Are there really “prayer bowls” in heaven?

Q. I have been reading on various websites about prayer bowls in heaven, as described in the book of Revelation, and God’s willingness to send resources/power when the bowls are sufficiently full. I would be interested in your view of these passages.

To try to answer your question, I looked around a bit online myself, and found that this idea of “prayer bowls” seems to come from Jentzen Franklin’s book The Amazing Discernment of Women (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).  He writes (on p. 33):

 I believe we do not understand the effect our prayers have in the spirit realm. As I was reading Revelation one day, some verses seemed to leap off the page: “Golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). “The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God . . . Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth” (Rev. 8:4-5).
     What a marvelous image! When you pray, you are filling the prayer bowls of heaven. In God’s perfect timing, your prayers are mixed with the fire of God (His power) and cast back down to earth to change your situation Your prayers don’t just bounce off the ceiling; they rise like incense before the throne of God.
     Even if you don’t feel like anything is happening in the natural world, when you pray, you are filling the prayer bowls in the spirit realm. When they are full, they will tilt and pour out answers to your prayers!

Now I appreciate Franklin’s emphasis on the effects our prayers have even when we don’t realize it.  Nevertheless, I see nothing in these passages in the book of Revelation to indicate that once “prayer bowls” in heaven are full, God will send blessings.

In fact, there is no reference to bowls at all in the second passage, just to incense.  And in the first passage, while the bowls containing incense are equated with “the prayers of the saints,” nothing is said about the bowls becoming full and God pouring out power and blessing as a result. This is instead a repeated image of prayer being like incense and ascending to God.

More generally, the idea that we need to pray enough to “fill up the bowls” reminds me of the wrong idea about prayer that Jesus corrected in the Sermon on the Mount: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Still, I think we can take encouragement from the idea that our prayers do ascend as incense before God; they don’t “bounce off the ceiling,” as Franklin notes, so we should persevere in prayer.  Some of the bloggers who have quoted his comments about prayer bowls have emphasized this as their main takeaway.  D. Delay writes on Called to Stand Out, for example, “The truth is, we’re guilty of not lingering in prayer long enough. . . . It’s not about how many words are prayed or the manner in which we pray, as long as our prayers are heartfelt, faith-filled, and authentic.”

So that is the encouragement I would take from these passages in Revelation.  God hears our every prayer, and so we can and should be faithful to commit all aspects of our situation to God in prayer, knowing that He loves us, He listens, and He will respond in His own wisdom and perfect timing.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

4 thoughts on “Are there really “prayer bowls” in heaven?”

    1. In the book of Revelation, where this image of “bowls full of incense” is found, the term “saints” refers to believers in Jesus living on earth. I do also believe that the “saints” in another sense of the word, believers in Jesus who have gone to be with Him after death, now have prayer as one of their most important and effective activities. But I would still not interpret the bowl to mean that once even these heavenly saints have prayed enough to fill it, God will pour out blessings. God’s work is not awaiting a certain quantity of prayer from saints on earth or in heaven. But it may be awaiting a certain quality of prayer, in believing, trusting faith, according to the discerned will of God. May we all be challenged and encouraged to pray that way.

      1. Thank you so much. I would like to thank you for your words of comfort. In the last few weeks I almost passed and my mother did pass. I believe in the power of prayer.

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