Prayers Like Incense
Sometimes we wonder whether our prayers really go anywhere or do anything.
They’re just rambling words, after all. Many times we don’t even say them out loud, so how do we know that have they been heard?
We wonder too, about our worthiness to pray, since we are so sinful and so often disloyal to the God with whom we’re speaking.
And are we even praying for the right things? Yes, does God notice when we pray?
When David prays in Psalm 141, he is concerned about this too. He was harassed by wicked men who were trying to trap him. Consequently, David does what any humble child of God will do in his time of trouble and distress: he cries out, “O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!” (v. 1).
The circumstances are urgent, and David fears that in his distress he might sin against the LORD. So in verse 2 he pleads for God to view his words in a favourable way:
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you.
David uses this interesting image, because he knows that incense is something which God notices and takes pleasure in. The Lord had commanded that fragrant oil be burned twice daily in the temple, on the altar in front of the Most Holy Place.
Together with the smoke of the daily animal sacrifices, this incense would rise up to God and would fill his “nose.” When it was offered to him in humility and love, incense was a pleasing aroma to God.
It is David’s fervent wish that in the same way that the smoke of incense rises up to God and pleases him, so the prayers of his servant might rise up.
And indeed, Scripture tells us we can be confident that God takes notice of our humble petitions, confessions and thanksgivings. Amazingly, they are a spiritual sacrifice when they are a genuine offering up of our soul before the Lord.
To David in his trouble this was a comfort and encouragement, just as it can be to us. When we pray, our quiet or unspoken and imperfect prayers don’t simply bounce off the ceiling of our home, or accumulate in some mysterious vault up in the sky. But our prayers are received by the Lord as acts of worship, and they delight him, and He will answer!
It is true that we are a sinful people and unworthy to address him, but God has opened the way for our prayers to ascend to him. He used to require those endless animal sacrifices. But in Christ, God provided the one perfect sacrifice for his people. As Paul describes in Ephesians 5:2,
Christ also has loved us and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
Through Christ, we may have the confidence that our prayers can go directly into the heavenly presence of God our Father (Heb 10:19-22). Jesus was a pleasing offering to God, and through faith in him we have also been made good and pleasing to the Father, even his well-beloved children.
This means that when you are praying today, there is no need to doubt or to hesitate. Instead, there is every reason for you to be trusting and constant.
Christ has made your prayers a sweet-smelling aroma to the Father!