Sweet-smelling Prayers

Our Prayers Matter to 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? Recently my husband was cleaning out some old file folders. He found one that contained prayer request cards that he’d collected for many years as part of the church’s prayer team–hundreds of requests he knew the team had prayed over. Various needs, some urgent concerns. He put aside some that he knew were ongoing and planned to pray over them again.

David’s prayer in Psalm 141 was an urgent “come quickly!” He was surrounded by evildoers and feared he might become like them. David didn’t doubt that God heard him; he knew his prayer was important to God.

David wanted his prayer and the lifting of his hands to be like the sweet-smelling incense offering in the evening sacrifice. The tabernacle had an altar in the Holy Place for offerings of incense every morning and 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 the horns in its corners (Exodus 30:10).

Altar of Incense

David’s altar was a copy of something God showed Moses existed in heaven. Later the apostle John was also given a vision 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).

After this, John saw an angel with a golden censer come and stand 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).

Your prayers matter to God. They fly upward, mingle with the smoke of fragrant incense, and find their way right to God.

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; Exodus 26:30; and Exodus 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 apostle John saw an angel with a golden censer come and stand at the
altar with incense to offer. What was the offering? (Revelation 8:3-4). This happens every time you pray.

Nancy J. Baker

This devotion is part of our series on Prayers of the Bible.

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