I believe that one of the most ridiculous questions in the world is, “Did you have a good workout?” The answer, of course, is “no” because there’s no such thing as a good workout. You wake up early. You go to the gym and fight over equipment and/or places to stretch. You get tired, achy, and sore. Then, because you worked out, you get hungry. It’s just not worth it to work out! Until you see stories of people who persevered and things began to click. Or you see people who begin by walking, or jogging, and the next thing you know, they’re running marathons, like a former colleague of mine or some other friends. Or perhaps, get this, they participate in Iron Man competitions and then, like my nephew’s wife, earn an invitation to the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Those people would look at their improved health, the joy of competing and, sometimes, winning and tell people like me that it’s worth it. And so, I continue, knowing that somehow, some way, I’ll realize the worth of working out eventually.
Christians have a spiritual work out that’s easy to skip. Prayer. If you like action, prayer seems like such a waste of time. You get down on your knees, or sit in your chair, maybe even talk to God while you’re walking and never seem to get an answer. You hear of people spending an hour in prayer, and you, if you’re like me, may spend five minutes and think afterwards, “it’s just not worth it.” Then you hear people talking about having a “great prayer time” and you laugh inwardly because for you it seems like your prayers bounce off the ceiling. As John tells the story of the throne room in heaven, it becomes the war room in heaven as he shows the workings leading to the final battle. As he describes the events around him, he talks about the prayers of God’s people. “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 God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne.” (Revelation 8:3)
Is the time you take praying worth it. Perhaps John dealt with people who, amid their persecution asked him that same question. Perhaps he himself, sitting alone on the island of Patmos, wondered why God’s people should pray if they still had to go through persecution. Then, we see this dramatic scene: A censer is brought before God that is filled with incense and the prayers of God’s people: the prayers uttered in joy and thanksgiving, and the prayers offered as pleas for justice and even vengeance against all those who were persecuting Christians. Incense is used as part of the prayer offering throughout the Old Testament. In this situation, it’s mixed with the prayers of the saints through all the ages and offered as a pleasing aroma to God. Then, as John describes a couple of verses later, it’s set on fire and hurled at the earth. The explosion from the censer ignites the onslaught of the end. The seven trumpets follow.
There’s a lot about Revelation that I don’t understand. Part of what John was trying to say here, though, is understandable: the prayers are worth it. You may not see results now, but they have a purpose in the long run. I know that I pray about injustices, and I see them continue, and I wonder if my prayers have any effect. I pray about other issues, and things continue as they have been doing, and I wonder if my prayers have any effect. I see other people who pray and God seems to answer their prayers immediately, while my prayers don’t seem to make it out of my room. John would remind me, and you if you have that same experience, that our prayers are important to God. I don’t know how the end will play out. I don’t know how literal John’s picture is. But I do know that whatever happens, I will pray.
Lord, it would be nice if I saw immediate answers to my prayers. Give me the faith to keep praying even when I don’t see those answers, knowing that You hear and receive each prayer.