What Happens When We Pray
May 15, 2020 by Dave Raak
What happens when we pray? We have all been in situations, usually bad ones, when we question what is going on. Maybe a health concern or maybe a problem with a relationship. Maybe you have some kind of responsibility and it becomes difficult to make the right decision. So, what do we do – we pray. Then what happens? Sometimes God answers quickly and clearly but often we wait and wonder. Sometimes whatever we wanted God to fix for us does not get fixed and some terrible thing happens.
There is a passage in Revelation 8 that helps me understand the mechanics of prayer. I know Revelation is a hard book to understand. Lots of descriptions of crazy terrible plagues with just a little bit of explanation. But interspersed through it there are wonderful glimpses of worship in heaven with Jesus on the throne with saints in white robes gathered before Him singing praises to Him and our Father. The passage in chapter 8 follows a description of Jesus in heaven, in charge, with bad things happening on earth and saints from all nations praising Him. Then a trumpet sounds, and everything goes completely silent for 1/2 hour. Then this:
“Then another Angel, carrying a gold censer, came and stood at the Altar. He was given a great quantity of incense so that he could offer up the prayers of all the holy people of God on the Golden Altar before the Throne. Smoke billowed up from the incense-laced prayers of the holy ones, rose before God from the hand of the Angel.” “Then the Angel filled the censer with fire from the Altar and heaved it to earth. It set off thunders, voices, lightnings, and an earthquake.”
Revelation 8:2-5 MSG
The picture I get is that our prayers, like the incense, rise to heaven. They become a sacrifice to God, purified by fire on the altar. Do my prayers really need to be purified to be acceptable to God? Like everything else about me, they are affected by sin and God just cannot stand to have sin around. But we know from Hebrews 7 that Jesus intercedes for us in Heaven. So, my prayers rise to heaven and Jesus makes them acceptable to God the father. Nothing so new about that but what is this angel doing throwing the contents of the censer out of heaven down to earth? Is he throwing out the trash? John wrote that this “set off thunders, voices, lightnings, and an earthquake”. Our insurance industry calls this “acts of God”. Well maybe not the voices but the other 3. I didn’t know that the insurance companies were so theologically correct.
Eugene Peterson maintains that this is a picture of how God gets done what He wants to be done in our world. So, the “thunders, lightning, and earthquake” are code words, symbols for God’s doings here on earth. Our prayers come to Him and somehow, He sends them back here to accomplish His purposes in our lives and in our world.
The picture starts and ends with us. The process starts with our prayers to God. In the middle, our Father and Savior receive our offerings (prayers) and make something wonderful of them. In the end, our prayers are used by God to do what He wants to be done here on earth. This process is repeated over and over again until Jesus comes again. So when you wonder “why or when” remember there is a lot going on in heaven and our prayers are just a part of it. It is no wonder it does not always make sense to us (remember what Jesus does with fire) but it does to Him and it is and will be good.
Pray often and together.
Lord thank you for allowing us to come directly to You anytime we want to. We stand in awe of your majesty, your perfection, and your love for us. We do not know why you put up with us but are so glad you do. Forgive us Lord when we question your actions in our lives. Help us accomplish the tasks you give us in your kingdom.
In Jesus name, Amen