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.