May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2 NASB)
And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8 NASB)
As a child of the 60’s burning incense was a “thing” for us. Someone would get an incense stick and light the end and what resulted was a thin line of smoke that let off a kind of acrid smell that we thought was “very cool” at the time. I hung out with the drama kids and the debate team in high school. Some of us even were part of the Christian club who sponsored YFC (Youth For Christ) events but one thing we did at parties was burn incense. To me it smelled awful but, wanting to be part of the group being the people pleaser that I am, I would sit there holding back the choking cough. When I couldn’t take it anymore I would excuse myself to the bathroom and duck outside for a big gulp of fresh air. You’d think it wouldn’t bother me coming from a household where everyone but me smoked, but it did.
Incense in Bible days was used by the high priests at every sacrifice. The incense mixture was a specific blend designed by God and He gave specific instructions in Exodus that no “strange incense” was to be burned. The mixture was comprised of the perfumes statce, onycha, glabanum, and pure frankincense. The last one may sound familiar as it is one of the gifts the kings gave to the baby Jesus at His birth. These perfumes were mixed and burned with the smoke headed toward the Holy of Holies where God lived among the people.
When the priest entered the holy place with the incense all of the people were removed from the temple and from the porch and the altar. “And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering” (Luke 1:10 NASB). The priest would cast the incense on the fire burning in the holy place and bowing reverently toward the holy of holies he would leave walking slowly backward while the people prayed in profound silence. This was serious business! These prayers offered up were praises, petitions, atonements and asking forgiveness.
God tells us in his word that prayer is serious business and, if we are reading scripture correctly, he is capturing all of these prayers and holding them as a sweet aroma before Him. King David asked that his prayers be so serious that they be counted as incense before God just like that offered in the temple. Revelation tells us that there are golden bowls in heaven full of incense which are prayers of the saints! Prayer IS serious business.
I have seen and talked to several people recently who seem to be going through a crisis of faith these days. There are folks who are gravely ill, young people close to me who have died, people losing homes, jobs, loved ones. They have been fervently praying with no obvious result and wondering where is God is. Is He not hearing their prayer? They go to Him and pray their heart out and what they prayed for did not happen the way they wanted. I begged God to keep a marriage together of a loved one. That marriage failed and it crushed me to pieces. I could not take communion for over a year my heart was so bitter toward God. One day during my prayer time God humbled me as He gently reminded me that people make choices. He is a God of free will and my prayers did not go unanswered. He was listening but allowed that couple to make decisions and they would live with the consequences. I continued to pray for them and still do in their new lives and I pray that all things will work together for good for them.
God is not our own personal genie in a bottle, or as a friend put it recently, He is not Amazon.com. We cannot expect that He will give us a pony or our parents will stay married or he will keep our mom from going home to be with Him. I prayed for one more day with her and it was not to be.
The incense, the sweet aroma to the Lord, is our prayers of praise, repentance, worship and petition. Praise Him for Who He is and what He is. Repent of our sins, turn to Him. Worship Him in prayer, in song and in praise. Ask Him for His will to be done.
I prayed for 15 years for my dear husband to come to know Christ as his Savior. I prayed every which way I could think of. I knew that God said that He did not want any to perish but that He wanted all to come to repentance. My husband was part of that “all”. 15 years I did not give up. My faith grew leaps and bounds through that time as God taught me to lay my husband before Him and trust. One day the miracle happened but it was on God’s time. I learned to trust God as never before through those 15 long years.
As I sat by my sick mom’s bedside I laid her healing down before a Sovereign God. She was still young, only 73. He could touch her like Jesus did so many in the Bible. He could make her well in an instant but that was not His plan for her life. My 18 year old nephew was killed, my friend’s one year old died of cancer, my niece lost two infants one right after the other at birth, another friend’s 20 year old was just killed in a car crash. Accepting the sovereignty of God is a tall order and, sometimes, takes some hashing out in our own hearts and minds. We wrestle with this concept.
Be encouraged dear ones. Your prayers are being kept as a sweet fragrant aroma by a loving God who does listen. He will work all things together for your good because you love him and are called according to His purpose. It sometimes sounds cliché but His ways are not our ways. He sees it all, knows it all and works it all out. Keep praying dear one. Don’t lose heart when it seems He is not answering the way you think He should. Trust and know that you know He is listening and keeping your prayers close. Do not lose heart precious one. Our God is there and He cares. ️