7 “Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it.
8 “And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.
9 “You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it.
10 “And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”
This morning, as I was reading this passage again, I got to thinking about what prayer is like for the Lord our God. I know what it is like for me, how it helps me to talk to my God, how my fears and failures come before Him and are laid bare. I know how I often find my needs hidden beneath the words I speak–and how often I find myself needing to repent of something that is not pleasing to God. In prayer, I find I am also reminded of God’s constant awareness of us, that He is always there to listen, always ready to hear, to forgive, and to act. (1 Kings 8:39) When we call out to Him, He is there.
But what does our prayer do for the Lord? I know what it’s like when I get a phone call from one of my children or from a distant friend. When I get a call or a card or a letter, an email of even just a phone text message, it always makes me smile, because it reminds me that I am on their mind, that I am not forgotten. My late wife and I used to sneak by each others’ workplaces and leave little notes on the car windshield, and on those days, we would always come home from work with a smile. In short, the communication we get from those we love brings us joy, because we know that someone has remembered us and wants to make contact with us.
Of course, I also know what it’s like NOT to get messages from loved ones. When I write or leave a phone message and then get no response, it makes me a little sad. I feel rejected and refused, and I wonder why I should bother trying to keep contact. And when we have done something nice for someone, a nice thank you wouldn’t hurt, and yet we sometimes don’t get even a word. Yes, that is a bit of a letdown, isn’t it?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always,
17 pray without ceasing,
18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Pray without ceasing. Why? For one reason, we ought to pray without ceasing so that we are always reminded to bring ALL things before God, to rest all our hope in Him, to place all our burdens at the foot of the Cross and lift up holy hands to the Lord our God. But there is another reason: to remind the Lord that we have not forgotten Him. You see, while God may not have the same need for affirmation as we do, He does desire that we demonstrate our love for Him. He does want us to always come to Him with every part of our lives, to love and fear and trust Him, to place His will first above our own. And we do that by always coming to Him in prayer, by always turning to Him and remembering His Word and His promises, by constantly telling Him of our love and our need for Him.
When the Lord directed Israel to always burn incense before the mercy seat, He was telling them to always remember Him. This perpetual incense would be sweet not because of how it was made but because of how and when and why it was burnt. This continual tending of the lamps and the incense was a test of the Israelites’ remembrance of their God. Would they truly remember the Lord who brought them up out of Egypt? Would they remember the God who had fed them manna and quail and sweet water in the desert? Would they remember the Almighty God who had gone before them into battle against their enemies? Would they remember the Lord who had promised good to them?
Because Jesus has sacrificed Himself to atone for the sins of those whom God has chosen to believe, we no longer need to make sacrifices nor burn incense on altars.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
The perpetual incense we now send up to God is our prayers of joy and thanksgiving and repentance and supplication. The hands we lift up–in acknowledgment of our brokenness, in submission to His mercy, in desire for His Spirit, in readiness to receive His grace–those are the sacrifice we make before the altar of God. When we turn to Him and pray to Him, then He is reminded of our love, and when we pray without ceasing, then it is a continual sweet aroma before Him.
In the Revelation of the apostle John, the elders came before the throne of God with “bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8) Our prayers are ever before the Lord, always reaching up to His holy heaven. There is never a prayer made in faith that falls upon deaf ears. God does hear, and He does love to hear. He may not always respond the way we like, and quite often God’s will goes against the desires of our flesh, but He does hear and forgive and act.
This day may seem like just another day in a relatively monotonous life for you, but it is a day like no other before or yet to come. This day we can let God know that we have not forgotten Him, that His Word is always with us, that His will is always our priority. Let this day be the first of many days when we tend the lamps of our faith to keep them burning bright, when we come before the Lord with uplifted hands and with rejoicing and thanksgiving. This day, let us show the Lord our God that we have not forgotten Him, and so let us offer up the perpetual incense of our prayers to Jesus Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Savior and our Lord.
Holy Father God, I come before You with all praise and thanksgiving, and even though I may not know what is my urgent need this day, I do know that I desire Your forgiveness. I also know, Lord God, that Your Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps of my prayer, to make known to You the groanings of my own spirit that I cannot express. Let my prayer be a sweet and holy incense to You, Lord, always reminding You that I love You above all other gods, that You alone are the One I worship and praise. Amen.