[Now that I am finished with school (WOO HOO!) one of the things I’d like to do is focus on producing more content during the week that reflects on our Sunday gatherings at Westwood. Among that content I’d like to begin to write and publish a brief post each Monday that reflects on the previous day’s sermon. At Westwood, we are asking our members to participate in weekly rhythms in reflecting on each week’s message that moves us toward good application of the passage in focus. This includes taking some time early in the week to identify specific truths from each week’s passage that God desires for us to know. It also includes spending some time working back through the passage in an effort to place ourselves in the way of it by considering how we can pray in accordance with it. These posts will offer my own reflections as I read back through my sermon notes as well as thoughts toward both of those specific ways of engaging with the text.]
Yesterday Pastor Gerald led us through Revelation 8 as we continue our study through the book of Revelation in a series called The Unveiling. You can watch the sermon here if you’d like.
The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer
 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.  And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
The Seven Trumpets
 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (ESV)
Gerald began his message by reminding us of two beautiful truths from the Scriptures. First, “we may not know how long, but we do know how.” Throughout the Scriptures we hear the refrain, “How long, O Lord!?” This question reveals two insights concerning the ones who cry it out: (1) they are profoundly aware of the brokenness and strife within this fallen, sin-sick creation; and (2) they are directing it in faith toward the one whom they believe will bring that brokenness and striving to an end. Although his people cannot know when that end will come, the book of Revelation offers a picture of how it will come about, and it is intended to comfort and encourage those who cry out for that day.
Second, this 8th chapter of Revelation reveals to us that the prayers of God’s people matter. Once again, as is the case throughout the Scriptures, we are confronted with the tension of God’s sovereignty and the effectual nature of our prayers to him. Both are affirmed here as we see God carrying out his sovereign will, yet at the same time somehow his will is moved along by the prayers of his people. So we see, affirm, and marvel at two wonderful truths: (1) God is sovereign!, and (2) Our prayers matter!
As I look back through my own notes, here are some truths that I am thinking about more deeply this week:
We need Silence & Solitude
As chapter 8 opens, after the Lamb opens the seventh seal John records that there was silence in all of heaven “for about half an hour.” Can you imagine? I found myself wishing I could witness that first hand. Up until now this scene in heaven had been anything but silent. And all of a sudden…quiet. I found myself thinking back to the story from the gospels of Jesus calming the storm while in the boat with his disciples. I’ve often wondered how eerie that transition must have been. One second complete chaos and overwhelming commotion. The next second complete quiet and stillness. The gospels tell us that all the disciples could do was marvel. Fear of the raging storm that threatened their lives had suddenly been redirected toward this figure before them who had silenced it all with only a few words. In a similar way, this period of silence drew all of creation’s focus to its rightful place.
In the chaos of our lives we too need periods of intentional silence. I believe this picture of silence in Revelation 8 reminds us of two specific reasons why:
- Focus. Silence focuses us. Our lives are so very distracting. We often need extended periods of silence just to cut through the clutter and chaos of life! In order to know God we must create space to focus on him. Ponder him. Consider him. Worship him. Respond to him. We cannot do this without silence. We do spiritual retreats from time to time with our students where we create space to get alone and silent with our Bibles open so that we can commune with God. The minimum amount of time we schedule for this is 1.5 hours. The common experience is that it takes at least half of that time and sometimes even more before the distractions fall away and we can focus. We must be intentional about practicing silence and solitude in order to be able to focus in our communion with God.
- Anticipation. Silence often works to redirect our eyes (and our hearts) from what and onto who. Our lives are riddled with anxiety because the future is so unknown to us. Silence and solitude can work to replace anxiety concerning this life with rest in the One who is faithful and good. We need to consistently renew our vision of Him, and silence allows for this. God works in spaces of intentional silence to replace anxiety and stress with anticipation of how he will continue to use everything I face for my good and in accordance with his sovereign will. Beyond that it causes me to remember the good news of the gospel that the brokenness of this life will not have the last word!
Silence often works to redirect our eyes (and our hearts) from what and onto who.Tweet
We need to practice intentional silence and solitude. How are you making room for this in your life?
Effectual Prayer are those that are in Accordance with God’s Will
Do you want to pray in accordance with God’s will? Pray the Scriptures. What a simple, yet profound reminder. Gerald revealed that the prayers that are poured out here in Revelation 8 are those that are related to God’s judgment that he pours out in response to them.
Do you want to pray in accordance with God’s will? Pray the Scriptures.Tweet
This message offers a powerful reminder of the power of praying God’s Word. Our prayers often align with our desires. As the Spirit works to realign our desires toward the hope to which God has called us, our prayers will more and more be aligned with that hope. Praying the Scriptures rightly aligns our faith with the One who is always faithful in regards to his promises. The Word is what reveals those promises to us. Michael Reeves offers a beautiful connection between prayer and faith in his little book entitled, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, when he writes,
Remember, prayer is about faith. So where does faith come from? It comes from hearing the word of God. As Paul wrote, ‘Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ’ (Rom. 10:17). Faith–and so prayer– is birthed by the gospel.Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, p. 17
This should elicit the following question for us to consistently consider: How do we respond in faith to the Word of God? I want to submit that prayer is the first step in answering that question. We want to pray the Word so that our faith aligns with the Word! Only then will we follow our praying by laying out through the Word.
Our prayers often align with our desires. As the Spirit works to realign our desires toward the hope to which God has called us, our prayers will more and more be aligned with that hope.Tweet
As a side note, I have called our Life Group leaders to more intentionally lead our Life Groups to do this. I want our groups to be intentionally taking this first step of faith each week by praying the Word together as they meet and reflect on the Word that has been preached! Oh, how would God use this weekly rhythm in the life of our church and in the surrounding world if we faithfully practiced this!?
As we grow in grace, are our prayers consisting more and more of God’s Word as we fix our eyes and hearts on his will?
Praying Through This Text
- Father, help me to believe the gospel. Help me to rest in you.
- Lead me this week in exalting you in all things. You are faithful. You are good.
- Father, help me to be prayerful this week. Help me to not view prayer as an activity to fit into each day, but as an attitude that shapes who I am as I face each situation.
- Help me to be intentionally silence and to get alone in order to commune with you this week. Help me to be proactive to plan for this, as I know it will not just happen. I pray that you will meet me in that silence and focus my eyes and my heart on you. Turn my anxiety into anticipation as I look for you in every moment.
- Thank you that you hear the prayers of your people. Help me to pray in confidence as my prayer is aligned with your will and purposes as revealed through Scripture.
- Help me to hate sin, beginning with the sin in my own life, as I get a glimpse from your Word into the destruction and wrath it brings. Align my attitude toward my sin with yours.
- Thank you that in Christ I am safe from your judgment. Thank you for the glorious truth that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Rom. 8:1)
- Lead me in boldly proclaiming the gospel to those who are outside of the shelter of Christ and are exposed to the judgment that is coming on this terrible day.
- Thank you that you are faithful and that you will one day undo all that sin has wrought in your creation. Fix the focus of my life on that hope to which you have called me in Christ. Align my life to hasten that day as I live toward it for your glory.
Postscript for my Westwood family: What did you take away from yesterday’s sermon? What are you considering today as you reflect on the Word that was proclaimed yesterday? How will you intentionally remain mindful of God’s Word this week as you seek to internalize that Word and apply it to your own life? What prayer prompts from this passage would you include to the list I offer? I love you and am praying for you as you gather in your Life Groups this week to reflect and discuss together!