When the Incense Goes Up

Heaven stands at attention when God listens to our prayers.

Incense is widely accepted as a symbol for the prayers of God’s people throughout Scripture. The incense appointed for the tabernacle carried a mixture of components which each gave off a distinctive aroma — stacte contributed the soft note of orange blossoms, onycha hinted at the sweetness of honey, galbanum gave off a piney sharpness, while frankincense imparted its more somber balsam tones (Exodus 30:34-38).

When we seek the Lord in prayer as a group, we become like the incense, a blended fragrance. One person brings a sweet joy into the throne room. Another carries the sharp scent of mourning or regret. This one approaches with a bitter heart in need of balm. That one brings in a soft quietness of spirit with her. Blended together, these separate aromas become a full-bodied fragrance — an incense so precious to God, He reserved it for Himself alone.

Psalm 100:4 invites us to come into His gates with thanksgiving — to enter His courts with praise. Sometimes, however, we simply can’t do that by ourselves. We need to stand in the blended smoke of corporate worship and allow it to permeate our souls.

If I were to go to the altar alone some days, my prayer might be all bitterness and sorrow. If I expose myself to the aroma others bring, the smoke of my intercession takes on new dimension. I hear how you pray, note what you ask for, see how you approach God. My perspective begins to change. Someone else’s joy drifts my way, like fragrance on a breeze. Someone else’s pain resonates and I know my sad incense isn’t rising alone. The consolation I could never have found by myself is born to me on the wind of the spirit from the quiet sweetness carried in by someone else.

Never underestimate the value of your contribution.

When it was “the time of the incense” in the Old Testament, a priest would strike a large instrument called the “Magrephah,” alerting everyone in the temple grounds that the priest was about to pour incense on the altar’s coals. Cleric and lay person alike dropped everything and hurried to worship. With all attention on the Holy Place, the priest poured the incense into the fire. Smoke filled the Holy Place and everyone in the compound fell on their faces in silent prayer.[1]

Can you imagine the sudden silence, the stillness, as though the temple itself was holding its breath? Everything stopped when God was inhaling His people’s prayers.

The book of Revelation describes a similar moment in heaven. Silence reigned “for about half an hour” as an angel filled a golden censer with incense and offered it with the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar in heaven (Revelation 8:1-5).

Let your fragrance join the incense of others at the altar and remember what’s going in God’s throne room. All heaven is holding its breath as God trains his attention on the smoke of our intercession.

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1994), pp. 127-128.

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12 replies added

    • Terry June 6, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Laurienne. Glad it blessed you.

  1. Jetta Allen June 6, 2017 Reply

    So beautiful, Terry! Thank you for this blessing today.

    • Terry June 6, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Jetta. So glad this blessed you.

  2. beckielindsey June 7, 2017 Reply

    I’m glad I took the time to read this. Your writing with its imagery is lovely.

    • Terry June 7, 2017 Reply

      Thanks so much Beckie. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

  3. melanielivingreal June 8, 2017 Reply

    Beautiful description of worship fragrances rising to the Throne room of God. This is very timely for me as I am mentoring some high school girls this summer. We are emphasizing the aroma wafting from our lives onto others and before God. I will be sharing your post with them! Thanks so much for writing it.

    • Terry June 8, 2017 Reply

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I’m so pleased you’re finding it worth sharing! Thanks.

  4. Cherrilynn Bisbano June 10, 2017 Reply

    Terry, Beautiful image of our prayers, My favorite line, “Everything stopped when God was inhaling His people’s prayers.” God so wants us to talk to Him. May we always offer up a sacrifice of praise to our most Holy God.

    • Terry June 15, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Cherrilynn. I just love the picture of God giving His undivided attention to us. Isn’t He wonderful?

  5. Leigh Powers June 12, 2017 Reply

    I love the picture of our prayers rising up to heaven like the smoke of the incense. You draw a great comparison between the blend of fragrances in the incense and the different contributions we all make to worship.

    • Terry June 15, 2017 Reply

      Thank you so much Leigh. So glad this blessed you.

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