I have a very spoiled, fat cat. Contrary to what he might tell you, he lives a life of luxury. All of his needs are met, he's never had to hunt for food, seek shelter, or hide from danger. Nevertheless, this cat is quick to come running and crying the moment he can see the bottom of his bowl. His bowl could be mostly full but if he has eaten his way to the bottom and he can see the slightest bit of silver, he panics and persistently weaves his way through our legs until someone takes notice. We must refill his bowl or smooth out the food so he can't see the bottom anymore.
Sometimes our own bowl feels empty. We are weary, exhausted, frustrated, hopeless, and weak. So many things eat away at our spirits. Aging parents, cancer, addicted teens, cheating spouses, divorce, chronic pain, financial devastation, estranged family members, and death chip away at our strength. Chances are you know someone dealing with one or more items on this list. Maybe this list represents your troubles. You can see the bottom of your bowl.
Revelation 5:8 reads, "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." As John the Revelator peered into heaven and recorded some of the only information we have about heaven, he saw these bowls of incense, which are our prayers.
Even when our bowls are empty, if we are faithful to pray, God's bowls are full. I don't know about you but this gives me comfort. Our prayers are also described as incense. They have a pleasing aroma. We are sometimes reluctant to pray because we have wrongly believed that our prayers are not important or that God does not want to hear from us. Think of your favorite scent or a place that always smells good to you. You inhale deeply and you relax when you experience this scent or place. I believe God inhales the aroma of our prayer and it pleases Him because it means we are in relationship and fully dependent on Him.
Christ reinforces our confidence in prayer as he taught his disciples to pray and said, "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
The key is constant prayer. We must not believe the lie or misconception that our prayers are empty words that hit the ceiling or float off into space. No, not so! Our prayers are received by a loving, kind Father. If you are like my cat and you are beginning to see the bottom of your bowl, do not fret. Don't run around aimlessly like him, meowing and crying about what is lacking. Be still and talk to God. Find a quiet place to sit or kneel in His presence. Follow Christ's example in the Lord's prayer: acknowledge His holiness, present your needs, confess your shortcomings, forgive what needs to be forgiven and ask for protection. As you do this, imagine the sweet smell of your prayers making their way to our Father and imagine His loving countenance as He receives them.