fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

Who Lights the Incense?

WHO LIGHTS THE INCENSE? By Julie McAllen

INSTRUCTIONS: Remove incense sticks from box. Place stick firmly in a suitable and secure heat and flame resistant holder (not provided). Light tip of stick then blow out flame so tip glows.

I’ve never actually read the instructions on a box of incense before writing them down here; I can usually figure it out on my own just fine thank you very much. I trust that is the case with those who will read this article too.

There are a lot of things we use every day which require no need to consult the manufacturer. And because we take for granted the ease with which it comes to us, we assume others know also and therefore feel no need to explain to them what, how, or why we do what we do.

For example: I burn incense because it smells good, so I light up a stick and position it near me for my pleasure.

Well duh.

I’ve taken the act of burning incense for granted so long that it never occurred to me to read the instructions or write about it. So why am I bothering to do so now? Because I wonder if that is also the case with prayer. After all, no one needs instructions on how to pray, even atheists in foxholes figure that one out without reading any manual. Yet recently I was led to investigate the instructions in the Bible about prayer and how it relates to incense. For the believer who prays regularly, this article may seem…..well…kind of like the idiot instructions on a box of incense. Yet most of us do question at times whether or not God really hears us or how and if He already knows our needs before we bring them to Him why does He ask us to pray? So, it can be to our benefit to read the instructions in the manual and learn more about the mechanics of prayer to increase our confidence in continuing in it.

The essence of prayer is to meet with God. In addressing the topic of prayer, the apostle Paul wrote that he prayed with his mind as well as his spirit (1 Cor 14:14-15). So there is an engagement of both mind and spirit in the act of prayer. The things our minds wrestle with bring us to Him with questions and concerns and in the process He unveils our hearts. The connection to our Creator happens when the intellect is stripped and gives way to the spirit’s prayer. We may leave the prayer closet with unanswered questions but gain the peace of God that surpasses all knowledge (Phil 4:7).

A recent experience in prayer reminded me of this and is the inspiration for this article.

I know God is not a squirrel…. but….

There are days I look very forward to prayer and there are days when I admit, it’s more out of duty or obligation in a rush to get through the list. Other tasks weigh on my mind.

It seems the past few days have had interruptions and distractions keeping me from hearing God’s voice, but I knew today would be quiet so last night I went to bed looking forward to a morning of prayer.

I’m blessed to live on the river with beautiful views surrounding my home. Downstairs I have a favorite spot known as “the prayer chair.” It’s positioned near an east facing window making it a perfect spot to receive the morning sun. Upstairs I have an office with another comfortable chair and floor pillows for kneeling, but since it’s on the west side of the house, it’s not as welcoming in the morning. But this morning beckoned me to the tall east facing windows behind my kitchen table. I tossed the pillows on the floor, peered through the pines and absorbed the creation by watching the sun sparkle on the river below. It’s not hard to begin intercessions when He makes it so easy to come in with thanksgiving and praise.

As the Spirit opened, I found myself receiving a lesson on the struggle between intellect and love, the mind and the heart. I received a wonderful word on incense which I wrote down for another time. As I prayed for others on my list, He relieved my intellect and gave in its place wordless groans (Romans 8:26). I trusted the Spirit’s prayer more than my own and I let it flow. Then the hunger increased, I asked to know Him more intimately, to know He was near. I asked for a touch, a vision, anything.

Just then, I opened my eyes face-to-face with a gray squirrel staring at me through the window. Only a sheet of glass stood between the two feet of space that separated us. I watched him nervously jitter from one end of the window to the other cautiously checking my eyes to see if they followed him. Finally, he was gone, off to gather his provisions. And once again, with humor God reminded me that yes, He was very near. I was allowed this understanding only by remaining still and silent on my knees where I’d be able to meet with Him face-to-face.

I didn’t begin my prayers on January 10, 2012 asking to understand incense. I was actually just going through my usual Tuesday morning list. I came in with my mind and it’s petitions toward God and as I was still before Him, my mind gave way to praying in the Spirit. When it did, I heard a question.

“Who lights the incense?”

And a flood of understanding filled me. Whenever this happens, I scramble for a notebook. This is what I managed to capture.

Prayer is like incense: January 10, 2012

The light from heaven comes. We receive the fire and prayers escape our lips. They ascend to heaven in the smoke of sweet incense. Do not release this until you’re lit with the fire from Him. For He is the one delighting in the aroma of your prayer.

If I want to delight in the smell of a stick of incense, I must first go to it and light it. Then I may enjoy the fragrance it brings to my nostrils.

How pleasant to be assured that what I pray to God has first been given His attention. He walked over to me and lit me. I am praying…..

Prayer is like incense. I’d read verses about that before but they never touched my heart as much as they do now.

