains down, reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt beginning in Exodus 7. So another one of my revelations from Revelation, an aspect that I had not specifically considered before, which came from my many readings , is this: If the violence of Revelation is offensive to you, then you have probably not lived under severe oppression.
Here are some quotes that have given me much to ponder:
“we are to see these…judgments as the deepest desire of the oppressed for justice. They have a very real purpose: to portray the pain of the oppressed and show how it is finally resolved in God.”
“Often it is difficult for persons who have not been hopeless to understand how precious hope (and judgment, that is, justice) can be for those without hope.”
“People who do not know what oppression and suffering is react strangely to the language of the Bible. The truth is that God is the God of the poor and the oppressed….Because they are powerless, God will take up their cause and redeem them from oppression and violence. The oppressed do not see any dichotomy between God’s love and God’s justice.”
“All these..remind the oppressed people of God that it may not look good today, but tomorrow brings new Jerusalem. These judgments have a clear purpose as well: the elimination of evil in the world so the people of God can dwell in peace in the new Jerusalem.”
“Without such judgment there can be no world of peace, of truth, and of justice: terror (the ‘beast’ that devours) and propaganda (the ‘false prophet’ that deceives) must be overcome, evil must be separated from good, and darkness from light.”
There is “a polarity within the heart of Christianity; a crucified Lamb who turns out to be the rider on the white horse. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be ‘set aright.'”
We must also recognize and keep in mind that Revelation does not depict human believers acting violently, nor does it command us to do so. Vengeance is up to God, to the rider on the white horse.
“While Christians follow the standard and act out the legacy of the crucified Messiah, they must simultaneously recognize the right and need of the rider on the white horse to do what he needs to do.” All of this is seen “through the cultural lens of a people who have been raped and pillaged by the bestial power of a force like the one John fights against in Rome.”