The unbelievable reality of prayer
It’s hard to find a parent who’s not prepared to speak at length about even the most minor successes of their children. It’s hard to find a taxi driver who’d ever say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have an opinion on that topic”. And it’s hard to find a Christian who’d ever say that they didn’t think prayer was very important.
Jesus prayed, Paul prayed; they encourage us to pray, and so we pray. We pray corporately in our church services, Bible study groups, and prayer meetings, and privately both during our daily devotions and throughout the day.
Prayer is something to which we say we are very committed. Sure, we can all admit that we should probably pray more than we do. And, yes, we do have a few questions, like: why pray when God already knows what we need? And we may sometimes think it’d be good if we could do some sort of controlled experiment on prayer so that we could see exactly what difference it actually makes. But we agree that prayer is important and something that we really should do.
The reality of prayer from our human perspective is incredibly varied. It can range from the majestic to the mundane. Often we get very excited about it—we enjoy great fellowship as we speak with God and see him answer our prayers. At other times prayer can seem a little less motivating, a little more routine, and perhaps even a little pointless. And we can become so easily distracted from it. As John Donne once so eloquently put it: “I throw my selfe downe in my Chamber, and I call in, and invite God, and his Angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his Angels, for the noise of a Flie, or the ratling of a Coach, for the whining of a door”.1
Since prayer is spiritual warfare, it should be no surprise that it often doesn’t come easily to us. Given its undoubted importance, we need all the assistance that we can get.
Something that has greatly encouraged me over recent years has been considering the reality of prayer from God’s perspective as described in Revelation chapters 4 and 5.
Revelation is a very interesting book. It describes utterly momentous events, often through the liberal use of pictures, symbolism and metaphor. Revelation 4–5 is a perfect example. These chapter take us to the place of ultimate power—not to Parliament House, nor the White House, nor even to Silicon Valley. No, it takes us somewhere far important and influential than any of those places: the throne room of heaven!
The descriptions of the scene are astounding. Picture this. Chapter 4 describes God the Father sitting on the throne. A rainbow encircles the throne. From the throne comes thunder and lightning. Before the throne are seven lamps and a sea of glass. Around the throne are twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones and four remarkable creatures. The creatures are saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty” (v. 8). And the elders are saying: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power” (v. 11).
Chapter 5 then opens with God the Father on the throne holding a scroll. And the question is asked: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (v. 2). At first is seems as if no one is worthy, but then there is the good news: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, is able to. He—Jesus—is worthy, we later learn, because of his death on the cross (v. 9). Jesus takes the scroll and sits on the throne.
Amidst all this; as events of the utmost significance are unfolding, we read Revelation 5:8: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”.
Did you catch it? Here, in the centre of everything, the epicentre of power, where matters of ultimate importance are taking place—our prayers are there! Our prayers reach the throne room of heaven! And when they get there, they are not ignored or disregarded: they are valued! They are described as “golden bowls full of incense”. Our prayers!
How do you think you would go accessing the Prime Minister of Australia or New Zealand, or the President of Russia or the United States? Perhaps we could—perhaps not. And if we could, how interested do you think they would be in what we had to say? Maybe a lot, maybe a bit, maybe not much at all! However we might fare there, the incredibly underserved and reassuring reality for Christians is that we have access to the throne room of heaven. And God is interested in our prayers!
This truth from Revelation 4 and 5 squares nicely with the Lord’s Prayer. Consider the opening: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9). This tells us, among other things, that God is both powerful (he is in heaven) and personal (he is our Father and, thus, concerned for his children).
When we pray, we can access the throne room of heaven—where the God of heaven and earth is interested in our prayers. That is the unbelievable reality of prayer. You might like to reflect on this the next time you pray.
1. John Donne, Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, ed. John Hayward, The Nonesuch Press, London, 1946, pp. 673–74.↩