Pastor John Piper sets personal prayer into the context of God’s unfolding redemptive plan and the final victory of God.
He was responding to one man who had lost confidence in the power of prayer and was asking, Do my personal prayers make any difference?
Pastor John responded to the question with a short theology of prayer by explaining the significance of the golden censers (bowls) which hold the prayers of the saints (seeRevelation 5:8, 8:3–4). In part, Pastor John explained the meaning of the passages like this —
Those bowls have two functions. They are censers. They are like incense, and in the presence of God, that incense is really pleasing to him. God loves the aroma of the prayers of his people. Which means that if you are on your face crying out for a lost loved one, or for some difficulty in your church, that very act is pleasing to God. It is not wasted. Quite apart from the answer to that prayer, the prayer itself is precious to God. That is the first meaning.
Second, there’s going to come a day when those bowls are full. In other words, the billions upon billions of prayers that have been prayed — “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come”— the last one is going to be prayed and God is going to look at that angel and say, “Pour it out on the earth.” And he is going to take the bowl of prayers, like fire, and throw it on the earth and the final purposes of God are going to be achieved.
And I think we need to preach to ourselves that our prayers are part of the causality of the final victory of God. He wouldn’t have asked us to pray that his kingdom come if he didn’t mean for our prayers to be an instrument in the coming of the kingdom.
So it is simply astonishing that when you think of the billions of times the Lord’s Prayer has been uttered, all of those times when it has been uttered in faith, God has put it in the bowl and it’s filling up and filling up. And the day is going to come when that bowl will be poured out as the consummation of the age. So no prayer is wasted.