And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar 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 fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. Revelation 8:3-5
The utterly astonishing thing about this text is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments. It pictures the prayers of the saints accumulating on the altar before the throne of God until the appointed time when they are taken up like fire from the altar and thrown upon the earth to bring about the consummation of God’s kingdom.
In other words, what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.
And the flame has been growing brighter and brighter and more and more pleasing in the presence of God. And the time will come when God will command his holy angel to take his mighty censer and fill it with fire from the altar where the prayers burn before the Lord, and pour it out on the world to bring all God’s great and holy purposes to completion. Which means that the consummation of history will be owing to the supplication of the saints who cry to God day and night. Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain…..
…..There are at least two practical implications of this for us. One is what Jesus said in Luke 18:1, “We ought to always pray and not to lose heart.” This truth—that prayers are stored up on the altar of God and made the power for great divine interventions in history—should encourage us that it is not pointless to pray again and again, “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
And I can’t help but conclude from this that the principle applies to answers to prayer in the shorter run—that is, as we pray for any given thing, our prayers are stored up on the altar of God with the prayers of others for that thing until they reach God’s appointed proportion and then God pours them out in blessing in the best way for all concerned. So that no believing prayer is in vain. Ever.