The Greater Work
“Some say that prayer, and ‘the spiritual life’, or ‘the inner life’, or the soul's private love affair with God, is an unaffordable luxury today, or an irresponsible withdrawal from the pressing public problems of our poor, hurting world. I say just the opposite: that nothing, nothing is more relevant and responsible; that nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer.
Nothing but saints can save our world because the deepest root of all the world's diseases is sin, and saints are the antibodies that fight sin.
Nothing but prayer can make saints because nothing but God can make saints, and we meet God in prayer. Prayer is the hospital for souls where we meet Doctor God.”
Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius Press, 2000), page 14
“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” [Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 17]
I was struggling, during the first week of July 2018, with a decision that needed to be made
I didn’t feel like I knew the direction God wanted this decision to go
As the end of the week got closer and I still didn’t have an answer, I prayed a “fleece” prayer, asking the Lord to reveal His will based on what happened with regards to the fleece I had laid before Him
He answered two prayers that week and gave me the direction I needed
Not all of my prayers are answered so quickly
In fact, there have been times where I feel like God has not answered my prayer at all
It’s during those times that I realize I was praying with preexisting expectations of how God should answer my prayer
The reality is that God had answered my prayer, but it wasn’t the answer I was looking for or expecting
God answers our prayers three ways: 1) Yes; 2) No; or 3) Wait
Have you experienced answered prayer in your own life?
Perhaps the answer came quickly and it was what you were asking for and expecting
Those answered prayers always encourage us and drive us to continue to pray
Seemingly unanswered prayers
Maybe you are currently waiting for an answer to prayer
God may have already answered you by saying, “wait”
That is never easy in a culture that promotes instant gratification
Perhaps you’ve prayer, “God give me patience and give it to me now.”
We have to learn to wait on God’s perfect timing
He could have also answered, “no”
This is equally hard for us, because we don’t like to hear the word “no”
Many times we have prayed for something with an expectation of how God is supposed to answer
We haven’t left any room for Him to say “no” or “wait”
When this happens, we blame God and say that He hasn’t answered our prayer
We can grow spiritually through this if we recognize the sovereignty of God at work in our lives, protecting us from something that could hurt us
His answer of “no” or “wait” allowed us more time to reflect on the situation or circumstances and realize that had He answered “yes,” we may be in a situation that is much worse
After Jesus opened the fifth seal, we heard the cries of many souls from under the altar, in heaven, asking God when He was going to bring His justice on the inhabitants of the earth. They were told to wait a little while longer until the full number of martyrs had been reached. God had heard their prayers, but He was waiting for the perfect timing to accomplish His justice. We’ll see today, that the perfect timing had arrived. John wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – God answers our prayers in His perfect timing.
GOD (Revelation 8:1-6)
Silence (v. 1)
Are you familiar with the saying, “the calm before the storm?”
A similar saying is, “It is often quietest before the storm.”
Hurricanes can be deceptive in the middle, because everything becomes calm in the eye of the storm – you think the hurricane has finally passed over you, but within a short period of time, the back side of the hurricane hits and the winds and rain are just as powerful as before
The silence that follows the opening of the seventh seal is perhaps representative of the calm before the storm
Something significant is about to happen and all of heaven and earth are silent in anticipation
“Instead of angelic action as in all the rest of the seals, trumpets, and bowls, there is a dramatic silence that lasts about a half hour.” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 336]
Easley makes an intriguing comment concerning the opening of the seventh seal
We know from previous messages that the scroll would not be fully opened until all seven seals were broken
Now that the seventh seal is broken, the contents of the scroll can be revealed, as it unrolls
Easley says that another way to think about the trumpets and bowls is that what is written on the scroll are the judgments that are described through the seven trumpets and seven bowls [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 142]
Those in heaven are silent as they hold their breath in anticipation of God’s final actions at the end of the world, while those on earth are holding their breath as they await to hear their final judgment [Osborne, 337]
The Jewish hearers of this section of Scripture would have associated everything with the priestly sacrifices in the Tabernacle at Jerusalem
The priests were supposed to offer the incense and sacrifices in silence as an act of reverence to the Lord [Osborne, 337; Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 253]
Biblical support from the Old Testament
Habakkuk 2:20, But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
Zephaniah 1:7a, Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near.
