When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 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 8:1-5
I have heard it said that God always answers prayer, but that He does so in one of three ways: Yes, No, and Wait. As disheartening as the No’s can be, I think the Wait’s may be the hardest to live with and the answer that makes me feel most powerless and distant from God. Wait was the answer given to the martyrs crying out for justice from the altar in Revelation 6, and God followed it with an answer that may be even harder to deal with… silence.
However, it is in the darkness that light shines brightest, and in the silence that authentic faith is most felt… often as an ache. It is in this time of waiting that we count the sacrifices of our love and discover just how invested we are in our relationship with God. The altar was a place for sacrifice, not just obligation, and these martyrs had given their all, poured out their very lives to express their love of Christ, and there they waited for God to make good on His promises to them and the Scripture tells us that they did not wait in vain. An angel of God fills a censer with the fragrance and fire of those prayers on the altar and throws it to the earth where it is received by “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” Even greater though, than just creating a storm that shakes the very ground we stand upon, those prayers herald the seven trumpets which announce the reign of Christ on earth.
A famous Christian and mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, “God instituted prayer to communicate to creatures the dignity of causality.” This is not to say that if we say certain words we can make things happen supernaturally – the power is in God’s hands, not ours. Sometimes though, our prayers get the honorary position of leading the way in the parade of God’s redemption of the world… and sometimes it is our prayers themselves, guided by the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray, that are an answer in and of themselves. Jesus prayed a prayer once, beginning “Our Father…”, and the way the world looked at God changed forever.
What is God doing with your prayers?