When we pray, where do our prayers go? This was the question answered by John Piper in his 2006 sermon titled Prayer and the Victory of God. Here’s what he said:
What an amazing thing prayer is. The final text we’ll consider to illustrate the connection between prayer and the victory of God is Revelation 8:4–5. This passage is amazing. I love this image. Try to get it.
An angel, another angel came and stood at the altar. So now picture God — no, you can’t picture God, but here it is: An altar and God and a throne. 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 — get this — millions of saints. Here is a picture of heaven at the end — at the end, not back then, at the end. So millions and billions and billions of prayers stored in heaven, never forgotten, not one “Hallowed be by name; thy kingdom come” will ever be forgotten.
With all the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne and smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints rose before God from the hand of the angel. Now we usually stop there and we think, “Oh, yeah, I have heard that the prayers of the saints are like incense and they smell really good to God.” And that is true and that is magnificent. You want to make God happy? Pray. You want to create a good smell in the kitchen of heaven? Pray.
This text isn’t going there. It is going to victory. Verse 5: The angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar where these millions of prayers are burning, filled it, and threw it on the earth with peels of thunder and rumblings and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. You wonder, where did all these signs come from at the end? They came from your prayers. “Hallowed be thy name. On the earth, O God, let your kingdom come. O God, let it come. Bring it in, O God. Let your will be done on this planet the way the angels do your will in heaven. Hasten the day of our God.” That is what gets thrown on the earth in fire.
The victory of God is coming and it is coming by the prayers of God’s people.