I’ve just come back from a week of serving and camping with about 7,000 teenagers. At the end of each day there would be a meeting in a big top tent. By the final day there was definitely a different smell to the tent! When asked who had not showered the whole week, there were a surprising number of young people that had chosen to not make use of the shower blocks but had instead relied on excessive amounts of deodorant.
The Israelites knew all about camping as they lived in tents for forty years. On this page in Exodus we are told about all the things that they were making and creating for the Tabernacle; the place where GOD would dwell. I was struck by the verse in Exodus 37:29 They made the sacred anointing oil and the pure, fragrant incense – the work of a perfumer.
A perfumer has skill that mixes fragrances, much like an artist. They know and understand what compositions work together, how the fragrance is released and what mood the scent evokes. The ingredients are fused in such a way that they compliment and enhance each other, often releasing at slightly different rates and intensities.
The incense was to burn every morning and evening at the same time that the burnt offerings were made. It was to be attended to so that it continued to burn all day and all night. The combination of ingredients were only to be used in the incense at the Tabernacle and nowhere else as it was holy. There were four special spies used in the incense: stacte (oozing substance – possibly myrrh), onycha (possibly made from crushed shells), galbanum (gum resin used in medicine) and frankincense (vegetation resin associated with prayer and purification). These spices give off strong scents in their own right but they were mixed and burned in the Tabernacle as a pleasing (not overwhelming) aroma to GOD.
May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2
How incredible that our prayers can be set before GOD as incense. I want my prayer life to be like the one described in Psalm 141. How can I achieve this? If I look at the ingredients of the incense I can be encouraged. They talk of the things that are a part of us and can’t help but pour out, the passions and longings. They include the things that are crushed and broken, the pounded and powdered parts of our life. There are even the things that are extracted over time through deep cuts that become medicine and places of purification. And then these things are burned to release their scent – each with an individual aroma, complimentary and not overwhelming to GOD. We all carry all sorts of stuff, have been through all kinds of experiences and have been altered by so many things. When we bring all that we are to GOD and take a flame to it – that is offer it completely to Him, He finds it a pleasing aroma.
It is easy to think of prayer as ‘just’ kneeling beside the bed and bringing our requests … then signing off. It is so much bigger than this! We are welcomed before the King of the universe as adopted and chosen ones. He doesn’t just want an odd comment from us here or there, but a relationship that is involved in conversation. He invites us to be with Him. The incense didn’t just burn for a minute or two, but burned all day and all night. It was attended to so that the fragrance was continually released.
I want my prayer life to be transformed and to be like the incense of worship that is multi-layered like perfume – pleasing to my Lord’s sense of smell. I want it to involve all the aspects of who I am, the bits that are passionate, broken, crushed or just coming to the surface. I want all the ingredients to be added, withholding nothing from Him. It is only when I take a flame to it and burn it all before Him that it will become a symphony and a many hued masterpiece. I want it to rise up on the air and fill spaces in the lives and requests that I make with fragrant incense and colour. I want my prayers to be diverse with declarations, praise, thanksgiving and requests. Let the incense of my prayers be powerful and effective in changing atmospheres with the scent of heaven … Amen