In the Old Testament God gives the children of Israel a recipe for an incense that is to be burned before the Presence of the LORD in the tabernacle. This recipe is very exact and clear. It consists of several elements. Three of these ingredients are called "sweet spices." Then there is frankincense and apparently also some salt. Let's take each of these ingredients one at a time.
Of the three "sweet spices" two of them are taken from trees which could be found in the wilderness in which the entire nation of Israel was wandering.The Spices
The first one is called "galbanum." This came in the form of a sap or gum that dropped from the tree and hardened after it fell. It could then be ground to a powder and mixed in with the other ingredients to be burned.
It was not difficult to harvest this sap as it conveniently fell to the ground to be picked up by the people.Another of these spices which could be found in the trees of the area was called "stacte." This was also a sap or a gum.
Besides the difference in the smell of this gum there was another significant difference between it and galbanum; stacte did not fall to the ground, rather it had to be laboriously dug out of the tree and allowed to dry before it could be ground to a powder and mixed with the other ingredients. This was the job of some of the Levites or priests who served in the tabernacle, the tent like temple that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness. The third spice called "onycha" actually came from the shell of a small sea creature from the Red sea. When this shell was ground to a powder, this too was an ingredient of the sacred incense.Frankincense was known throughout the east as it is today as a perfume and a preserver.
It was one of the expensive gifts brought to Jesus as an infant by the wise men. Frankincense was the base for the incense. In a dried form it was the main ingredient that the other ingredients were added to in order to form this powder that was reserved to be burned before the LORD. It was not permitted for anyone to use this formula for any private or secular use. It was reserved to be burned before the LORD only. Apparently there was also a small amount of salt in the incense which was used as a preservative to keep the spices from going bad or spoiling.
Except for the salt everything was to be mixed in equal amounts.What about Incense?.What was the significance of the burning of incense before the LORD?.Rev. 8 ;3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.The incense was burned in the censor and on the tiny altar of incense that stood before the veil that separated the holy place from the most holy place in the tabernacle.
The holy place contained several important pieces of furniture and only the priests could minister there. The holy place was inside the tent and contained the table with the shewbread on it and the large seven pronged candlestick or menorah which burned oil in seven separate oil lamps and gave light to this inside room of the tent. The table and the candlestick were on either side of the room and the altar of incense was next to the veil that approached the most holy place.
Once a year the high priest would take a bowl of blood and pour it out on the mercy seat on the top of the ark of the covenant which was the only piece of furniture in the most holy place. He would take the small censor in with him and burn some of this special incense in the presence of the LORD. This room was lit with the supernatural light of the Shekinah glory.
In the book of Revelation in the New Testament we read about a censor and the incense from it which is mixed with the prayers of the saints before the throne of God.All Scripture Ties Together
In John 10:35 we read where Jesus says, " the scripture cannot be broken." In other words, not only is the scripture true, but all the various parts of it tie together in an integrated package for our education and edification. This incense in the Old Testament which was burned in the tabernacle in the wilderness and the reference to incense as prayer in the book of Revelation tie into another passage about prayer in Philippians.Paul's Recipe
Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
This is God's New Testament recipe for prayer. It is exact and it corresponds to the recipe in Exodus about the sweet spices. In the central part of this formula four ingredients of our prayer are mentioned: do not be careful or anxious for anything, prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving.Do Not Be Anxious
The first part, do not be anxious for anything, is the base ingredient and corresponds to the frankincense in the Old Testament formula. In order for our prayers to be really successful we have to give all of our anxieties to God.
This is necessary for us to pray in faith. The usual problem is that we usually come to God in prayer exactly when we are anxious about something. Then we usually launch into our list of things we want from God.
Paul is telling us here that we must first give up all of our anxiety to God. This is not easy. This can take more time than all the rest of our prayer put together. If you have an hour to pray, for example, it is better to sit before the Lord and worship and sing praises for 50 minutes and to experience his Holy Spirit until you have given your anxiety to him and then to present your "list" for ten minutes than to ask things from him for the entire hour. To understand this New Testament recipe for prayer in the light of the type of the incense from the Old Testament, our lack of anxiousness corresponds to the base for the incense which is the Frankincense. When we are trusting in God, that is a sweet smell to him like that of Frankincense.
