READ : Revelation 6-8:5
Where does power come from? From heaven’s point of view, the moving forces in world history are the prayers of the saints and the fire of God.
It’s such a privilege for me to look with you at this marvelous book of Revelation.
Let’s review a bit where we’ve been. Remember how the vision of the exalted Christ in
chapter 1 led to the writing of the seven letters? In the same way, the throne-room vision
of chapters 4 and 5 sets the stage for the loosing of the seven seals of the scroll by the
slain and risen Lamb. Then in chapter 6 that loosing begins to happen. What we see is the
loosing of each seal releasing a series of tremendous happenings on the earth. These
represent forces operating throughout human history. In these, the redeeming and judging
purposes of God are being carried out, leading up to the final victory of his kingdom.
So now, six of those seals have been loosed, and we read this in chapter 8:
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an
hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to
them. Another angel, with a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given a
great quantity of incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden
altar that is 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 the fire from the altar, and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of
thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (8:1-5)
A Dramatic Pause
Now suddenly there’s a dramatic pause. After the anguished cries we’ve heard, the
paeans of praise, the songs of celebration, all sound dies away. When the Lamb opened the
seventh, the last seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. How long that
must have seemed to John, who waited and watched. He saw the seven angels who stand before
God with their seven trumpets ready, but none were sounded. Only an eerie silence. As the
seventh seal was released, remembering all that had gone before, John was probably
expecting some climactic event, but only silence.
But this silence is far more than a dramatic pause. God wills that for a time all the
choirs of heaven shall rest, all the shouts of the redeemed and the songs of celebration
be stilled, so that something else, from far away, can be listened to at the throne. This
is how much God values the prayers of the saints. For what happens in this interlude is
all about prayer.
Prayer and Fire
Another angel comes with a golden censer and stands at the golden altar before the
throne. He is given a great quantity of incense which he is to offer up with the prayers
of the saints. (Remember how the 24 elders and the four living creatures, when they fell
down before the Lamb, held not only harps but also these golden bowls full of the prayers
of the saints.)
Think now of what happens to your heartfelt prayers, and those of all believers. None
is ever wasted. None is ignored or cast aside. All are treasured up in heaven’s golden
bowls, as exceedingly precious to God. Your prayers, however feeble and inadequate they
may seem to you, have a continuing life before God’s throne. They are like water building
up behind a dam. And in the silence of heaven, we may well believe that God bends down, as it were, to
listen to them all. We’ve learned of that. Jesus took great pains to impress this on his
disciples, “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be
opened unto you.” And he goes over the same ground again, “for everyone who asks receives,
and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” God always
hears, and responds to, the prayers of his people. In his time, in his way, but he always
But there’s more here. The angel offers the prayers with the incense on the altar where
the flame is burning. You can imagine the fragrance that rises before God’s throne. And
now something extraordinary happens. The angel takes the censer, and fills it with fire
from the altar and hurls the contents on the earth. At that moment, on the earth below,
there are peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Do you know what that says to me? It says that the moving forces of history, the
earthshaking events on the world-scene, are triggered by two vast forces: the prayers of
the saints and the fire of God.
That’s not the way most unbelieving people see it. To them, the transforming elements
in human history are seen in charismatic leaders, mighty armies, prodigious wealth,
breath-taking technology, in multi-national corporations. But prayer? The power of God?
They are not even in the equation for many. Now this is not to deny that the factors I’ve just spoken of are significant and
influential. They surely are! But there are far higher dynamics that exceed them in power
and creativity. God’s almighty strength released in answer to the prayers of his
Here we’re talking about kingdom prayers, prayers that Jesus taught us in the Lord’s
Prayer. When you’re appealing to God that his name will be everywhere honored, that his
kingdom will come as people surrender to his reign, and that his will may more and more be
done here on earth as it is in heaven — those are world-changing prayers. So are the
cries that everyone will have bread, that all of us will know forgiveness through Christ
and the power to forgive, that we will be delivered from every evil power. Those heartfelt
cries shake and change things.
I live in a place called Freedom Village with a number of senior citizens. Many of us
there, because of our advancing age and limited potential, can’t be nearly as active in
the wider world as we used to be. But there’s a higher world. I was telling them about
this in a Bible study I had recently. There’s a higher world in which we can be very
possibly more active than we ever were. We can give ourselves to kingdom prayer. We can
pray big prayers for justice, for reconciliation between nations, for the worldwide spread
of the gospel, for the renewing of the church, for the return in glory of our Lord Jesus
“But,” someone asks, “Won’t all these great things happen whether we pray or not?” Be
careful how you answer that one. Remember that God, in the work of his kingdom, has
committed himself to human agency, to the participation of people like us, to our labors
and our prayers. When William Carey, in England, was burning with zeal to take the gospel to unreached
people, one clergyman talked down to him, “Young man,” he said, “if God desires to convert
the heathen, he will do it without any help from you!” God could, surely. But if that
attitude had prevailed, there would never have been a Christian world missionary movement.
Jesus said, “Go, preach the gospel.” Go! Make disciples of all nations. I’ll be with you.
You will be my witnesses all the days. I’ll empower you by my Spirit, but the task is
yours. You are my witnesses.
I’m deeply persuaded, friends, that the same thing is true with regard to prayer. Jesus
calls us to pray. He talks far more about our doing that than about our preaching. Read
the Gospels. See how Jesus never explained how to prepare a sermon, never talked about
ways in which they were to communicate the gospel. But again and again he teaches them
about prayer, about the things we are to pray about, his name, kingdom, and will, daily
bread, forgiveness, deliverance from evil, about the importance of persistence, about
God’s promise that he gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. He talks about that a
great deal as though the chief work that we do even as we seek to share the gospel in the
world is to pray for his power to attend our ministry. So let’s renounce our unbelief, our
apathy, our prayerlessness. Let’s pour our lives into fervent prayer for God’s coming
kingdom, individually and with others.
When I talk about prayer with friends, I talk about the importance of having your own
personal devotional life where you listen to the Word and where you call on the Lord in
your prayers, for the deepening and enriching of personal communion with him, where you
intercede for God’s kingdom and for people that are on your heart. That’s vital.
But I hope that all of you who are believers and who believe in the power of prayer
will also seek out others with whom you can call on God together. Corporate prayer, the
two or three agreeing on earth about what they shall ask, has great power with God. Let’s
never forget the witness of this amazing scene in Revelation chapter 8 that mighty,
world-changing events are quickened on earth again and again by the prayers of the saints
and the fire of God. So hold onto that promise no matter who you are, no matter what your
situation, no matter how weak and “out of things” you may feel yourself to be. Your
heart-cries to God for the coming of his kingdom, for the welfare of his church, for the
spreading of the gospel, for the doing of his will in the world are always mighty. They
always release God’s world-changing power. It’s not the things that appear to the world as
powerful and effectual that make the greatest difference. No. It’s the prayers of the
saints and the fire of God’s Spirit. Never forget that. Give yourself to God as long as
you have breath in world-changing prayer. Amen.