Prayers are deathless. They outlive the lives of those who uttered them.1
In a time when so many are falling away from the Christian faith, all four of my parents’ children are believers. Each of us has a strong, active, and confident faith.
Who in my family history was praying? I can imagine a faithful, believing ancestor praying for the Lord to be a real and present part of his or her offspring’s lives for generations to come. I will be eternally grateful. My gratitude is not only to the ancestor who prayed, but also to God who allowed those prayers to be poured out on my siblings and me.
Sometimes though, it can feel like our prayers hit a wall and don’t ever make it to heaven. We can pray for a wayward child, a troubled marriage, a cancer-ridden parent, or a drug-addicted friend for years at a time. Our prayers seem to come to nothing and no progress is evident.
A Lasting Aroma
When we feel disheartened, two passages from Revelation can offer hope.
…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. (Rev. 5.8)
Imagine bowls holding all the prayers of all believers, that is, all the saints. Not one is lost. In Old Testament times God commanded the people to sacrifice a variety of offerings that resulted in a sweet aroma to Him (see for instance Ex. 29.25, Lev. 2.9, Num. 5.7). Here our prayers make up the sweet aroma that is pleasing to God.
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. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth. (Rev. 8.3-5a)
In God’s economy nothing is wasted. He uses everything to bring good in the lives of believers (Rom. 8.28). Prayers that seem to ascend no further than the ceiling are not wasted. They may not be answered in the timing we would like, but they are remembered by God and poured back in His timing to bless His people.
It takes courage to continue praying when nothing seems to be happening. Yet we can take comfort in knowing that God hears and knows and uses those prayers for His purposes.
1EM Bounds, Purpose in Prayer, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2010, p2