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.
At the center of John's description of heaven, these twenty-four elders are praying, holding a harp and what? Our prayers before God!
1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: "'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'"
5 Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
7 "Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.'
8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?
If we are to have great prayers, we must understand the Character of God. He is a Father who loves us deeply! He wants us to come to him, he comes running to us, he turns his ear to hear us and he listens! Jesus was asked to teach them to pray and he taught them about the character of God. Why? So they would pray. Jesus said, "when you pray" -- expecting them to pray.
Prayer is not just a matter of who you are when you pray. We can all put on the spirituality for a prayer time. The real question is who we are when we are not praying. It is not a matter of believing for one moment, but believing throughout our day! Jesus taught them to pray specifically, as in Luke 11 when the man asked for "Three loaves of bread." If we are sitting around praying, "God, be with him," what is God supposed to do -- he is already there, by the man's side, but we are not really asking him to do anything!
Jesus specifically prayed, "Forgive us our sins." Jesus knew that working through conflict with other people is what forms the basis of relationships. We need to expect that conflict in our relationships and learn to forgive so that we really learn to be brothers/sisters. Too often we are asked to pray for someone, so we do. "Father help this man get better." We don't believe that God cares. We don't care about this person because we don't even know him. Are we honest about this? Do we wrestle through with our heart, admitting to God, "I don't really care." Then we can wrestle with our heart and let God change it. If we don't admit to God what is really in our hearts when we are praying, how can we change?
Jesus has two characters in his illustration. The man and his "friend." Obviously, we are the man and God is described in this illustration as his "friend." There was a relationship expected when he asked for the bread. If we really love God and learn to love our neighbors we will pray for them. We will see the needs our friends have and we will turn to our friend who can meet them and talk about them! Who we pray for shows who we really love. Are we praying for everyone in our ministry? If we only go to God in times of trouble, we will be tempted to say, "God is not real." The truth is that our love for God was not real.
What else did Jesus teach in this parable? "because of the man's boldness he will get and give him what he needs." God is looking for boldness. Are we ready to be bold with God and actually get him to listen.
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. 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 the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Silence in heaven for 1/2 hour!!!
All of heaven focused together, incredible worship and what else? Our prayers! Are we filling up heaven with our prayers?