Turn to the Bible for examples of angels hand-delivering our prayers to God.
Posted in , May 21, 2018
Prayer can be a lonely business.
Sure, we may pray with others in church or around the dinner table. We may ask friends to pray for us. But much of the time, we pray alone, right? Especially our most desperate prayers, those we might not share with others. But did you know that you never pray alone? The Bible says that even when you don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit of God prays with you (Romans 8:26).
But did you know that angels also play a role in your prayers?
The eighth chapter of the last book of the Bible begins by describing a lengthy silence in heaven. John, the apostle who wrote the account, doesn’t explain the silence, but I believe it was a silence of anticipation. A silence of expectancy. A silence of eagerness.
Because virtually the next thing John describes in Revelation 8 concerns the prayers of the saints:
[An] angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand (Revelation 8:3-4, NIV).
I think that was why heaven fell silent. That is how heaven views prayer, how heaven receives prayer.
Notice that the angel had a golden censer. There was nothing more valuable to the first-century mind than gold, and there is nothing more valuable in the economy of God’s Kingdom than prayer.
Notice also that the angel was given “much incense” to offer along with the prayers, purifying them and ensuring their acceptability before the throne of God. The incense that was used in the tabernacle and Temple throughout Israel’s history was expensive stuff. It was compounded from a detailed commandment issued by God himself (Exodus 30:34). Some of the ingredients had to be imported, from Arabia, for example. So the picture of “much” heavenly incense—as opposed to the earthly kind—indicates an impressive investment.
There could be another reason the angel was given “much incense” to offer. The incense was intended to mingle with “the prayers of all the saints”—eloquent and upright prayers, as well as imperfect prayers, prayers offered in weakness, and prayers that are incomplete or misguided. My prayers (which must require mounds of incense). And yours.
Your prayers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are hand-delivered by an angel, offered along with the prayers of preachers and priests, monks and missionaries, children and dying saints, and all of it purified with “much” heavenly incense.
Note, finally, that the comingled incense and prayers “went up before God from the angel’s hand.” We routinely think in terms of God hearing our prayers (and perhaps often imagine that He hasn’t heard). But the picture of Revelation 8:4 involves more than hearing. The smoke and smell of incense mingled with the prayers, so that God received them, saw them, smelled them, heard them, inhaled them.
So, any time you pray, try to remember that you never do so alone—and that your prayers are hand-delivered by an angel, purified with “much incense,” to the golden altar before the throne of God. All of them. Perhaps in a more comprehensive way than we have ever been bold enough to imagine.
Adapted in part How to Survive the End of the World by Bob Hostetler (Leafwood Publishers, 2012).