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Let my prayers be set before you as incense…  –  Psalm 141:2

In my daily routine, occasionally I step into a brief moment—completely unaware at first, of course—to experience something that takes me instantly to Scripture.

Standing on a chair to reach an upper kitchen cabinet, have you ever noticed how an aroma grows stronger? Of apples and spices, sweetened, buttered, encrusted, and baking in the oven… Or a casserole layered with pasta and dripping with rich tomato-y sauce and three kinds of cheese…

When perched on top of a stool in front of the Christmas tree, placing the star on the tallest branch, my senses are stirred by heat rising from the wood stove, where near the ceiling the spicy aura of burning candles thickens… drawing me to breathe in more deeply…

Just as smoke, steam and heat rise… just as fragrances float upward, carried gently on warm air… so my prayers are lifted from this particular spot on terra firma, into the heavens and beyond… to the highest Heaven.

Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne…

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…And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.  –  Revelation 8:3-4 (Revelation 5:8)

In the Old Testament Tabernacle, placed in front of the veil sat the Altar of Incense. Twice daily—at morning and evening—the priest would prepare a new batch of spices, ground and blended with resins and natural compounds. The aromatic mixture was then lit by fire to burn continually as a sweet offering to the Almighty God.

…pray without ceasing…  –  I Thessalonians 5:17

The incense was holy. This sacred recipe was not to be changed or copied for personal use. Men died after offering “strange fire” to the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-3)

A wooden box overlaid with sheets of pure gold served as the smaller altar within the Tabernacle, and later the Jewish Temple. Inside the Holy Place, three golden fixtures gleamed in dim light of the oil lamps:

The Lampstand, the Table of Showbread, and the Altar of Incense.

The fragrance was unmistakable—the aroma of Prayers, rising upward, wafting outward, and reaching into the very presence of God.

So it was, that while he (Zacharias) was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.  –  Luke 1:8-10

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Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard…  –  Luke 1:11-13

The Altar of Incense—a place of perpetual burning. The thin smoky, wispy bouquet would ascend, filling the entire room with a satisfying fragrance of spices, synonymous exclusively with worship of the Great I AM. (Exodus 30:1-10; 34-38)

Our God not only sees and hears our prayers ascending to where He is, the fragrance appeals to His senses…

And it pleases Him.

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