May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2)

As I read the verse now, it connects with my experience and a blessed understanding comes to me, ‘my prayers are pleasing to God.’

In Exodus chapter 30, God’s people are given detailed instruction about the altar of incense. The priests of the old covenant ensured that incense was burned before the Lord morning and night. The altar on which this incense was burned was before the curtain that separated the holy place from the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies in which the mercy seat of God was positioned above the ark of the testimony. The blessing in this arrangement includes “this is where I will meet with you.”

6You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. 8 When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. (Exodus 30:6-8)

This is a shadow of the new covenant privilege we have in prayer. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament reminds Christians of those first covenant arrangements in chapter 9 where the construction of the earthly tabernacle is considered. He describes how the holy place and the Holy of Holies are separated by a veil. Priests were continually entering the outer tabernacle in their worship, but it was only the high priest who could enter the Holy of Holies. He entered with blood offered for himself and the sins of the people. (Heb 9:1-7)

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (Heb 9:11)

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are recognizing his role as our High Priest and the right given to us as kings and priests under the new covenant arrangement to participate in intercessory prayer.

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19—22)

By the blood of Christ, we enter the holy place. But how is it that we can meet with God who is in the Holy of Holies?

The instructions for the altar of incense in Exodus 30 included placing that incense in front of the curtain separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. The sacred items of the ark of the covenant and mercy seat of God are in the Holy of Holies as described in Exodus 25:10-22.

What I found interesting in that account were the cherubim at the two ends of the mercy seat.

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22 There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Exodus 25:17-22).

Cherubim are first mentioned in Genesis 3:22-24 where we learn that their chief role is to guard God’s holiness. Cherubim are also upon the mercy seat of God which is in the Holy of Holies where sin can not enter. What does it mean?

When we enter prayer cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we are standing in a holy place where our prayers are offered to God. Just as Aaron kept the incense burning day and night in the old covenant arrangement, we as new covenant priests having washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb are seen before the throne of God serving Him day and night in His temple (Rev 7:14-15). The revelation continues with a scene in heaven of an angel holding a golden censer, or container, standing at the altar where incense is given to him “so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.” Picture that scene: we offer prayers, but wait on heaven to release angels bringing incense to mix with our prayers, “and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up to God out of the angel’s hand.” (Rev 8:3-4)

Angels are ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who inherit salvation (Heb 1:14) Angels were sent even to minister to Jesus (Matt 4:11). They continue to play a vital role in our lives bringing us close to God where we can “meet with Him” as we enter the temple.

That morning I was praying like a priest showing up for duty as I interceded by mindfully going through my list. It was like I was waiting not only for a stick of incense, but the fire to light it as well. As I continued in prayer, a hunger increased to draw near to God. You might say I became aware of the veil separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. I noticed the transition of praying from my mind to praying in the Spirit. I felt the Presence of God as I gave into it. That is when He asked me, “who lights the incense?”

Jacob had a dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder set on the earth reaching into heaven. The experience was so powerful that he exclaimed, “surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:10-16) He had met with God through the intercession of angels. I like to think of them now coming down the ladder with empty bowls to fill with my prayers. They take them back up to heaven where God mixes His favorite incense with them.

But why does God need this mixture of prayer and incense? Aren’t my prayers enough? I found an answer to those questions in a book which is rich with the details of God’s holiness and requirements for fellowship with Him.

Sacrificial offerings are the major theme of the book of Leviticus. The grain offering reminded the people of God’s provision of life: daily bread. And they were given instruction as to what kind of bread to offer.

 11 ‘No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:11)

Leaven, is often a symbol for sin or the spread of evil according to the writers of the new testament (Matt 16:6, 1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9)

Leaven and honey were excluded because they both ferment; however, there was allowance for leavened bread in the offering of firstfruits at Leviticus 23:17. The church, like leavened bread, is composed of sinners. As we begin our prayers, certainly we want to pray in the will of God. But the truth of the matter is, we do not always know if we are. Our sincerity may in fact be tainted with leaven even when we are offering up our petitions and praise in the name of Jesus who is the sinless bread of heaven. Certainly we want our prayers to be pleasing to God, and as sinners we are welcomed to come before the altar even if leaven is present in our prayers, yet can these ascend into the Holy of Holies as the soothing aroma He desires? What can we learn from the shadow set forth in the old covenant?

12 As an offering of first fruits you shall bring them to the LORD, but they shall not ascend for a soothing aroma on the altar. (Lev 2:12)

So the question arises; how did God’s people present their grain offerings to become a soothing aroma to the Lord?

