Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 9 and Revelation 8.
Three thousand years ago, David wrote, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” (Psa 141:2). Incense is a gum or a spice that was commonly burned in the ancient world for the sweet smell that it produces. There were “altars of incense” in the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple. Paul describes Jesus as “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” in Ephesians 5:2. He described a financial gift sent by Christians in Philippi as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
But notice what is revealed in a vision to John in Revelation 8 and how it applies to you.
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 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. (Rev 8:1-4)
We ran across a similar detail in Revelation 5:8 where John is shown four living creatures and twenty-four elders around the throne of God in heaven, “each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
It’s a vision, granted. But what are we intended to understand? When the saints of God pray, we are not simply speaking into a void of nothingness. We are not psyching ourselves up or out. We are not wasting time or effort. We are not wistfully hoping against empty hope. When the saints of God pray, it is as if a little pinch of incense has been added to the collection of golden bowls that are held by the angelic beings who surround the throne of God himself. The “offering” of the prayers of men and women who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb rise as a sweet smelling sacrifice before the Sovereign Lord of the universe. He hears. He recognizes. He cares. He is pleased.
Which begs the question: what could you possibly do of more significance today than prayerfully contribute to those golden bowls of incense in heaven?