My wife really likes candles. Sometimes I will walk into my house and wonder if I have come into some sort of shrine. The entire house will be glowing with little flames, and the smell of the candles will be somewhat overwhelming. She especially likes these candles with incense that create an aroma that permeates the house. Our whole house will smell like french vanilla or cinnamon. I keep telling her she ought to find a candle with the aroma of “wet dog”. That would create an interesting atmosphere.
Incense has been around for a long time, but the 1960’s made it popular. By burning incense, hippies could drown out other smells (like marijuana smoke), and cover up what they were doing. So incense got associated with the drug culture, and stores popped up that specialized in selling the smelly stuff. You could purchase all sorts of incense, any flavor you wanted.
But incense is not a new idea. God wanted His people to build and altar of incense in the Tabernacle for the purpose of burning incense around the clock. This altar was to be located just outside the Holy Place, where God dwelled. Aaron, the High Priest would burn incense on the alter every morning and every evening. The smell of incense would rise up and add to the other aromas of the Tabernacle.
The Altar of Incense, like everything else, represents an aspect of the Christian life. Specifically, this incense is symbolic of the prayers of God’s people. The Altar is at the very door of the presence of God, much like our access to God is through our prayers. The incense was burned day and night, as our prayers are to be without ceasing. The Altar had the blood of the sin offering sprinkled on it once a year, to demonstrate that access into God’s presence is only possible if God forgives sin. In the same way, we only have access into God’s presence through prayer because Jesus has sprinkled His blood on our hearts and forgiven us of our sin. And the smoke from the burning incense would rise toward heaven, much like the prayers of God’s people rise toward Him.
Prayer is a vital discipline for God’s people. Continual prayer, based on the forgiveness of God will lead God’s people into His very presence. The Altar of Incense was a visual image to remind His people to pray. This image is used a number of times in the Bible. In Psalm 141:2, David hopes his prayer and worship life will reflect the continual offering of incense in the Tabernacle. In Revelation 5:8, Jesus opens scrolls and pours out bowls of incense. Those bowls are the prayers of His people. This event begins the events leading to the second coming of Christ, and signifies that His return is an answer to our prayers.
You don’t need to light candles or burn incense to have an awesome prayer life. You do need to remember to pray without ceasing, and to base your prayers on the forgiveness of Christ.