"And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and 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
For a long time I struggled with the idea of prayer. For me, it was either a way to manipulate God, or a means of setting myself up for disappointment. My response was to give up. Hide behind the providence, omnipotence, and sovereignty of the Lord. I mean, He can do what He wants, right? What does he need MY prayers for? And if I can change his mind? Well that scares me. I'm too fallible, changeable and fickle.
So where did that leave me?
The Lord sent a dear, dear friend to me. Mrs Karen is an older woman who attends the Springville church. Her suggestion to me was that we just... pray. Sounds simple. But shouldn't I know the point of it? The reason behind it?
Nope. She said, let's just pray. So we did. Every week. For years. We still pray. Not as often as I wish though.
Through this simple exercise of faith- these stuttering, flailing, confused, contradictory prayers - something mysterious happened. No mountains were moved and it's difficult to even quantify it, but I think it's that I changed. I stopped viewing God as a far off, disinterested being and began to see him as a Father with Personhood, interested and involved in my life. He told me to pray in scripture. It's a command. But he WANTS me to pray.
As the verse above illustrates, He values and treasures my prayers. He breathes them in like incense. My prayers. My confused mutterings. That can only mean that he really, truly, ACTUALLY loves me. Why else would he care? He doesn't need me in order for him to be perfect and complete, but he desires relationship with me.
It also shows his glory. He is worthy of my prayers. He alone should be worshipped. My prayers should be to him alone. When I set my hopes in money to rescue me, when I depend on other humans to answer the longings of my heart, it's like giving them the incense that should be in those golden bowls. That's what idolatry actually looks like.
I love this beautiful picture in Revelations. I love the other passages, too. Ones that tell us we have a Great High Priest who identifies with us in our sufferings. So when I'm crying out, he's not rolling his eyes or pushing me away. Or like in Zephaniah where he says that he will quiet us with his love and rejoice over us with gladness and sing over us. So when I'm praying my heart out because of my failures and fears, he's got that big golden bowl of prayers and his love pours over our hearts.
The more I meditate on these things the more I WANT to pray and the less I feel the need to intellectually figure it all out. It's enough to simply pray and add more incense to the bowl.