God collects our prayers. In Revelation, we are offered a glimpse at the receiving end of our prayers: “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.” Do you realize what that means? It means every prayer you’ve ever whispered, from the simplest throwaway request to the most heartfelt cry, God has collected it like a grandmother who scrapbooks a toddler’s finger paints and scribbles. God has treasured up every prayer we’ve ever uttered, even the ones we’ve forgotten, and he’s still weaving their fulfillment, bending history in the direction of a great yes to you and me.
John’s Revelation doesn’t end with God as a scrapbooking grandmother though; it ends with God as a powerful Redeemer. Three chapters later, those heavenly golden prayer bowls reappeared:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
At the proper time, God is tipping the bowl, pouring out our requests on the earth. He has collected every prayer we’ve ever prayed, and redemption comes when he rains down those prayers on the earth once and for all. The renewal of the world, heaven and earth restored as one, begins with God pouring out all the prayers of his children like a purifying fire with one great, resounding yes. Every prayer in the end is an answered prayer. Some are still awaiting that yes, but it’s coming. That’s the kind of “judge” we’re dealing with.
God collects more than just the words wedged between “Dear God” and “Amen” though. He also collects our tears. Psalm 56 reads, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
Prayer is asking, looking from the vantage point of heaven and pointing God into the mess. But prayer is also weeping—in the middle of a mess so thick we can’t see up, but can only scream through tears, “Lord, I can’t bear it any longer!”
The psalmist tells us in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” Not only will God collect every tear, but he’ll redeem every tear. God is not merely bottling up our tears. He also promises that when they touch the earth, they will bring renewal. Every tear of ours that falls to the ground will grow the fruit of redemption. God bends history so that the moments of greatest pain become the moments of greatest redemption, twisting the story to be sure that the pain we feel releases the power of new life, and the tears we cry become the foundation of a better world. We are promised that a day is coming when the Father himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But until then, we live on an in-between promise: “I will not let a single one of your tears be wasted.”
So here is the promise revealed to the persistent widow, spoken to us by our faithful Father: “I hear you, and I will make all things right, all things new.” That new creation is seeded by the prayers of God’s people and watered by their tears. Both are key ingredients in the remaking of the world.
Our persistence in prayer comes from the promise that we don’t pray to a reluctant, half-interested, can’t-be-bothered judge, but to an unfathomably loving Father who collects our prayers like love letters and our tears like fine wine.
The final word Jesus speaks in the parable doesn’t come in the form of a promise but a challenge: “I tell you, [God] will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” In the story, even Jesus admits that most people lose steam in the long journey of asking, seeking, and knocking. He promises a good ending, so good in fact that it’ll redeem not just the distorted creation as a whole but every moment of suffering from every individual life—none of it will have been wasted. But Jesus asks us, “When the time for that full and final redemption comes, will I find men and women of faith? Will I find any who haven’t lost heart along the way? Any who have trusted me and my promise enough to keep praying in the face of waiting and disappointment?” Will he find us hollowed and flattened by our spiritual disappointment, or awake and hopeful even as we confront the unjust state of a darkened world? Will he find in us the persistent prayer of the widow who cried out day and night?
When we’ve grown impatient with the waiting, lost our stamina for persistence, what keeps us praying? We must recover an understanding of the way God is at work, not just in the final promise, but in all the acts of persistence along the way.
Did you enjoy this featured excerpt from Tyler Staton’s latest book, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools? His newest release is reigniting the reader’s prayer life through convicting personal storytelling, vulnerable lessons learned over prayer, and examples from both the Old and New Testaments. Click here for more information on Tyler Staton and how you can get a copy of Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools.
Tyler Staton is the Lead Pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon, and the National Director of the 24-7 Prayer USA. He is passionate about pursuing prayer—communion and conversation with God—while living deeply, poetically, wildly, and freely in the honest and gritty realities of day-to-day life. Tyler believes that justice is kinship, stories are a gift, and prayer is an invitation. Tyler is also the author of Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools and Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith. He lives in Portland with his wife, Kirsten, and their sons, Hank, Simon, and Amos.