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Podcast 1.05 Filling the Golden Bowls

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Episode 1.05 Filling the Golden Bowls

(Musical intro)

Intro: Welcome to the Encounter Jesus podcast, also known as the ‘feel like Jesus is hugging you today’ podcast. I’m Elizabeth Ellynshaw, and today we will be talking about some really crazy and exciting stuff that happens in heaven when we pray. Because when John had a vision of heaven in the book of Revelation, he saw a picture of what your prayers look like in heaven, he got to smell what your prayers smell like to God, and he even saw happens when God tells an angel to take your prayers and set them on fire!

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Prayer: Lord, I pray that You would encourage the person listening to this right now how valuable their prayers are to You, so valuable that You would store them in a bowl of solid gold, how pleasing their prayers are to You, that You want the room where You are to smell like Your children’s prayers, and how powerful their prayers are, that You will use them to send explosions of fire from heaven to earth, so that they will pray with great faith and never give up. In Jesus’ name, amen.

(Musical transition)

Content: At the end of the last episode, I suggested reading Revelation chapters 4 and 5 which describe John’s vision of the throne room of God in heaven. If you read it and tried to picture it, you will have found some pretty stretching fuel for your imagination. I’m still not sure how to picture an emerald like a rainbow or a rainbow like an emerald–is it green, or is it all the colors of the rainbow? I am stretching my imagination to imagine what a voice like a trumpet sounds like, what a sea as smooth as glass and shining like crystal looks like, what it’s like to hear thunder roar out of the throne and see lightning shoot out of the throne.

There are a lot of symbols in these chapters, but there are only two times in the whole scene that John explicitly tells us what a symbol means, so we don’t have to guess. I wish he had done that for a lot more of them, but I guess these are some that he really doesn’t want us to miss. And one of these images that is most important to John for us to understand is that of the golden bowls full of incense. The 24 elders, who surround God’s throne and ceaselessly worship Him, are each holding something in each hand. In one hand they have a golden harp and in the other hand they have a golden bowl full of incense. And then John whispers, to be sure we get it, “the incense is the prayers of God’s people.”

Wow. The incense in heaven includes my prayers! I can contribute something to this heavenly scene. I have the opportunity to add my prayers to those heavenly bowls, and to keep adding more. I see from this image that my prayers are valuable to God, so valuable that He doesn’t lose them, that His servants gather them and carry them and present them to Him in golden bowls. I see that my prayers can smell good to God, can please Him, just like incense is the stuff that smells good. It somehow contributes to the worship going on in heaven that I am praying right now.

That makes praying seem like the most important and powerful thing I could ever do. What else could I do today that would get sent up to heaven and presented to God before His throne in the heavenly worship service going on right now? We are afraid that our prayers are a waste of time, but they are touching eternity.

I think that would be enough, just to know that my prayers are incense that pleases God and somehow adds to the aroma of the atmosphere in God’s presence. But there’s more. Three chapters later, in Revelation 8, John sees the same image again.

“[An] 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” (v.3).

This reminds me of the story of Zechariah in the Christmas story in Luke. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a baby their whole lives, but never received one. Meanwhile, God’s people Israel had been praying for the Messiah to come for centuries, but they hadn’t received the answer either. And then, in his old age Zechariah is chosen to be the priest to go into the temple in Jerusalem and do exactly what John saw this angel in heaven do: burn incense on the altar, which symbolized the prayers of God’s people. All the other people in the temple stood outside praying while Zechariah lifted the curtain and stepped through it into the holy place, where the golden incense altar was. Priests burned incense here every morning and every evening, so when Zechariah entered the holy chamber, the smell in the atmosphere must have been so heavy and strong, like the smell of the cumulative prayers of God’s people for centuries. Zechariah would see the altar of incense straight ahead of him, and right behind it, beyond it, was the second curtain, the one Zechariah could not go through, into the holy of holies, where God’s presence was.

Now John in Revelation 8 sees a golden altar for incense in the throne room in heaven, just like there is in the temple on earth. Just as the earthly incense altar was in front of the curtain into the holy of holies where God was, so the heavenly incense altar is right in front of the throne where God is, but there’s no curtain needed here.

Now when Zechariah burned his incense after a lifetime of prayer, and the smoke of it started rising, something incredible happened. He looked up and through the swirl of smoke he saw a face of someone standing there, and he probably screamed in terror, and the person standing there said, “Do not fear, Zechariah, God has heard your prayers,” and out through the smoke stepped the angel Gabriel and he told Zechariah that both his lifetime of prayers for a child and the prayers of all the people outside joined with the prayers of God’s people for centuries of praying for the Messiah would be answered now: Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a miracle baby, and their son would prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus.

And what happens in heaven after the angel burned the incense? John says,

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar [where he had just burned the incense], and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (NIV).

So both these stories, that of Zechariah burning incense and the angel in heaven burning incense, show that human prayers accumulate in the presence of God over many, many years, and when the time is right, the answer comes. The scene in Revelation shows that our prayers are offered to God as part of the heavenly worship service, and then the fire from that heavenly altar comes back down to earth and changes things. But notice the angel was given “much” incense to offer, like a lot of people praying a lot of prayers over a lot of years, and only after he offered it all was God’s power released like fire from heaven to earth.

Imagining this scene when I pray gives me so much encouragement to pray for really big things that God’s people have been asking for for a really long time and to keep praying for them for my whole life. Who knows how big the bowls in heaven are, and how many people all over the world need to pray for something for how long before the incense is burned and the fire comes down from heaven to earth and brings the transformation? All the time that the bowls are filling, on earth it looks like nothing is changing, but in heaven your prayers and my prayers and every person’s every prayer is making a difference, and when the time is right, God will tell the angel to set those prayers on fire and then throw that fire from heaven to earth and blow up some stuff!

(Musical transition)

Question: Today I invite you to imagine your prayers going up and contributing to the filling of the incense bowls in heaven. What transformations do you want to ask God to pour out on the earth? What prayer requests might you have given up on, that you want to start praying again and keep filling up that bowl in heaven?

(Musical Outro)

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One Comment

  1. Julia Sensenig Julia Sensenig

    I found this 5th podcast to be a compelling reminder and prompt to continue to pray urgently. My prayers are important. I praise the Lord for answered prayers. I commit to bring my unanswered prayers to the throne room and believe that God will answer them.

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