Zechariah 2:13, Be still [silent] before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
Length of the silence
About a half hour is representative of short period of time based on eternity
A half hour can seem to be a long time, especially when surrounded by silence
“Everybody seems to be looking for a little peace and quiet these days. But even such a reasonable idea can go too far. The quietest place on earth, an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to bear it is 45 minutes.
Inside the room is so silent that the background noise measured is actually negative decibels, -9.4 dBA. Steven Orfield, the lab’s founder, said, ‘We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark – one person stayed in there for 45 minutes. When it’s quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.’
But the room isn’t just for torturing people. Companies test their products in it to find out just how loud they are. And NASA has sent astronauts to help them adapt to the silence of space. For you and me, however, the room is a deeply disorienting place. Not only do people hear their heartbeat, they have trouble orienting themselves and even standing. Orfield said, ‘How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk. In the anechoic chamber, you don’t have any cues. You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and maneuver. If you’re in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair.’
So the next time you wish for some quiet time, remember that it could also drive you crazy.”
Rose Eveleth, “World’s Quietest Place Will Drive You Crazy in 45 Minutes,” The Smithsonian (12-17-13)
The length of the silence is not really explained here, which is fine, because that’s not the primary theme or focus of this passage of Scripture
What is happening during the half hour of silence is of more importance
What we see in verses 2-5 probably took place during the half hour of silence
Preparations (vv. 2-6)
Seven angels with seven trumpets (vv. 2, 6)
The seven angels are not identified here in Revelation, but the use of the definite article, “the,” in the Greek means that it’s talking about a specific group of seven angels [Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 172]
Jewish and Christian tradition identify seven archangels through extra biblical writings
“Raphael identifies himself to Tobit as ‘one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One’ (Tob. 12:15).” [Mounce, 172]
These seven archangels are named in 1 Enoch 20:2-8 as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqa’el, Gabriel, and Remiel
This could certainly be the names of the seven angels here in Revelation, but they are not specifically named in this book
Each one of the angels are given a trumpet
There are two kinds of trumpets that are spoken of in Scripture
The one found most often in the Old Testament is the ram’s horn (Hebrew shophar), but Moses was also instructed to make two silver trumpets as seen in Numbers 10
The other trumpet mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments was a long metal tube with a mouthpiece and flared end
It was used during warfare to help move troops, but it was also used in worship at the temple
Trumpets were used for many purposes – to call people together, to move the tribes on their journey in the wilderness, to sound the alarm for battle, to celebrate days of sacred feasts, at the dedication of the temple, at the coronation of the new king, before burnt offerings were sacrificed, to call the nation to repentance, and when the ark was brought up to Jerusalem
Seven priests blew seven trumpets at the fall of Jericho (Josh. 6:4, 8)
The trumpets mentioned here in Revelation are ones that will be used to announce the day of God’s wrath
Preparing to sound the trumpets
We see in v. 6 that the seven angels are poised to sound their trumpets
The imagery I have of this comes from my years of playing in the marching band and concert band
I played the baritone in high school
Whether in marching band or concert band, our instruments are in the resting position until the band director or the drum major signals us to prepare to play
Then we raise our instruments and press our lips to the mouthpiece or reed and our fingers to the valves or holes
The seven angels will sound their trumpets one at a time as we’ll see in the rest of chapter 8 and then chapter 11
Another angel arrives on the scene during the half hour of silence
Another angel (vv. 3-5)
Offering incense and prayers
This other angel is carrying a censer
A censer was a bowl or firepan that was used to hold coals and incense
It was used to carry the coals from the altar of burnt offering to the altar of incense
The censers for the tabernacle were made of brass (Ex. 27:3)
When Solomon’s temple was built, the censers were made of gold (1 Kings 7:50)
We see that the angel is carrying a golden censer
He came and stood at the altar
We were introduced to this altar in Rev. 6:9 when the fifth seal was opened and John saw the souls of the martyrs under, it crying out for God’s justice to be fulfilled/accomplished
It is the same as the golden altar mentioned later in v. 3
Given much incense to offer
God gives the angel a lot of incense to offer
The incense in the Old Testament consisted of three aromatic spices [Osborne, 344]
Resin and galbanum gum (taken from shrubs or trees)
Mollusk scent (from the mollusk shellfish)
Frankincense (also a gum resin)
They would add salt to the mixture and then grind it up into a powder, which would be sprinkled on the hot coals in the censer and create an incredible fragrance
There is debate over whether or not the prayers of the saints are added to the incense or whether the prayers of the saints equal the incense
Revelation 5:8 is helpful for us in trying to determine which it is
Revelation 5:8, 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.