And just as Frankincense is also a preservative, our trusting in God preserves not only our prayer life but our entire relationship with him and therefore our very lives. After we allow God to remove our anxiety, we can move on to the other ingredients of prayer.Prayer Is Talking To God
"Prayer" is in itself simply talking to God. We can not know God and we can not have a prayer life if we do not confide in God as our closest friend. This means talking to him about everything, big and small.
As a matter of fact if we are not in the habit of talking to him about the small things, we will not be confident or comfortable talking to him about the big issues of life. Some may say that they don't want to "bother" God with the small things; as if he is stretched so thin with the problems of the world that he has not time to hear about these things. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is bigger than that. If the "very hairs of our head are numbered" and "a sparrow does not fall to the ground" without his knowledge, then the small things of our lives are also important to him. How many times does a natural parent hear about the details of a child's life and listen attentively and offer help? Even more will our heavenly Father listen and help.
God is so big that he can know about and deal with everything all at the same time. The second ingredient of prayer is simply "prayer", talking to God. This is analogous to the galbanum in the incense.
It is something which falls easily to the ground and we merely pick it up. It does not take a lot of effort to simply talk to God. There are some things that can be had from God for the asking. Several of these are clearly listed by Jesus in what is commonly called the "Lord's Prayer." Actually the Lord's Prayer is found in the Gospel of John chapter 17 where Jesus prays for his disciples down through the centuries. What we commonly call the "Lord's Prayer" is actually the Disciples' Prayer.
We should ask God for everything in this Disciples' Prayer daily because we know He wants to give them to us.Supplication Is Harder
The stacte has to be dug out. It does not come easily. This is what supplication is like.
Many, even most, believers do not understand supplication. They can not understand what the "labor" of prayer is intended for. If God knows our needs, why does he not just give us everything we need without our asking for it? People who think like this do not understand what God wants for his children. He wants us to be in partnership with him.
He wants us to prepare to rule and reign with him. He wants us to reign with him even now in the present life. To do this we must learn to supplicate in prayer. Some have likened this to giving birth. We have to labor in prayer to bring forth the will of God in our lives and in the lives of others. A mother knows what this is like.
It is painful and slow, but the rewards are worth it. When the baby is born, that new life is worth all the pain of labor. Those who are deeply into intercession often labor for hours and days to help bring forth the will of God. They are truly God's partners in the new creation. Sometimes they cry and wail in prayer. They share God's feelings of love and pain because of the disobedience and sin of mankind.
They are truly partners with God. This is why God wants supplication. He wants us to be full partners with him in the changes that he wants to make in people and in the world. It is difficult to describe supplication just as it is difficult for a man to understand what it is like to have a baby. But men and women alike can learn to supplicate; it is a matter of experience with God which is open equally to all believers.
"With thanksgiving," Paul says. This is the fourth ingredient of prayer. Onycha is a spice made from a sea shell. This shell was finely ground and mixed in with the other spices all in equal proportions. Why should we thank God for something that we do not yet possess? This is an act of faith and it is somewhat disarming.
When a sea creature gives up its shell, it is essentially defenseless. When we begin to thank God for the answer to our prayers and supplications, it is because we understand by the Holy Spirit that he has truly heard our prayers and that the answer is indeed forthcoming. This displays our vulnerability before God. We are helplessly dependent on him to answer our prayers and we begin thanking him before the answer becomes evident in our natural realm. Experienced intercessors often know when they have "prayed through." It is then that they begin to give thanks for the forthcoming answer.
God tells us that this thanksgiving is a necessary ingredient of successful and faithful prayer and it corresponds to the Onycha in the Old Testament recipe.They Must Be Done Together
It is interesting to know that the three spices, Galbanum, Stacte and Onycha do not smell very good when they are burned alone. As a matter of fact, it is generally agreed that they actually smell very bad when burned alone. Only when they are combined and burned do they produce a beautiful aroma.
