“And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
Richard Bauckham, writing at the conclusion of his essay, “Prayer in the Book of Revelation” in Into God’s Presence, edited by Richard Longenecker (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2001, page 270) focuses our attention on the key purpose of the Biblical call to prayer when he writes the following.
“The prayer for the parousia in 22:20b, therefore, encompasses and completes all other prayers. It is, as it were, the most that can be prayed. It asks for everything – for all that God purposes for and promises to His whole creation in the end. In the understanding that this everything is to be expected of Jesus, who declares Himself “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13), it takes the form of the simple entreaty to the Lord Jesus to come.”
This conclusion comes at the end of an essay in which Bauckham traces the way in which all of the visions of judgement and deliverance found in the book come about as a response to the prayers of the saints. There is a principle outlined here. This is that the great advances in the Kingdom of God and even those small, seemingly insignificant, advances are the consequence of intercessory praying. The Old Testament Prophet Zechariah put it this way. “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10) God’s actions are always preceded by the prayerful intercession of His people. It is not that God is dependent on our praying. The truth is that He is not dependent upon us in any way. He is completely sovereign in every way. What God wants to reveal to us is in fact that we are completely dependent upon Him. He will not share His glory with another, even when that other is one of His saints. Zechariah tells us that even our praying is the result of God pouring out upon us a spirit of grace and supplication. From our perspective it looks as if the call to prayer comes from us. The reality however is that it always comes from the workings of the Holy Spirit among us.
Jonathan Edwards in his Thoughts on Revival in New England, in 1740 expressed this reality with these words. “It is God’s will through His wonderful grace, that the prayers of His saints should be one of the great principle means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world. When God has something very great to accomplish for His church, it is His will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of His people; as is manifest by Ezekiel 36:37, and it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for His church, He will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication (see Zechariah 12:10).” What a precious truth. The Lord patiently awaits our coming to the end of our own schemes so that we will begin to cry out to Him for another outpouring of His grace. Nothing is more important at this time than that we will heed His call to draw near to Him in Intercessory prayer.
In the first half of the eighteenth century Jonathan Edwards issued his humble call for extraordinary prayer for revival. The result was the great awakening in which nations were turned around by God’s grace. The times in which Edwards lived were tremendously difficult, and their only hope was in the intervention of God. So they prayed. We too live in very difficult times. Will we heed God’s invitation to prayer so that our times will be turned around, not by our schemes, but by God’s gracious intervention?