The Incense of Prayer

When you walk into many yoga studios you are immediately greeted with a pleasant-smelling aroma caused by burning incense. Incense comes from the Latin word(s) meaning “to burn” (incendium, incendi, incendere for example), and it is a mixture of an aromatic substance and a combustible material that binds it all together, usually on a stick (though it may be pellets, coils, cones, or powder). It has been used for centuries for religious ceremonies and other practices. The western world often uses it for things like aroma therapy or to set the mood for meditation (or yoga) or just to counteract bad smells.

The Bible contains multiple references to incense, but there is one incense that God told Moses to make and it was to be used ONLY at the alter of incense. God instructed Moses to take equal amounts of gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense and make the incense. (Exodus 30)

Onycha is part of the shell of a snail common around the Red Sea. When burned, it gives off a strong fragrance. Galbanum is the gum-like material (resin) that comes from the stems of several plants found in the Middle East and Asia. Galbanum is a fixative agent used in perfumes. Frankincense is the gum resin from a small tree (Boswellia carteri) and has medicinal value, plus a strong lasting fragrance, and was often used along with myrrh in burial wrappings.

This special mixture of incense was only to be used at the alter of incense. It was considered sacred. No one was to make it for themselves. In fact, the Lord commanded that if anyone did make it for their personal use (as a perfume or incense) they were to be cut off from their people.

What does prayer have to do with incense? Look at Revelation 5:

He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (5:8)

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne.

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.  (Revelation 8:3-4)

Praying is important. You cannot pray too much! We are told to “pray without ceasing.” Prayers, and praying, should be considered sacred, presented to God with thanksgiving and the expectation that God will answer.

Over and over we are exhorted to prayer:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)

Sometimes it is so difficult to know what to pray. That is when we must make the effort, we must enter into prayer, knowing we have a Helper:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)

Our prayers are a fragrant incense to God, the aroma of obedience and love from His Children, heard and stored in Heaven and used to worship the Lamb of God to His Glory.


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