There Are No Expiration Dates on Prayers
This Thanksgiving season is a rough one considering the conflicts dominating the world. Communism and Radical Islamic Terrorism are striking the West around the clock. I am thankful for military forces who are holding the line in East Europe and the Middle East. As I prayed for our warriors’ strength and safety, I was reminded of a Bible verse in Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is an enigma among the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. It is couched in symbolism and prophecy that many people avoid due to the complexities involved. Of course, any message taken from Revelation must be measured with the rest of the Bible to see if it is consistent with the Bible’s overall theme. There is a verse in Revelation that I examined and found my examination to be consistent with the rest of God’s Word and current scholarship.
Revelation 5:8 (NIV) “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 God’s people.”
The prayers of God’s people are clearly special to God and represent the bond between us and our Creator. The incense recalls the practices of the Temple priests inside while God’s people prayed outside. The prayers of God’s people are stored in golden bowls for all time. The prayers are continually before God. These are the prayers I am thankful for this year.
Most of you, like me, had parents and grandparents who prayed for you. My parents and grandparents have all gone on to the Lord, but their prayers for me survive in the golden bowls. To be clear, I am not speaking of Saints praying in Heaven as in Catholic tradition. I am pointing out the prayers of God’s people uttered while they were living on earth. In a real sense, they are still praying for me through their past prayers which God stores in Heaven. There are no expiration dates on the prayers of God’s people. I find that most gratifying.
How many of us pray for our country? Most of us do. The prayers go into God’s golden bowls. Some of them, like King David’s prayers for Israel, live in the written Bible as well as the bowls in Heaven. Israel is being buttressed by David’s prayers as well as all the other prayers of God’s people through the centuries and today. Then I considered our American forbears who came through hazardous times using prayer as their primary resource for survival.
A couple of men and prayers come to mind. The first one is known as “Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge.” General Washington was at the end of the line. Rock bottom. He got down on his knees in the snowy Pennsylvania fields and asked God to save our country. It’s easy for us to look back on history knowing we survived as a nation and take our country for granted. Washington and his freezing men had no foreknowledge or hindsight. They had faith and prayers. I know that Washington’s prayers on behalf of our country are in those golden bowls. God doesn’t have to remember; the prayers of His people are before Him forevermore.
The second man I recall from American History is a man you probably never heard of. He was a Lutheran pastor in Washington D.C. He also served as a chaplain to the United States Congress during the Civil War. Our country walked on the razor’s edge of self-destruction for four painful years. Good Friday came in 1865 to a grateful nation looking to the future with trepidation. Half the country was in ashes. This Easter season held promise like none other of recent memory. Robert E. Lee’s surrender on Palm Sunday began Holy Week with joy across the North and relief for the South. Then, an assassin’s pistol rang out in Ford’s Theater on Good Friday. The following Sunday was known as “Black Easter” due to the nation’s shock and grief.
Rev. Dr. John G. Butler was one of an army of pastors who preached and prayed for America that Easter Sunday. He knew Lincoln and the toll the war took on the man. He likened Lincoln to Moses who had led his people through the Wilderness only to be struck down in sight of the Promised Land. He called Washington the Father of Our Country and Lincoln its savior, although he clearly delineated the differences between an earthly republic and the Kingdom of God. He gave his sermon the title, “Our Grief and Our Duty.” He told of Lincoln’s own prayers for the country during the four years of war and he fervently prayed for our country and its reconciliation. He and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of God’s ministers charged their congregations to pray for our country on “Black Easter.” Over 600,000 Americans were dead. There was no American family untouched by the war. The prayers of our fellow Americans penetrated the walls of Heaven with an intensity unmatched before or since. Those prayers are in the golden bowls.
On our country’s first Memorial Day in 1868, Rev. Dr. Butler opened the ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery with prayer. It was fervent and effectual as the nation came together to mourn all those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom. He led the “Grand Army of the Republic”, the veterans of the United States Army, in a prayer that commemorated their sacrifices and called for their fellow Americans to serve in rebuilding the shambles of the South. Those prayers are in the golden bowls.
If you notice in Revelation 5:8 all the verb tenses are mixed up. Observe: “had taken” is past perfect tense, “fell down” is past tense, “were holding” is past continuous tense. However, the one describing the prayers in the bowls is present tense. Always present tense from the time it was written by John the Revelator until the eternal future. Our prayers are always in the presence of God. It is our turn to pray for America. She needs her prayer warriors. It is time for our prayers to enter the golden bowls and join the heavenly entreaties of Washington, Lincoln, and our ancestors.
What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for all the prayers offered on my behalf and on behalf of our country that have no expiration date. It’s just one more way God is so good to me.