Pastor John, at the recent conference for pastors, you gave a mini-theology of prayer. I was wondering if you could share here what you said?
Well, at the conference, I spoke to try to encourage a pastor who had written a question concerning losing hope, losing confidence in prayer, probably because he had seen God do less than he had hoped. What I said was that Jesus calls us to pray first and foremost for his name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come, his will to be done, and then as a support and a means to those things, that we would have our daily bread and that we would be protected from the devil and that we would be led in paths of righteousness and so on.
And so clearly the heart of our prayer life is to be, “Father, cause your name in this world to be revered and loved and praised and honored, and start right here in my heart this morning. And then advance your kingdom, O God, and cause your will to be done the way the angels do it in heaven. In other words, wrap up and bring your kingdom in and do everything you need to get us to that goal.”
The Pleasing Aroma of Prayer
And I said that in the book of Revelation, prayer is being gathered into bowls (Revelation 5:8; 8:3–5), and those bowls have two functions. First, they are censers, and our prayers are like incense in the presence of God, and that incense is really pleasing to him. God loves the aroma of the prayers of his people, which means that if you are on your face crying out for a lost loved one or for some difficulty in your church, that very act is pleasing to God. It is not wasted.
Piper: “We need to preach to ourselves that our prayers are part of the causality of God’s final victory.”
And God could answer that prayer now or ten years from now or respond to in a totally unexpected way. But quite apart from how he eventually answers it, the prayer itself is precious to God. That is the first meaning of the bowls and that incense.
A Cause of the Coming Kingdom
The second meaning is in chapter eight. There is going to come a day when those bowls are full. In other words, the billions upon billions of prayers that have been prayed — “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come” — the last one is going to be prayed, and God is going to look at that angel and say, “Pour it out on the earth.” And he is going to take the bowl of prayers, like fire, and throw it on the earth, and the final purposes of God are going to be achieved.
And I think we need to preach to ourselves that our prayers are part of the causality of the final victory of God. He wouldn’t have asked us to pray that his kingdom come if he didn’t mean for our prayers to be an instrument in the coming of the kingdom.
So it is simply astonishing that when you think of the billions of times the Lord’s prayer has been uttered, all of those times when it has been uttered in faith God has put it in the bowl there and filling up and filling up, and the day is going to come when that bowl will be poured out as the consummation of the age. So none of those prayers is wasted.