This should tell us in type that God is not pleased with any single element of our prayers unless it is combined with the others. Only Frankincense smells good when burned alone. God is always pleased when we "cast all of our cares upon him." However, He expects us to pray, supplicate and be thankful when we pray.The Fire
The fire to burn the incense had to be taken from the fire under the altar of sacrifice in the outer court of the tabernacle. This fire burned up the sacrifices of animals which Israel offered to God for their sins.
Any other fire was called "strange fire" and it was a crime to burn "strange fire" before the LORD. This teaches us that the zeal for our prayers must be solidly anchored in the sacrifice that God has made for us in the Person of Jesus Christ. We can not offer any other kind of zeal to God in our prayers and prayers without zeal can produce no incense at all since the incense had to be burned to release its odor.
Later on, we are told, the Israelites added seven other spices to this sacred incense in violation to God's specific command not to alter it. We can also add other things to our prayers that we hope will get us better answers; but they will do us no good. For example, promising to "live a better life" is an "incense" that will not change God's mind about anything. Our living a better life is the result of our relationship with God, not a bargaining chip with God.
The First Answer To Prayer
What is the first or initial answer to our successful letting go of anxiety and prayer and supplication with thanksgiving? Is it the manifest answer, the thing that we have asked for like a healing or financial supply or someone's salvation? Not usually. Usually it is a manifestation of the peace of God in our heart and mind. This is given to "hold us over" until the answer appears. Why is there a gap? Perhaps God needs to work something in someone else before the answer can come forth. Perhaps there is a reason that we shall never know or understand.
But the reality is that there is often a time gap between the end of the praying and the arrival of the answer. If so, then we need something to help us wait. The peace of God can do this.
We need the peace of God to keep our hearts (our emotions) and our minds (our intellect) until it happens. Our hearts are prone to fear. The peace of God displaces fear in our emotions. Our minds are prone to worry. The peace of God displaces worry in our minds. The peace of God "surpasses understanding" or goes past it.
It does not ignore understanding; it merely goes beyond it. We have the promise of the peace as the first reward for following the prayer recipe. The manifested answer will follow. In how long? We do not know, but the peace will stay with us as long as necessary.
It is a fruit of the Spirit of God.Salt
Is there anything else in this recipe. There seems to be an indication that there is also some salt involved. The exact amount is not clear but a reliable translation of the Hebrew in the Old Testament recipe indicates that the entire mixture of Frankincense, Stacte, Galbanum, and Onycha is to be "salted" together. Salt is a prime preserver.
Salt was also very valuable in the ancient world. Often people were paid in salt, especially soldiers of the Roman army. That is where we get the saying "worth his salt" and the word "salary.
" If the entire recipe is to be "salted" together, where do we find the salt in the New Testament recipe? Perhaps it is in the context of the recipe. Around the New Testament recipe we read things like this.Philippians4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
And.8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Our attitude and purity of mind are important to our life of prayer.
Rejoicing in the Lord is a good thing. Sometimes we have to rejoice or "offer up the sacrifice of praise" when we do not feel like it. The mature believer can and will do this.
We can all learn to rejoice. Paul says, "again I say, Rejoice." He repeats it because it is important.
Praising God in private as well as with other believers is important as it is easier with others around us to encourage us. Moderation is simply not overdoing things, especially things that can become dangerous like drinking alcohol or indulging in sex. These things should be done within scriptural parameters. There can be too much of a good thing. Moderation is good. Then we are told to think about, occupy our minds with, good things, things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and full of virtue and praise.
All of this is salt. This environment surrounds the specific prayer recipe with preserving spiritual "salt" and help the four ingredients to work together for us and for others in achieving much in prayer from and with God.Answers to prayer will and do come.
By the time they come we no longer need faith to receive them for they are clearly visible. Also, by the time the answers come we should be busy praying for more things which will be a blessing to God's people and a credit to the Kingdom of God..
By: David Keyser