My friend Paul Hawkins has written a cracker on the altar of incense. Enjoy!
I wonder how many of us are in something like a prayer triplet, getting together with say two other Christians to pray together?
CAUGHT UP IN THE TRINITY
Exodus 30 is a great chapter on prayer. We’re in the middle of the tabernacle, this massive multimedia picture of heaven and earth. And inside the tabernacle were three pieces of furniture described back in Exodus 25. The ark, symbolising the throne of God the Father. The table of the Presence, symbolising God the Son, present with us. And the lamp-stand, a picture of God the Holy Spirit, shining to the world.
But there was one other piece of furniture in the tabernacle, only one, which was the altar of incense. In verses 1-3 we see it was quite small, it was made of wood covered with gold and if we look on to verse 6, Moses is told
“Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the Testimony—before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony—where I will meet with you.”
That means it would have stood right in the middle of those other three things, symbolically in the middle of Father, Son and Spirit.
So what’s this altar, and this incense, all about – what’s it a picture of? Well we’re told in a number of places and one of them is Revelation chapter 8 verse 3, which says an angel
“came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.”
The prayers of all the saints. That’s us! It’s as if the Father the Son and the Spirit are at three corners of a triangle and we and our prayers are right in the middle. Here’s the original prayer triplet, God himself, and the glorious reality is that if we’re Christians we are surrounded by him.
OUR PRAYERS RISE TO GOD’S THRONE
I don’t know what sort of terms you’re on with Her Majesty the Queen. If I gave her a call I think I might just struggle to get put through. But with prayer, it’s not just that we can get through to God if we call him up – if we sort-of throw up a few prayers. No, we’re in the centre of his life, we’re family, it’s like we’re with the Queen in her living room, and she’s saying, how’s it going – what’s on your mind?
And prayer is how we live out this family life caught up in God. Look down at verses 7 and 8 – Aaron burned incense (so think: prayers of the saints) every morning and evening, regularly before the Lord. Verse 9, he didn’t come with a sacrifice or another offering or anything, no just incense, prayer. Prayer is our expression of the divine life.
THE LAMB’S BLOOD MAKES US WELCOME
So how is it that we can share in God’s life – how come we’re caught up in this divine prayer triplet? Well verse 10 talks about atonement being made with the blood of the atoning sin offering, it says it’s most holy to the Lord. Isn’t that the heart of the message of the cross, where the Lord God himself, gave his own blood to make us holy. His passion gives us his life.
And do we see how that means we are very welcome as he brings us into the throne-room of God? Very welcome.
OUR PRAYERS SMELL SWEET TO GOD
So what does God think of our prayers? Well what’s this incense like? Looking on to verse 34 we see – it’s fragrant!
What’s your favourite smell? I was thinking mine might be fresh raspberries – gorgeous. Well these spices here have sweet and powerful aromas and as they rise to the Lord they’re verse 37 holy to him, verse 38 they’re enjoyable – no-one’s allowed to copy them for their own enjoyment, no they’re for the Lord’s enjoyment. So when we pray, God thinks, “… what’s that lovely smell? Ah, the incense, the prayers of my saints, how wonderful!”
Isn’t that amazing? … Not that there’s anything in us that makes our prayers smell nice – no, it’s because we’re caught up in this sweet fragrant life of God himself – God the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and prays, for us (Romans 8), he takes our feeble prayers and wraps them up in Jesus.
SO LET’S PRAY
So what do you find hard about prayer? I mean, we all do, don’t we? I think for me I too often spend my time worrying, thinking, “how am I gonna cope?” instead of bringing everything to the Lord. Maybe someone is reading and thinking “my prayers are just so rubbish” or “I’m too bad, surely God can’t accept my prayers.”
No, if we’re in Christ, the wonderful news to grasp is that God the Father is delighted with our prayers. Next time we smell a lovely fragrant aroma, let’s think to ourselves – “that’s how God thinks of my prayers”.
So let’s pray – how often is prayer the last thing we think of, not the first thing we do – maybe it’s time to join a prayer triplet, let’s take every opportunity to pray. We’re locked into the life of God, and the immeasurable resources of the Godhead are ready and waiting.
What a friend we have in Jesus. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.