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Filling Heaven's Bowls Together

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Revelation 5:6-8
Of all the passages in Scripture that stir in me a passion to pray, this one is up there. Perhaps at the very top.  Why?  This passage reveals to me at least three things about our prayers, all in verse 8:
  1. They please God.  They’re described as incense, which means God delights to smell them rising up to Him.
  2. They’re precious to God.  He collects them in bowls.  And not just in any bowls.  Golden bowls.  They’re valuable to Him.
  3. They praise Jesus. Found in His immediate presence, they are a testimony to the worth and excellency of the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb whose precious name is the only reason we can offer them up to God.
What motivation to pray!  What privilege!  For God’s sake!  It’s impossible for these golden bowls to ever be too full!
A couple of months ago, pastor Josh asked me to consider starting a corporate prayer ministry for our Evergreen campus, something which was an essential part of our life together as the Downtown campus.  Then just a couple weeks ago while listening to him preach from Luke 21 on the first Sunday of 2016, I was reminded that prayer isn’t just a privilege God grants us as His people, but an indispensable weapon (Ephesians 6:18) in the spiritual warfare we’re called to:
But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Luke 21:36
As I listened to Jesus through this text that morning, one application felt clear: it was a call to stay awake in prayer.  And not just individual prayer. Corporate prayer just as well.
And so we’re launching a weekly gathering with the express purpose of coming together as a body to pray together.  When we gather as God’s people, prayer can sometimes be little more than that thing that bookends our time together.  But the purpose of this time is simply to fill the golden bowls.  To put it another way, the purpose of this time is for prayer to be the main thing.
What will this look like?
Briefly, a few words on format and then two guiding principles.
The biblical pattern of worship is that God initiates and His people respond (e.g. 1 John 4:19).  Someone will open us with reading a passage of Scripture (a chapter or two) to direct our minds and hearts Godward as He addresses us.  That same person will then offer an opening prayer in response to that passage, specifically in adoration of who God is and thanksgiving for what He’s done, asking the Spirit to lead us in our praying.  And then any and all present are invited to pray first in response to the passage in adoration and thanksgiving and then however the Spirit would lead from there in offering petitions or more adoration!
Two guiding principles
We want to keep this as lightweight as possible for the Spirit to come in and move as He wishes so, to avoid restricting that freedom, our prayer times should constantly be shaped by these two operating principles as we pray together:
  • pray for an audience of One, as though no one else were in the room but God
  • pray in accord with the prayers of others, so as to cultivate a spirit of unity in our prayers
These two seem at first glance like they are opposing.  But not necessarily.  The first is most important in that we want to pray above all to and for the ear of God.  In that sense, we should seek to be ignorant of those around us (Matthew 6:5).  But, in a different sense, we want to listen for how the Spirit would lead us and edify us through each other (1 Corinthians 14:16-17).  So we should listen well to each other as we pray and then pray in response to how others are praying, agreeing (Matthew 18:19) and piggy-backing off each other (keeping with the themes around which others pray and then transitioning as others transition) so that we aren’t all over the place but seeking to actually pray together, which is why corporate prayer exists.
So this Friday and every Friday thereafter (we plan to transition to Thursdays once the Thursday night women’s Bible study ends) we will meet at the home of the Justin and Shannon Madison for this very thing.  We plan to start praying at 6:45 and then close our prayer time at 7:45 or shortly thereafter.  Come a little early or stay a little after to talk and catch up.
I hope you’ll consider joining us to fill heaven’s bowls together.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

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