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Revelation 8:1-5

Another 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.

(verses 1-5)


The Scriptures are full of many different metaphors for prayer. “Ask … seek … knock,” groups three of them together in Matthew 7:7-8, spoken directly by Jesus himself, urging us to always press forward in praying. Jesus takes that first command, “ask,” and almost immediately highlights it with an illustration of a son making request of his father, asking for bread and fish to satisfy his hunger. The son’s clear, simple need gives birth to a clear, simple request, grounded in sure trust, because the father has always proven faithful. Pray like that, Jesus implies.

The second metaphor, “seek,” reminds us of the eager activity of the shepherd in another of Jesus’ stories, searching for that one lost sheep, or the woman searching for her one lost coin, or the father continually keeping his eye on the road, ever watchful in hope of finally spying his lost son, returning home. Seek. Pray like that, Jesus implies.

The third metaphor is so basic it hardly needs further thought. It’s tinged with every-day familiarity. "Knock." If you want the door to open, knock. Do it loud enough so it can be heard. Do it long enough so it can’t be ignored. Knock. Pray like that, Jesus implies.

These metaphors propel me forward because they give me something very simple and tangible to do. Jesus is telling me to engage with simplicity and trust in making my requests known to the Father so that I may receive what I have asked from his hand. The starting place is my own need, which then spills over into prayerful pursuit of God’s intervention.

Revelation 8, on the other hand, gives a very different metaphor, one that starts not from my own need, but rather from the perspective of heaven. We are brought into God’s throne room to see an offering of fragrant incense going up before him, presumably giving him pleasure. As we watch, surprisingly we discover that our own prayers are part of that sweet offering. Wow. My own prayers, together with yours, together with those of all God’s people, are part of the very fabric of ongoing worship in heaven. For, back in chapter 5, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders were also holding golden bowls of incense, that incense itself being identified as the prayers of the saints – yours and mine.

What a surprise. Our prayers penetrate heaven, not just as request, but as worship. The metaphor itself flips the motivation for praying. It’s not first and foremost my own hope for an answer that compels me, but rather my desire to bless the Lord, bringing him pleasure, the praying itself being like incense rising before his throne.

I don’t think there’s a contradiction between these different motivations, nor is there really a sense of one being more noble than the other. The Scripture simply gives us both insights. The metaphors of asking, seeking, knocking give us open and free invitation to embrace our needs and bring them straight to our Father, without any necessity of holding back. But it turns out these very prayers add to the atmosphere of worship in heaven – they bring pleasure to the Father’s heart, blending with all the other aspects of worship we could possibly offer.

So, don’t hold back. The Father wants to hear our heart cries, desiring to give us good things. But the cry itself pleases his own heart, honours his name, declares his worth – for he alone is able to meet our need. So, pray with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, for it rises like incense before his throne.


Father, I bring my requests before you, rejoicing because this vision of heaven tells me you not only hear my prayers, but find pleasure in the very asking. Thank you for your grace. Praise you for your goodness. May my words and cries and heartfelt petitions rise like incense before your throne.


Pray & Reflect:

Take time to pray, seeing in your mind’s eye each request rising like pleasing incense before the Father.


Photo by Sonika Agarwal on Unsplash

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