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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Incentivising Prayer in 2024


"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

As we are on the threshold of a new year, I want to give you (and me) a fresh incentive to pray in 2024.


Why is that important? It’s important because, the spiritual disciplines - bible reading and prayer in particular - are what we find hardest to maintain in our Christian lives. And yet they are most crucial to our spiritual health.

They are like what food and drink are to our physical wellbeing. In all of our excess this week that may not be a good analogy. But strip all the excess away and thing of a person in Gaza – food and water are two of the most essential commodities for life.

Prayer and bible reading are where communion between God and the Christian happen.

Bible reading is where God communicates with us - normally. And prayer is where we communicate with God.


When Jesus saved us, he saved us into a relationship with God. And healthy relationships depend on communication. So, if we are to enjoy the relationship Jesus has established for us, then bible reading, and prayer are going to be absolutely essential.

You can’t do relationship with God without these essentials. You can do formal Christianity, but you can’t do relational Christianity.


And when God speaks to us through his word the bible, he’s communicating to us not only things that are directly good for us, but also things that he intends to accomplish, which will result in our eternal good long term.

And so, one of the ways we need to pray is for his plans to come to fruition. Knowing that, those plans will bring about God’s glory and that our eternal joy is built-in to his glory.


Jesus teaches us to pray like this. He teaches us to pray for his future purposes as well as our daily needs. Daily needs include provision of food, forgiveness of sins, deliverance from temptation.


But Jesus’ model prayer kicks off with the glory of God’s name: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed [glorified] be your name’. And then follows directly with a request for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done.


Jesus wants us to pray for God’s plans and purposes to come to pass as part of what it looks like to be in relationship with God. If you love him, you will surely want his glory to be seen and realised in his perfect plans.


And these verses in Revelation 8, I think, give us an incredible incentive to pray in this way. They are going to show us how our prayers dovetail with a moment in history when the tide will decisively turn, and God’s kingdom will take a gigantic leap forward towards realisation.

So, turning to the passage. Notice first of all, the scene is a heavenly one which you can see in verse 1 – ‘there was silence in heaven’.

And, then in verse 2, in this heavenly scene, we see God and seven angels before him, each with a trumpet.

And then, in verse 3, we see another angel with a golden incense burner. And on the altar the angel offers the incense along with the prayers of all God’s people.

The smoke, verse 4 says, from the censer, goes up before God.


And notice that the scene unfolds at a threshold in time.


We’re on a threshold in time, with a year behind us and a year in front of us. And these prayers form a threshold between two sequences of events.


Behind the prayers are the seals. Verse 1 says ‘he opened the 7th seal’.

Ahead of the prayers are these trumpets, given to the 7 angels (verse 2). Verse 6 says ‘the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them’. So, the effects of the trumpets are flowing out of this scene in heaven.

And in between the seals and the trumpets ‘half an hour of silence’ it says in verse 1. Half an hour in which, the prayers of all God’s people are offered with incense before God in heaven.

I think that new year thresholds are significant in our minds. What will the year ahead bring? How will the year just gone shape us?

And that kind of significance applies here too – only magnitudes greater. These prayers of God’s people are connected to the past, and influence, dramatically, the future.


The past

In the past are the seals. God has a scroll in chapter 5, sealed with seven seals. When all the seals are broken, then the contents of the scroll can come to pass.

And Jesus is the one to open the seals because, Revelation 5 says, ‘he was slain and with his blood, he bought people for God’.


For what it’s worth, I believe we see those seals being opened now. The wars and rumours of wars, the famines, the economic challenges, the plagues. All of them seem to be realities that we see playing out in history right now.


I think Jesus warned his disciples about these seals in Matthew 24 when he said, ‘do not be alarmed by these kinds of events, because they are not the end, they are only birth pains’.


In other words, they are like a mother going into labour with mild contractions. They mean the end is on its way, but it hasn’t arrived, yet.

And then there’s the cries of the souls under the altar too (seal number 5). Those who have been slain for their testimony about Jesus.

They are longing for the moment when the end will come. Their cry goes up before the throne of God as they wait for their blood to be avenged and for Jesus - and their testimony about him - to be vindicated. People like my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law who have departed and gone to be with the Lord. They are longing for the consummation of everything they believed in.


But all the while, the scroll remains closed. Until, at last the 7th and final seal is broken by Jesus - the Root of David, as chapter 5, verse 5 calls him - linking us back to Psalm 132 where we were a few weeks ago thinking about the arrival of Jesus in the line of David. When he opens the 7th seal, the contents of the scroll can be revealed.


