I'm told that some people like to lie in the bath for hours, surrounded by candles and incense sticks. I can't think of anything much worse - for me, washing is a necessity which is best done quickly and with good lighting!
God specified that the Tabernacle was to contain candles, incense and washing facilities. However, these were not for the benefit of the human users - but to reinforce once again the point that God is holy and can only be approached in an atmosphere of holiness. In fact there was a ban on trying to recreate the incense for other purposes (vv.37-38).
Incense does not get much of a mention in the New Testament, but there are a couple of significant occurrences, both of which link it to prayer:
- At the start of Luke's Gospel, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest as he was trying to burn incense - to tell him that God had heard the prayers offered by him and his wife Elizabeth (Luke 1:13).
- In the book of Revelation, incense is used as a symbol of pure worship - and is particularly linked to the prayers offered by God's people (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4).
I'm not sure whether or not it is a good thing for Christians to burn incense as part of worship (it's not something that's part of our church tradition - but that doesn't mean we should dismiss it). But just thinking about incense should encourage us that our prayers - which sometimes seems as if they are going nowhere - do indeed go up to God, in the same way that the smoke from incense rises and its perfume spreads outwards.
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God (Revelation 8:4)
Questions to ponder: Do you feel that your prayers make any difference? How can the images and examples of prayer in the Bible encourage us? How can you encourage someone else who is struggling in their prayer life?