Prayer and God’s Holiness
O Lord, “May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psa. 141:2).
Read Exodus 30:1-38
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
“To meet God requires right living, right thinking, a right relationship with him, and a right relationship with others” (Michael Wilcock).
Before entering God’s presence, the priests must wash. This little ritual approached sincerely rather than superficially, reminded them that they must have “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psa. 24:4). The incense, the anointing oil and everything else had to be treated with reverence because it was set apart for God. Do we dare come into the presence of God in a casual or offhand manner? I must confess to some misgivings about the “Hi, God” approach to public prayer. I recall my own youthful zeal in the 1950s and the intimidating older members of our church who thought us teenagers far too casual in our attitude to worship. I don’t want to follow their narrow-mindedness, but God is a holy God and there are things that God requires of us. We do not come to God as an equal.
Of utmost importance in approaching God is being conscious of our sinfulness, of who God is and of our unworthiness before him. Jesus taught that it is precisely this attitude which God accepts (Luke 18:10-14). Traditionally this was the message of incense: it acknowledged God’s holiness. The fragrant incense no doubt had a cleansing effect on the tabernacle after the previous day’s sacrifices, but its central purpose was to prepare the place where they would meet God (6), to make it pure, to make it fit for a holy God. It filled the air where they encountered God, the very air in which they prayed. And it rose upwards. Thus incense came to symbolize prayer itself. The psalmist wanted his own prayers to be like incense. In John’s great vision of heaven, the prayers of the saints mingled with incense as they rose up to God (Rev. 8:4).
Read Psalm 24, noting carefully each stanza. Picture the back and forth reciting of the leader and the people. Allow the psalm to be a prelude to your own prayer time.
Lord, You are my Father, yet You are Sovereign over all time and space. May I always hold You in the reverence and awe that You so rightly deserve.
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