Written by Henry Hall:
Alright, I would like to start off this message by making a confession: I have been neglecting my prayer life a little recently. There was a time when I would consistently pray at least two times a day, in the morning and at night, but in recent months I have begun to neglect prayer to the point that I only pray, at most, once a day. Please, feel free to gasp in horror! The reason I tell you this is because I want to set the stage for what I will be writing about: prayer. I always find it easiest to discuss topics which are close to my heart, and I have a particular passion for writing about topics that I am currently struggling in.
Now, there are a plethora of wonderful verses for why prayer is important to us: Ephesians 6:18, Mark 11:24, and Philippians 4:6 are but a fraction of the examples that could be pulled from Bible, and they all speak to the incredible significance that prayer has in their own ways. I, however, want to call readers’ attention to Revelation 5:8 as an example of why prayer is important. The first chapters of Revelation contain a detailed description of God’s throne in Heaven, and Revelation 5:8 has an important little tidbit: according the Apostle John’s account, God’s throne is surrounded by “four living creatures,” and each creature is “holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (New International Version).
Revelation 5:8 holds an incredibly important detail for us to know about God. In the Old Testament, under the old covenant, one of the traditions the nation of Israel was expected to partake in was burning incense. Incense is a blend of “fragrant spices” (gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense) which, when burned, produces “an aroma pleasing to the LORD” (Leviticus 6.15). The Bible itself does not provide a specific explanation for why incense should be burned (beyond the “pleasing aroma” of course), but extra-Biblical sources and Rabbinic literature suggest that incense might have been intended to perfume the air to cover up the unpleasant odors produced by animal sacrifices. Another suggestion is that the incense was burned to ward off evil spirits and demons, but since that deviates from the theme of “fragrance” that is put forth in the Bible itself, I will just put that to the side for the purposes of this article!
What is clear from the Bible and other sources is that God assigns an importance to incense because the smell of it “pleases” him. With this in mind, we can see that Revelation is making a profound statement about the importance of prayer. The prayers of God’s people are like incense before His throne; our prayers are pleasing to Him. That is the essence of what I want to communicate, both to you and to myself: prayer is just as important to God as it is to us. There are so many verses in the Bible which explain why prayer is essential to our lives and how it will benefit us, but I always think of Revelation 5:8 before any of them because it outlines why prayer is important to God. Hearing us speak to Him pleases Him. Like a good father, He wants to hear His children speak with Him. That is why it is important that we never neglect to pray to Him.
Another connection that can be drawn between prayer and the burning of incense is the frequency God instructs us to partake in these “rituals” (for lack of a better term). In Exodus, when God first lays down instructions for incense (what kinds should be burned, how to build the altar it will be burned in, etc.), he commands that “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the LORD for the generations to come” (30.7-8). God puts an emphasis on incense being burned every day. He commands that incense be burned before him at all times. “And how frequently does God ask us to pray?” I hear you asking. I’m glad you asked! He orders us to “rejoice always, pray continually, [and] give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5.16-18).
But allow me to return to our topical verse from Revelation. Out of every verse in the Bible pertaining to prayer, this is the one I have the easiest time remembering. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten it since the meaning behind it first dawned on me. This verse is the one which consistently convicts me when I do not want to pray. Whether I do not want to pray because I do not think God listens or cares, or for any reason under the sun, this verse is the one that always brings me (sometimes begrudgingly, I’ll admit) to our Father’s throne. Why? Because this verse does not tell me why prayer will help me. This verse does not tell me all the ways prayer can benefit my life (because I think we all know that sometimes it can take a while for our prayers to be answered!). This verse tells me why prayer is important to God. This verse tells me that God is very much invested in whether or not I talk to him. This verse tells me that the God who made the sun, the moon, and the hundred billion balls of raging fire appear throughout the universe, cares that I talk to Him. Because that’s who He is. He is not just the Creator of the universe and everything in it, he is a Father who is very much invested in what His children are doing! He is a Father who is really interested in how your day went! He wants to hear why you’re anxious! He wants to know what your plans are! Sure, He already knows because He knows everything, but He wants to hear it from you! He’s so invested in us that He sent His one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for us so that we would be free to come to Him directly!
So why don’t we all take more time to sit down with our heavenly Father and tell Him how our day was?
This article was written by Adoration Writing Team Member, Henry Hall. Henry is a Bible teacher, aspiring author, and student at Milligan University. Henry has been faithfully serving his church for multiple years and believes he is called to full-time ministry. He loves playing bass guitar and is also an avid Star Wars fan... the original series, of course.