Exodus 30-31, Psalm 27
Billy Graham said, "When you were young and first started speaking, did you talk to your parents in long sentences and for great lengths of time? I doubt it. And yet they weren't disappointed in you; they were delighted by your first attempts to speak. In the same way, when we truly understand that our God is our loving heavenly Father and we are His children, then we won't worry so much about disappointing Him by our prayers. Don't worry about your lack of eloquence; no matter how simple they are, God delights in our prayers when they truly express the feelings and desires of our heart." Once at church, a woman with health issues asked for me to pray with her. I did, and she said at the end, "that was a little shorter than I'm used to, but I guess its okay." Prayer should never be a competition on eloquence, or how much Scripture we can quote, or the length of our prayers, or how spiritual we sound. Prayer is a communication between us and God, or if we are interceding for others, between us, them and God. In that, what we need to care about is the level of sincerity there is in what we approach Him with.
Incense in the Scriptures is always a type of prayer. We read in Psalm 141:2, "Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." Everything in the tabernacle points to Jesus and has deep application for the life of the Christian. The altar of incense is a picture of prayer both in terms of Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father continually interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34, "...It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.") and of us who continually come before our Father in prayer. Notice the dimensions of the altar in Exodus 30:2, "A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width-it shall be a square-and two cubits shall be its height...". A cubit is around 18 inches. This altar was small. Likewise, we are to keep our prayers simple, we don't have to copy how someone else does it, using spiritual phrases. It is not the length of our prayers but their sincerity that matters. Notice in Exodus 30:7-8, "Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations." We shouldn't have only our one time to pray to God. We should be in a continual state of prayer as we communicate with Him constantly. This is a real relationship. I don't kiss my wife in the morning, speak to her for ten minutes, then ignore her for the remainder of the day. We communicate throughout the day. Our communication with God should be no different. Notice that the prayers were sweet smelling. Likewise when we pray, even for our enemies, we will replace the stench of bitterness with the sweetness of prayer. In Exodus 30:2,3, and 10 the horns are mentioned on the altar. Horns in Scripture are always a representation of power. We must never minimize the incredible power of prayer.
In Matthew 15: 21-28, we see an interesting interaction between Jesus and a Gentile woman. Jesus initially ignores her when she calls out in verse 22, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!...". She was trying to approach Jesus using the term of the Jewish Messiah in a formula type approach. This is the approach of religion. When this failed, she turned around in verse 25, "Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" This approach was real and sincere, at which point Jesus stopped in his tracks and healed her daughter. Jesus gives us a description of what prayer should and should not be in Matthew 6:5-7, "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words." So many people have memorized certain prayers, such as the "Our Father", or the Nicene Creed, or the "Hail Mary", etc and think that by chanting them mindlessly that they are communicating to God. But Jesus likens this to what the heathen do. Prayer begins with relationship. Our prayers simply need to be a sincere reflection of the authenticity of that relationship.
Messages from Pastor Lloyd Pulley: