Sweet-smelling Prayers

Prayers That Please God

I call to you, LORD, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.        Psalm 141:1-2

Have you ever wondered if your prayers are important to God? David’s prayer in Psalm 141 was an urgent, “come quickly!” He was surrounded by evildoers and feared he might become like them. David had no doubt that God heard him; he knew his prayer was important to God.

David wanted his prayer and the lifting up of his hands to be like the incense offering in the evening sacrifice. The tabernacle had an altar in the Holy Place where offerings of incense every morning and the evening (Exodus 30:7-8)

The incense was compounded with sweet spices by a perfumer and mixed with salt to be “pure and holy” (Exodus 30:34-35). The altar was made of wood covered with pure gold. No sacrifices—animal, grain, or drink offerings— were made on this altar. Once a year the blood of the atoning sin offering was sprinkled on its horns (Exodus 30:10).

On Mt. Sinai God gave Moses a pattern of the tabernacle He wanted him to build; this was a copy of something that existed in heaven. John later described a vision given to him of a scene in heaven. He saw twenty-four elders who fell down before the Lamb who had been slain. Each had a harp and golden bowl full of incense, “which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:7-8).

Later, an angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar. “He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:3-4).

David wanted his words to go up like the smoke of the sweet-burning incense right to the throne of God. David prayed that he be able to keep his eyes fixed on the Sovereign LORD, his refuge. He also prayed that God would execute justice: that David’s enemies would fall prey to the traps they were setting for him, while he stayed safe.

Your prayers matter to God. They fly upward like the smoke of fragrant incense and find their way right to God’s ear.

Listen for His answer.


Read Psalm 141. Have you ever felt surrounded by evil people and afraid you might become like them? What does David ask the Lord to do to his mouth and heart? What would be the danger of eating his enemies’ dainties?

Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8 all repeat the command to make the tabernacle and its furnishings just like the One God showed Moses on Mt. Sinai. Why do you think it was important for Moses to follow the pattern God gave him?

The sweet spices, mentioned in Exodus 30:34-38 were equal weights of stacte which grows abundantly in Lebanon and Judea, onycha, a powder made from Red Sea mollusks, galbanum, and pure frankincense which came from Africa, Arabia, Ethiopia, and India.* What are the words used to describe how this burned concoction smelled to God? Why do you think it was only used in worship, but not in sin offerings (Leviticus 5:11)? Why would the Magi bring frankincense for the newborn child (Matthew 2:1-11)?

Nancy J. Baker


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