In Revelation 8 we have a lovely picture of incense and prayers rising before God,
‘Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.’ (Revelation 8:3-4 NRSV)
This is such an amazing picture of prayer, and more than that, of our prayers coming before God.
There are two other verses which refer to incense and prayer, one more from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament:
‘When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.’ (Revelation 5:8 NRSV) ‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you’ (Psalms 141:2 NRSV)
Prayer is incense, is like incense and is offered with incense!
This says a great deal about how important prayer is to God. The incense that was used in Tabernacle and later Temple worship was not cheap! It was made from costly ingredients, some of which came from long distances away. It was also to be made to a specific recipe that was to be used only for worshipping God (see Exodus 30:34-38).
Prayer that God listens to costs! Now there are times when we pray and it costs us nothing, God still hears those prayers, but they do not really grab his attention. Jesus’ prayers were answered by his Heavenly Father because he put all of himself into them. This is also something we see in great hero’s of faith, they know that they have to put themselves on the line when it comes to prayer. It can be very hard to say, ‘yet, not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42 NRSV) as Jesus does in the garden of Gethsemane, but this is what the hero’s of the faith have done, and it is also what we can do too! This is where we get our depth in prayer.
Prayer is made up of different ingredients! This may surprise you, but this is one reason why breadth of prayer is so important. In the incense recipe different things were to be mixed together in equal quantities, this would have balanced the scent, and made the incense more beautiful to smell! It is no wonder that the incense was to be burnt before God alone. What do you mix in your prayer? There should be worship, petition, intercession, listening, praise and thanksgiving to name but a few things. We should also pray in different ways, both individually and especially corporately. This is why we need breadth of prayer.
In this association between incense and prayer we also see something else. They seem to be especially closely linked when prayer is being answered by God.
As I said in my post 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 – The Fragrance of Jesus that last week I smelled incense in the service at Maswell last week. This was during the worship and God’s presence was really there. One thing that I did not share though was that during the service we had prayed for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to be released, and I did feel that God was really happy with that.
Today, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani had been released and acquitted, that is God! He is now back with his family, and with the other members of his church. I praise God for his faithfulness, a reflection of God’s faithfulness to him!
Now I know that incense had two meanings, although I only at first recognised one fo them. That Jesus was there among his people, and that all the prayers of all the church (including Maswell) for Pastor Youcef had come before God, and that the answer would soon be revealed!
WOW!!! WHAT A GOD!!! HE IS SO AMAZING!!!
Heavenly Father, help us to realise how highly you value prayer, and how it should be made up of different ingredients. Help us to be prepared to give all we have in prayer as Jesus did, and help us to have balanced prayer lives. And thank you that you do answer prayer, help us to be expectant to see your answers, praying in faith to see you act. In Jesus’ name, Amen.