 14 ‘Also if you bring a grain offering of early ripened things to the LORD, you shall bring fresh heads of grain roasted in the fire, grits of new growth, for the grain offering of your early ripened things. 15 You shall then put oil on it and lay incense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest shall offer up in smoke its memorial portion, part of its grits and its oil with all its incense as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:14-16)

The offering with oil and frankincense became a soothing aroma to the Lord (Lev 2:1-2).

Throughout the Bible, oil is associated with the anointing of Holy Spirit and symbolizes the very presence of God (Ps 23:5, Acts 10:38, 1 John 2:20) Perhaps praying in the Spirit could be understood as a “leavened” prayer anointed with oil. It’s interesting to note that when James describes a spiritually sick member of the church, he is not instructed to pray himself but rather to call the elders to pray over him. They anoint the sick one with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14-16). When weak, we need the help of oil, or Holy Spirit, to pray.

God desires to hear back from the Spirit which He sent to us. Notice how James addresses this,

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:3-5)

God jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us. And so, we are encouraged to pray in the Spirit.

When the disciples were told to wait until the Holy Spirit was sent, they obediently returned to Jerusalem and waited. How? They were “continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:49-53)

Exciting things happen when we wait while praising God.

2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)

When our prayers are anointed with the oil of Holy Spirit and mixed with the incense of heaven, they become the smoke of the incense that pleases God because what pleases God is that we pray in His will. Though we may enter prayer with our own ideas, God desires His own will to be done and that is why He sends out angels to light the incense and bring our utterances back to Him as holy prayers. So incense is given into the angels censer and once mixed with our prayers, it’s filled with the fire of the altar and thrown to the earth where effects are seen (Rev. 8:3-5)! These become the prayers offered in God’s will.

14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  (1 John 5:14).

Heaven is moved whenever or however we pray, but when we stand in the holy place not knowing what to pray or dutifully go through a list, we may miss the intimacy of meeting with God if we’re not still and wait long enough to be “lit,” because it’s the smoke of the incense that reaches past the curtain to please our Father and send angels into action.

Prayer is an invitation. God beckons us there to instruct us what He has in store, not the other way around. We have absolutely no idea what God intends to do, how can we know the mind of God? How can our lists of prayers instruct Him what to do?

9but just as it is written,

   “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:9-16)

We don’t know God’s will, and yet, we need a reason to come. So we show up with our lists hoping that He will answer these petitions as we envision them fulfilled, but “hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Ro 8:24-25) There it is again, we wait. As we wait, the oil is poured out and the angels come to light the incense, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Ro 8:26-27)

Can we pray without knowing all these details? Of course we can, but I realize now what has been occurring all this time: God enjoys incense, not just prayers. Though He is pleased that I’ve showed up with my first fruits as I start to relate to Him the things on my mind with it’s own words, He says, “she is weak and doesn’t know how to pray about this” and the Spirit begins to intercede. I’ve come in the holy place by the blood of Jesus, I’m positioned before the curtain, He is in the Holy of Holies with cherubim on the seat of mercy. Will He direct their attention toward me? Will “tongues of angels” be given to mix with incense so that my intellect no longer has cause to assert it’s own will over the perfect will of God? Angels descend from heaven with incense and then ascend back to heaven with my prayers and the smoke of this is pleasing to God and I sense my prayers becoming holy enough to go beyond the veil and into the Holy of Holies where I may meet Him there.

If you are no longer satisfied with prayers based on things seen and long for depth and intimacy with God, be assured He is delighted when we kindle the flames of our spiritual gifts and seek never to quench it’s fire. (2 Tim 1:6; 1 Thess 5:19-20)

The intimacy in prayer is as two lovers interlocked in a kiss. Solomon expressed the love between a Shulamite and the king with these words, “Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.” (SS 1:4) When she speaks of his kisses they are described as “the kisses of his mouth.” The most satisfying prayers to God are those uttered in the name of Jesus whose words are planted on our lips. The lovers become one as they run together. The prayer of the perfect Son of God is a fragrant prayer, and it affects those around us even as the king’s scented oil caused the maidens to love him (SS 1:3).

Likewise, in relationship to our King Jesus, we take on the fragrance of Christ and are not only pleasing to God but also among those with whom we come into contact (2 Cor 2:15-16-17).

The fact is that if we have been saved by grace, we’ve also been raised up with Christ and are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). How often do we push beyond the first heaven to meet with Him there? The Lord is seated in heavenly places where a man the apostle Paul describes was “caught up” where he heard “inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:24). This doesn’t happen in a prayer life comprised only of 10 seconds of grace before your meal or exclamations of “help me Jesus” on an icy road, it happens, oddly enough, when we set prayer as a discipline, even entering it as a mindful and dutiful obligation or habit. An hour set aside for prayer is not to be confused with an act of legalism as if to prove to God our worth based on a record of time spent there. But when we are still before the Lord and wait, it’s a bit like those instructions on a box of incense as we’re “taken out of the box to be lit.”

