I lifted the lid of the suitcase, and a gentle aroma of wood smoke emanated from it. We’d stayed overnight in a B&B that had been a railway station house, and still used the wood burner for their heating. The smell of it subtly pervaded the whole house there, and unknowingly I’d transported home a little of the fragrance with me: a delightful souvenir of perfume in my suitcase.
Incense has played a large part in many religious expressions throughout the history of mankind, and here we find it, in Exodus 30:1-10. God instructed that an altar be made just for burning incense, and that it should be burnt morning and evening, twice a day, for perpetuity. This altar was to stand immediately in front of the curtain, the veil to the holy of holies, wherein was the very presence of God. As the pan of burning coals was brought, and the sticks of incense placed over them, clouds of billowing smoke would waft out the sweet perfume and pervade the atmosphere. Those who stayed there for any length of time would themselves take on the aroma.
Those rising clouds signified prayer. Prayer: the entrance to the presence of God. Prayer: thoughts rising and curling and making their way to the heart of God. Prayer: offered regularly with discipline and intention, yet pervading every part of life.
But what use would the incense be without the flame underneath it? Cold, it gives off no perfume; no rising of mists to heaven, no aroma to cling and remind you. Purposeless. And so too, cold prayer is ineffectual. Just praying because you should, because it’s the routine is largely unproductive. Lukewarm prayer is not enough to cling around us throughout the day, to impact those around.
We need the flame of the Holy Spirit to set us alight, to make our prayers alive and active. I want my prayer life to make a difference to my whole life, and to the lives of all who come into contact with me. I want to pray with a Holy Passion.
Pray this if you dare:
Holy Spirit, I reject my lukewarmness and submit myself completely to you. Fill me afresh, and make me satisfied with nothing but your full-on power that changes my life and impacts those around me. Set me alight to live for you. I’m yours.