From this passage it is very likely that the incense equals the prayers of the saints
These prayers of the saints are rising like the smoke from burning incense straight from the hand of the angel to God, Himself
Imagery of smoke rising
In the Old Testament the smoke from the incense offered at the altar of incense would rise and fill the Holy Place
It represented the pleasing aroma of the sacrifices offered to God
Ephesians 5:1-2, Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Philippians 4:18, I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplies, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
2 Corinthians 2:15-16, For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
“The scene in heaven suggests that there is something sacrificial about genuine prayer. Both the believer and his prayer enter the presence of God by way of the altar.” [Mounce, 175]
PRINCIPLE – God receives the prayers of His people and acts in response to those prayers.
James 5:16, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Charles Spurgeon said, “It is a good fall when a man falls on his knees.” [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 171]
“Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven, but getting God’s will done on earth. It is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of God’s willingness.” [Richard Trench cited by Akin, 172]
How often are the prayers we’re lifting up to God trying to accomplish our will in heaven – trying to get God to do something the way we want it done?
If we’re really honest with ourselves, our prayers are focused on trying to overcome God’s reluctance to act on our behalf, instead of us praying according to His will
When we pray according to God’s will, He will answer
The disciples wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray and we see His model of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13
In Matt. 6:10 we hear these words, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Our prayers have to line up with God’s will and not our will
In there lies the frustration that many express when they say, “God hasn’t answered my prayers!” or “God doesn’t answer prayer!”
We have to examine our prayers to determine if they line up with God’s known will as found in Scripture
We pray and ask God to bless our relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but we are having premarital sex with them, which goes against God’s will
We pray and ask the Lord to help us advance at work, but we’re gossiping about fellow employees or our boss
We pray for God to bring healing to some physical ailment we have, but we are harboring bitterness and unforgiveness toward a fellow believer
We pray for God to act in a certain way that we know is opposed to His Word and then we’re surprised and frustrated when His answer is “No!”
My Next Step Today Is To: Examine my prayer life to make sure that it is according to God’s will and not my own.
It’s important to examine our prayers to make sure they line up with God’s will
It’s also important that we examine our lives to make sure they are in obedience to God’s Word
Psalm 139:23-24, Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
My Next Step Today Is To: Ask the Lord to search me and test me to see if there is any offensive way in me that needs to be confessed and dealt with.
This will definitely mean confessing these sins to the Lord
It may also mean confessing them to the individual(s) you have hurt or offended
As we saw in Rev. 6:9-11, the martyrs were asking the Lord when His judgment was going to come
He gave them white robes and told them to wait a little while longer – it wasn’t quite time yet
God answers our prayers in His perfect timing.
We see in v. 5 that the time has come
“The prayers that had ascended before God are transformed and hurled back to earth. The mood changes from intercession to judgment.” [Easley, 143]
The angel refills the censer with fire from the altar and hurls it on the earth
Read Ezekiel 10:2-7
As the censer is hurled upon the earth we see that four things happen: peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lighting, and an earthquake
The first three items we saw in Rev. 4:5 when John first saw the throne room
These same things will happen two more times in Revelation (11:19; 16:18)
We also see these same things happening when God descended on Mt. Sinai
Exodus 19:16-19, On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
God does hear our prayers and He acts according to His perfect timing and His will
Perhaps you’re struggling with your prayer life right now
Take time to examine your prayers to make sure that are in line with God’s know will revealed in the Bible
Make sure that you are living a life that is in obedience to the Bible and make any necessary changes
Are there any ways I can be more intentional in my prayer life?