May we never look at our prayers–or a box of incense–as unimportant again. Make it a habit to be still long enough to wait on the incense from heaven to be mixed as a pleasant fragrance to the One who is on the throne.

And so beloved, “build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” and of course….

Keep yourself in God’s love, (Jude 20-21)

Julie

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January 23, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions, Prayer Requests | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Who Lights the Incense?

Hidden Scars

Hidden Scars by Julie McAllen

Is it wrong to dredge up the past? Is it slander to expose what others have done to hurt us?

On the surface, some would say it’s not the “Christian” thing to do. After all, are we not advised to turn the other cheek when someone slaps us? Aren’t we called to forgive the offense and bravely press on? What is accomplished by exposing someone else’s sin? Shouldn’t we protect their good reputation instead of airing out their dirty laundry? I confess there are times I will cover over my wounds in an effort to protect those who’ve sinned against me. It seems respectful and “Christian” to do so, but God took me below the surface and showed me it was in fact the opposite of following in the footsteps of Christ.

When Jesus visited his closest companions after his resurrection from the dead, he did not hide his wounds from them. In fact, he exposed the holes in his hands openly in order to prove to them who he was. In effect he was saying, “look at what the sins of others have done to me.” Was that slander? Was it unnecessary exposure for the sake of getting even? Not in the case of Jesus. How do I know? Because even as they were pounding his body with their sins, he forgave them. Jesus was not uncovering his scars in any effort to hold back forgiveness, for it was already granted. Forgiving, therefore, is not hiding our wounds. If Jesus had kept his hidden, his friends would’ve doubted his reality.

 “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” …. Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:25, 27)

Jesus was known to his friends by the wounds he willingly exposed. In the most intimate relationships, everything is open and laid bare.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13).

God uses his word to draw us closer to him, Jesus honored his closest friends by allowing them to touch his wounds (1 John 1:1). Are we willing to let God open our wounds? Do we let others come close enough to see our scars and admit to them, “this is what the world did to me?” And what is the motive if we do expose the scars we carry?

“This is where they took out the cancer,” a friend confides as she lifts her shirt. “A reminder of my DWI days,” another jokes as he explains his twisted limb. “My mommy gets mad sometimes,” a child is coaxed to admit when the bruises no longer pass for normal playground mishaps. Some wounds are easier to share than others. Some go undetected for years they’ve been so skillfully buried. “I keep having these nightmares,” she finally confides to a therapist. “I know it happened, but I don’t see the point in talking about it now,” another evades the topic. Sometimes we tell the wrong people who abuse our trust and it makes it hard to be intimate with anyone after that. And so we live with wounds that no one else is admitted to see or touch as we isolate and insulate ourselves from others. There are, after all, many ways to hide the scars. How beautiful that Jesus not only exposed his own wounds and invited his friends to touch them, but he was also willing to touch the imperfections of those around him; healing lepers, deaf ears, and blind eyes. Sometimes all we need to heal is to trust someone enough to see our scars.

God is saying, “it’s okay, show your scars.” Yet confronting those we love but have hurt us deeply is difficult. If love covers over a multitude of sins, why bring up their sins? Why not keep the scars they gave us hidden? What will happen if they’re shown the wounds they inflicted upon us? Has Jesus kept his hidden? When confronted with sin, the humble are left to deal with their shame and seek forgiveness in the interest of reconciling the relationship. The prideful, however, will claim they have not sinned and blame the one who confronted them. Our weakness may hold us back from such confrontation, but if Jesus trusts us enough to discover the effects of our sin, we should do likewise with those we love—regardless of the consequences. God was willing to reconcile all men at the cross, but not all men are willing to see their sin there. We do no one any favors by not giving them opportunity to acknowledge their sins against us either. We are instead, opening the way to express our forgiveness toward them and invite them to greater intimacy in a reconciled relationship.

When we touch the wounds of Jesus, we are not merely looking at what Roman soldiers did to him. If you believe your sins were forgiven because of the blood of Jesus Christ, then no doubt you’ve seen your own misgivings causing the holes in his hands and the gash in his side. It makes his words of forgiveness toward you even sweeter. He didn’t exclude you by hiding his wounds from your eyes, for it was by his Spirit you were drawn there to see your words and actions causing the pain he endured on the cross. As you sobbed at his feet, he lifted your head to look you in the eye and whisper, “your sins are forgiven.” This is the pattern of a healthy and intimate relationship set forth by our Creator, because no one is ready to meet God until they first acknowledge the effect of their sins upon him. Likewise, no one really knows the gift of another person until they see their scars, even if some of those scars were caused by you.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

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December 22, 2011 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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