That’s where we are in verse 1 of chapter 8. It’s like the whole of heaven falls silent with bated breath waiting to see what will come out of the scroll.

And the prayers of all God’s people coincide with this very moment.

Notice seven angels who are given 7 trumpets. These trumpets are the first sequence of events contained in the scroll.

So, if we want to know what’s in the scroll, at least some of its contents are seen in the trumpet judgements about to unfold in the account.



The trumpets

So, we’ve looked backwards, now we get to look forward. We’re looking into the future. The angels begin to sound their trumpets with terrifying results. Terrible judgements on the land, the sea, the rivers and the cosmos. And a new phase of demonic power that brings agony to the people of the earth.


All the judgments are partial and limited in their scope, showing that God still hasn’t brought the final judgments into play yet. But we are seeing a significant intensification of anguish, pain and death as judgments upon the earth. God is still being gracious though – these are warningjudgments.


Jesus, in Matthew 24, also told his disciples that this period was going to come – he called it ‘a period of great distress’ on the earth.

At the conclusion of the trumpets, the results are staggering though. Loud voices in heaven are heard saying this remarkable thing, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’.


The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small – and for destroying those who destroy the earth’.


Which means that the bowls of wrath are about to unfold - the final judgments that Jesus referred to in the third part of his answer to the disciples in Matthew 24 are coming.

So backward from the silent threshold in chapter 8 are the seals we see unfolding now in the world. Forward from it are the events that signal the arrival of what the saints under the altar are longing for – namely, the arrival of the Messiah, his reign, and the vindication of their commitment to Jesus.


So, chapter 8 really is a hugely significant turning point – it’s a hinge - in God’s redemptive-historical plan. Once that moment arrives the beginning of the end of the age is finally on the scene.


The prayers of God’s People

The prayers of God’s people are absolutely instrumental then!

We’ve got to see this!

In God’s plan our prayers move the whole world into the final phase of the history of the earth. And they are instrumental in moving the whole world seismically towards the moment of Jesus’ kingly arrival and reign.


Nothing is more influential than the prayers of God’s people in the onset of the end of the age. The angels sound the trumpets – true - but only after, and only because, the prayers of God’s people have been offered.

Notice with me, 7 short but amazing things about the prayers of God’s people at this crucial moment in the history of the world.

Number 1, the prayers are so important that all of heaven falls silent.

In chapter 7, there’s noise everywhere. There are angels calling out to other angels in loud voices. There are numbers being read aloud. There’s a great multitude which no one can count crying out in loud voices. There are angels, and elders, and living creatures worshipping, audibly. And there’s an elder quoting Isaiah. That’s a lot of noise. It’s all good noise, but it’s noise, nonetheless.


But cue the prayers of all God’s people, and there’s silence in heaven. Spell-binding influence is being heard in the courts of heaven and everyone needs to be silent for it.

Number 2, the prayers are from ALL God’s people (verse 3). There’s not a person who belongs to God who doesn’t contribute a prayer that influences the unravelling of the history of the world. They ALL do.


In every age, at every time, great or small, significant or insignificant, preacher or member, rich or pauper, manual labourer or pen-pusher, every single one of God’s people influences the future with their prayers.

Number 3, verse 3 doesn’t say ‘some of their prayers’, it says ‘the prayers of all God’s people’. I think that means that ALL the prayers of ALL God’s people function in this way.


I think that’s the case, because if you think about prayer: all our requesting-type prayers are an acknowledgement that we are weak and that he is strong.

That means that they wind up in magnifying the strength of God. And there is perhaps no greater expression of the strength of God than for God and his Messiah to begin their reign.

The beginning of their reign looks like the raising of the dead, and the defeat of enemies, and the rewarding of the faithful. In other words, it looks strong.


And if the prayers we pray are prayers of thanksgiving, then they are prayers that acknowledge and appreciate the strength of our God, and the greatest magnification of that strength is the reigning of God and his Messiah.


And if some of the prayers we pray are simply to extol and tell God how great he is, and to tell Jesus how wonderful he is, and to tell the holy spirit how powerful he is, then the greatest expression of those attributes will be seen when God and his Messiah begin to reign.

So, all the prayers of God’s people are working to one great and magnificent end – namely the reign of Christ Jesus.

Number 4, not one of your prayers is lost on God. It’s as if they have all been heaping up on his altar from the birth of Jesus until that day when the tide of God’s patience will shift like the volcano in Iceland that finally burst out of the ground this month.


The prayers of God’s people are accumulating and one day they are going to reach critical mass and there will be silence in heaven at that moment.

