Prayer and incense

One item of furniture in the tabernacle was an altar which was used only for burning incense.

And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations.
Exodus 30:7-8

Incense was to be burned twice a day every day.  In the book of Revelation we learn the meaning of incense.

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Revelation 5:8

Incense is a symbol of prayer.  The fact that incense was burned everyday shows that prayer should be part of our everyday routine, not just something we do in emergencies and when we have a special need.  There might be times when we need to spend more time praying than we normally do, but we should never let a day go by without spending some time in prayer.

But there is another place in Revelation where prayer and incense are mentioned together.

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
Revelation 8:3-4

First we are told incense is the prayers of the saints and now we are told incense is offered with the prayers of the saints.  How can both of these statements be true?  One possibility is that, since incense is a symbol of prayer, there is someone praying for the saints, and we find that that this is the case.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27

In Revelation 5 the incense stands for the prayers we offer to God; in Revelation 8 it is the intercession of the Holy Spirit on our behalf.  Because of his intercession we can be sure that our prayers will be answered.  The answer might not be the one we wanted or expected but it will always be the best answer because it will be in accord with God’s will.

Unbelievers often claim it is impossible for God to answer prayer because the prayers offered by different people contradict each other.  In athletic contests the fans of both teams pray that their team will win; during elections supporters of different candidates pray that the one they favor will be elected; in times of war the saints in each country pray for victory for their nation.  The answer to this problem is that the Holy Spirit’s intercession will bring all of these prayers into agreement with God’s will.

Prayer is a very important part of living the way God wants us to.  If you are having problems that are beyond your ability to solve the first thing you need to do is examine your prayer life to see if you are praying as much as you should.

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Posted on May 17, 2016, in prayer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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