“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.” Revelation 8:3-4 (ESV)
Are there things in your life you know you should do better but… just don’t. My list ranges from the superficial to the deeply convicting. Superficially, I know I should read more widely, write more often, and somehow find a more regular and substantial sleep schedule. I have known these things and reminded myself of them for more years than I care to admit. Nonetheless, like trying to maintain a consistent exercise routine with four kids and three jobs, these desires remain firm fixtures of my “good intentions.”
However, as my title implies, there is a deeper conviction I can never seem to shake: I need to pray more than I do. I know the details. Maybe you do too. Prayer is what the disciples asked Jesus to teach them after walking alongside Him for years. Not how to cast out demons. Not how to heal the sick. Not how to preach a classic sermon. Prayer. The entire Bible implores us to do this. We’re reminded of its strength. We’re told of its impact. And… we just don’t.
In Revelation 8, we’re given the first of several pictures of Jesus’ return. Right before this happens, He intentionally tells us about prayers rising up to God. It’s like the culmination of so many promises in Scripture. People who are seeking God’s face are praying for His coming, His will, His provision, His mercy, His salvation… and He’s listening. The truth is plain: we don’t do this like we should, and we’re missing out. Let’s consider three observations from our passage.
First, prayer is supposed to be pleasing. Incense in the ancient world made otherwise offputting things smell pleasant. This speaks to how our prayers are meant to be offered up because God desires this from us. Prayer makes Him happy. That is crazy when you think about it because we’re the ones who get all the benefits!
Prayer is also powerful. These prayers are connected to God showing up and rescuing the world from sin! Yet, we tend to view prayer as a last resort for when we find ourselves in an especially problematic pickle. Prayer is speaking directly to the God of the universe who loves you and died for you and defeated Hell to bring you hope. Prayer makes a difference because Jesus is the difference-maker. Do we live like we believe that?
We should because prayer is meant to be prioritized. This makes me think of one of the sadder passages from Huckleberry Finn. In it, Huck says he’s given up on praying. He doesn’t ever “see anything come of it”, so he figures it doesn’t work. Like Huck, so many of us miss out on the whole point of prayer by treating it like a wishing well.
When we don’t get our wishes, we just write the whole thing off as pointless. Instead, prayer is meant to bring our hearts in tune with His perfect plans. Seek Him, and you will find Him. Desire His will, and He will give it. That pursuit should define our lives, but again, are we missing out because we don’t take prayer seriously?
Let’s strive to make it more than just a good intention.
Until next week, live every day like it’s Christmas! God bless.
Bobby Upchurch is the pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Bonne Terre where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also an English teacher at Farmington High School. Bobby writes a weekly column for the Farmington Press opinion page. – Editor