So often when I pray, I do so in isolation, and I think of it as a solitary activity. I am communicating with God– often silently–it is a private conversation. Or is it?
At any given moment on any given day, millions of prayers are ascending to Heaven. Consider the arithmetic of prayer– millions of prayers, millions of pray-ers, and God is part of each one–twice the number of participants. But God is triune– so now there are four participants in every “personal” prayer, and four participants for every one in a group prayer! It’s mind-blowing to think of all the spiritual investment that is happening through prayer at this very instant around the world. And in heaven? Our prayers ascend; God likens our prayers to incense– a pleasing aroma. If I light a scented candle, or burn incense, the aroma is not personal– it permeates the air, penetrates my clothing, clings to my hair, lingers and touches on all who are nearby. This doesn’t diminish the intimacy of prayer, but transcends it, and transforms it. God is relational– from the intimacy of private prayer to the glory of his kingdom– he wants us to belong, to share, and to love. Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is not a solitary activity, nor one in which anyone is “just a number.”
I think we are often deceived and intimidated by numbers and statistics. We sometimes feel very small and powerless and alone. We measure our prayers by their duration or the number of our words, or how small our perceived influence. We pray alone or in a tiny group, or seem to get swallowed in a crowd, and we think our prayers travel a linear path to God’s ears and they are ended. May our eyes be opened to the reality that we are never alone, never helpless, and never unimportant to God–that our prayers, like incense, linger, radiate, and echo as they ascend.
God uses the small and humble things in life to confound those who think they are wise and powerful and important. He is the God who changes our suffering into sufficiency, and our abiding into abundance. He multiplies our faith, and increases our joy; he divides our sorrows and cancels out our sin. He hears our every sigh. He dries our every tear. He knows our every thought. He inhabits the praises of his people– let that sink in as we pray today.