Puny Prayers

What good will mere words do?

Prayer is both stock response—I’ll pray for you, and trite advice—Maybe you should pray about it.     

It’s the very last thing we do after everything else fails, after all our manipulative powers have been exhausted, after all our venting to people, stewing in our anxiety, collecting advice, and formulating strategies.   

Only then do we pray, presumably because we’ve already done all the stuff that actually works.  

Even then, on our knees, it feels awkward. Our words seem to vanish into thin air as soon as we open our mouths.  We don’t have much to say, don’t know how to say it, and the time drags.

Perhaps it’s because we spend so little time otherwise conversing with the Almighty, and when we do, it’s like trying to talk to a rich uncle we hardly know.  About getting help with a down payment.

Add all the niggling doubt, clumsy petition, inept vocabulary, and an undeserving Christian life, and prayer will seem such a puny thing.  

Not in the book of Revelation.

8:3 And 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 on the golden altar before the throne,  4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

Something causes these prayers to rise like a cloud before God’s face, and it has nothing to do with prayer performance.  Well-bred religious folks can keep a prayer flowing as smooth as warm molasses from a jug. The words are right. The rhythm and diction are spot on.  Such prayers, while admired by men, don’t ascend, because prayer, by itself, only expresses the words and desires of people.

In the Revelation scene, incense is the extra ingredient.  But not the literal variety used in monastic ceremonies.  This is the aroma resulting from the death of Christ, like in Ephesians 5:2, where it says, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The fragrance also comes from the victory of Christ in 2 Cor. 2:14:  “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”    

The prayers of Revelation 8 are our words, mixed together with the sweet smell of Jesus.  It comes through praying prayers in His name, not simply by tagging “in your name we pray” onto the end of our prayers, but by abiding in Him, as we were instructed to do in John 15.  

My personal merit has about as much chance of rising before God as a pile of cinderblocks.   But the excellence of Jesus Christ both rises and moves the heart of God.

This is prayer that works.  It is aligned with the purpose of God, kingdom related, administrative in nature, full of loving self-sacrifice, and a concern for the holiness and righteousness of God.  

5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The incense rises and the fire of judgment falls, and so God uses the prayers of the Saints (specifically from 6:9-10), to judge the injustice, and to stop the ongoing evil in this world. Playtime is over. Prayers have prevailed where social efforts and military force has failed.  

Could it be we have a bad habit of doing the least effective things first?


  1. Hi! I truly appreciate your perspective about prayer. One of my pet peeves is when someone says, “I’ll pray for you.” You’re not certain that they’ll follow through with the promise. When I make this statement, I stop to actually do it from a sincere place in my heart. I want my prayer to have the power to reach our LORD.

    Personally, I made a promise to myself and GOD, to pray more. In the morning before I check my phone or computer for updates, I pray. Sometimes, it is easy to find the words and other times it is a challenge. No matter what, I start and end my day with prayer.

    1. Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going! As well as a spirit of prayer overall, I also try to incorporate more intentional times. May the Lord bless your determination.

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