Keep a prayer journal
You can do that with a notebook
I use the app PrayerMate
Our denomination has been encouraging us, as congregations, to be spiritually alive, relationally connected, and missionally engaged
We can accomplish those three goals in a couple of ways
We have a group that meets on Sunday mornings at 8:30 am to pray over the facility and then meet at the altar at 8:45 am to pray for the morning activities – this is your invitation to join us
We have time of praise and prayer on Wednesday evenings from 7:00-8:00 pm – I want to encourage you to make this a priority in your schedule – I’ve challenged our board to model the importance of prayer by attending the Wednesday evening services
We can be missionally engaged by praying for our missionaries (their newsletters are hanging in the foyer)
We can also be missionally engaged through prayer by praying for the world (Operation World, book or app)
Every one of us can commit time to prayer
I was challenged by the President of CEF to turn off the radio while driving to work and spend that time in prayer
If you feel like you need to have something playing while you’re driving I want to suggest a song
“An unusual song has emerged next to the hottest new albums and multi-platinum artists on iTunes’ Top 50 charts. The track, which costs $0.99, is titled ‘A a a a a Very Good Song’ and includes almost ten full minutes of complete silence. Not a single musical instrument, voice, or sound of any kind can be heard-and people are loving it. Why? The reason might be apparent if you happen to own a model of car that automatically plays music from a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone when first turned on. Most cars carrying this feature auto-select the first song alphabetically whether you want it to or not. Thus, ‘A a a a a Very Good Song’ allows drivers to avoid any unwanted music playing by beginning their drive with up to ten minutes of complete silence. The five repetitions of the letter ‘A’ in the song title aim to ensure it gets first treatment alphabetically, and you get the silence you never realized you wanted so badly.”
Ethan Adams, PreachingToday.com; source: Associated Press, "Silent Song Finds popularity Due to Special Role," Yahoo! News (8-16-17)
“E. V. (Ed) Hill, who pastored Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, tells the story of how ‘Mama's’ love and prayers changed his life. During the height of the Depression, Hill's real mother, who had five children of her own, didn't have enough food to go around, so she sent four-year-old Ed to live with a friend in a small country town called Sweet Home. Ed just called her Mama. As he was growing up in Sweet Home, Mama displayed remarkable faith which led her to have big plans for young Ed. Against nearly insurmountable obstacles, Mama helped Ed graduate from high school (the only student to graduate that year from the country school) and even insisted that he go to college.
She took Ed to the bus station, handed him the ticket and five dollars and said, ‘Now, go off to Prairie View College, and Mama is going to be praying for you.’ Hill claims that he didn't know much about prayer, but he knew Mama did. When he arrived at the college with a dollar and ninety cents in his pocket, they told him he needed eighty dollars in cash in order to register. Here's how Hill describes what happened next:
I got in line …, and the devil said to get out of line …, but I heard my Mama saying in my ear, ‘I'll be praying for you.’ I stood in line on Mama's prayer. Soon there was [another new student ahead of me], and I began to get nervous, but I stayed in line …. Just about the time [the other student] got all of her stuff and turned away, Dr. Drew touched me on the shoulder, and he said, ‘Are you Ed Hill?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you Ed Hill from Sweet Home?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Have you paid yet?’ ‘Not quite.’
‘We've been looking for you all this morning,’ [he said].
I said, ‘Well, what do [you] want with me?’
‘We have a four-year scholarship that will pay your room and board, your tuition, and give you thirty dollars a month to spend.’
And I heard Mama say, ‘I will be praying for you!’”
Martha Simmons & Frank A. Thomas, editors, Preaching with Sacred Fire (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), pp. 707-708