Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2
Incense was a vital component of worship in Israel, but one that we don’t often incorporate in Protestant services. However, knowing that incense symbolizes the intercession and prayers of God’s people, and knowing that so many facets of tabernacle worship were also object lessons, we can learn some important things about our worship and prayer.
The background on incense
In Exodus 30-34-38 God instructs Moses on the makeup and usage of the incense for Israel’s worship. He said to use stacte, onycha, and galbanum, and mix with pure frankincense in equal amounts. Frankincense you’ve probably heard of. Of the others, galbanum is the only one that scholars have positively identified. (However, if you Google them, “essential oils” is one of the autocomplete suggestions for each.) The bottom line is, it smelled terrific, distinctively terrific. But before any of the spices could be used there was some prep work. Each of the ingredients had to be crushed and ground to a fine powder. During the tabernacle and temple ceremonies, it was burned by fire on an altar. One final note: Israel was not allowed to copy the recipe and whip up a batch of the incense for their own personal use.
So let’s take some principles from all that.
Ground – Our sincerest worship often comes from our authentic brokenness and need.
Mixture – Worship and prayer is a mixture, not based on a meticulous, legalistic formula, but definitely a combination of God-honoring things like adoration, thanksgiving, confession, petition, and lament.
Fire – Fire is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so prayer and worship that are not Spirit-infused are empty.
Distinctive – If we treat worship and prayer as common and ordinary, we dishonor God.
Sweet – The aroma lingered in the space, on the worshiper after it was over. If we don’t carry the impact of our time with God out beyond the designated time and place, it has been empty. I think it’s a fair extrapolation to say that if we bring hypocrisy and sin into our worship, it’s a lot more skunky than sweet.
How would our prayer life and our worship life change if we, like David, came before Him with authenticity, directed by the Holy Spirit, if worship and prayer were a sacred blending of our heart’s cries, and if those moments were lingering and longed for?
Lord, let my prayers be set before You like incense.