Number 5, all your prayers smell sweet to God. You reflect on your prayers and think that was badly worded. Or that lacked eloquence. You think ‘God wouldn’t hear my prayers because they’re so inadequate’.


But verse 3 says the angel was given much incense to offer with the prayers. And verse 4 says the smoke – the smell - of the incense together with the prayers went up before God.

And they do not smell bad. He smells the aroma, and it is sweet to him. Everything he initiates because of these prayers serves to magnify his glory. So how could they smell bad to him? Your prayers are not a stench to him, they are a sweet aroma to him.

I don’t know what the incense represents. Back in chapter 5, verse 8, the incense in the golden bowls is the prayers of the saints. But here, the prayers seem to be mixed with incense.

Matthew Henry suggests this angel could be Jesus himself, and the incense: his perfecting merit that takes our imperfect prayers and makes them perfect before God.

There could be something in that. We know Jesus ever lives to intercede for us. Whatever the incense is, the prayers are sweet to God!

Number 6, the prayers are unmistakably connected with the judgment of God. We know it because the same censer used to offer the prayers in verse 3 is then used in verse 5 by the same angel – who could be Jesus – to fire the earth.


Verse 5 says that he filled the censer with fire from the altar and hurled it on the earth. And there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. They all signify imminent judgment.


And no sooner has Jesus hurled the fire down upon the earth than the angels begin to sound their trumpets and bring forth the judgments contained in the scroll that was sealed.

And lastly number 7, let’s not forget that all this is unfolding as the result of Jesus opening the 7th seal. That means that God has decided to unitethe prayers of Jesus’ people with the work of Jesus. Jesus prompted by our prayers will inaugurate the events that will culminate in the rule and reign of Jesus.


And according to chapter 5, verse 10 Jesus is worthy to open the seals because he was slain and by his death made for God a kingdom of priests who will reign also.


In other words, our priestly prayers are joined with Jesus’ kinglyactions – Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Root of David – to commence the events that will seat Jesus as King of kings and Lord of Lords, forever.

Inspired to pray

And if that is not prayer-inspiring, I don’t think we know glory when we see it!


Our prayers will produce silence in heaven; every one of us contributes; all our prayers are effective; none of our prayers are lost; all our prayers are made sweet to God; all our prayers in the now are linked to the judgment of the world in the future; and all our prayers work in conjunction with Jesus to seat Jesus in his rightful, kingly place.

That sounds to me like 7 massive incentives to pray, going into 2024.


We are standing on the threshold of a new year, with 2023 behind us and 2024 in front of us. And I wonder how much praying we will do in it.

I suspect that common misconceptions about prayer will serve to make our prayers few again this year.

God doesn’t want that. He wants our prayers to many and varied this year, because his purposes are wrapped up with them.


Misconceptions like, prayer doesn’t really achieve anything; or prayer doesn’t seem to be effective; or prayer doesn’t look great; or my prayers are just weak and useless; or my prayers just seem to get lost in the prayer cloud of heaven. All those misconceptions are bad ways to think about prayer.


They are misconceptions that fail to recognise the perplexing impact all prayer is having on the unfolding of history and the realising of God’s kingdom.

They fail to recognise how interwoven our prayers are with the work of Jesus and the intercession of Jesus. They fail to appreciate how pleasedGod is with the reliance and joy his people express in him, and abouthim, when they fall on their faces in heartfelt prayer to him.

Revelation 8 opens our eyes to see the significance of our prayers. They are not small. They are not forgotten. They are not purposeless!


I for one want to be able to think of a day coming when all my prayers will be taken by Jesus and placed in his golden incense-burner along with all his sweet-smelling merit and wafted in front of the throne of God as an offering that is pleasing to him.


And I want to be able to think of my prayers moving God, amidst the silence of heaven, to insert trumpets of judgment in the hands of his seven angels.

And I want to be able to think of my prayers moving Jesus to fill his censer with fire and to hurl it upon the earth and initiate the unfolding of God’s purposes as recorded in his great end times scroll.


And I want to be able to think of my prayers as kick-starting the events that will culminate shortly thereafter, in the seating of King Jesus upon the throne of the earth where he will reign forever, and where I will enjoy him forever, face to face with a resurrected and glorified body.


I think if I can anticipate all of that as I get down to pray this year, I will pray more often and I will enjoy prayer more fervently than I did last year.


And I think you will too.

This message is an appeal to us all to take prayer seriously in 2024. And to be motivated to pray by the expectation of the consummation of God’s kingdom.


His kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.


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