We need to pray. The altar of incense is a picture of the prayers of God’s people. Our prayers rise up to God as the smoke of the incense rose in the sanctuary. The fact that the incense was always burning means that we should always pray. The altar of incense was holy to the Lord and was atoned for with the blood of the sacrifice; it is the blood of Christ applied to our hearts that makes our prayers acceptable. Our prayers are holy because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and therefore they are pleasing to God.
Exodus 30:6 says, “Place the incense altar just outside the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant, in front of the Ark’s cover the place of atonement that covers the tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. I will meet with you there.”
The altar of incense was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. It was the tallest piece of furniture in the holy place. It had an ornamental gold rim (“crown”) around the top and golden “horns” at each corner: It stood in front of the veil that separated the holy of holies from the holy place. The priest burned incense on it each morning and evening when he trimmed the lamps.
Burning incense is a picture of prayer:
Psalm 141:2, “Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.”
Luke 1:8-10, “One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.”
The fire for burning the incense came from the brazen altar where the sacrifices were offered to God. This is a powerful picture of prayer that is based on the work of Christ on the cross and our complete dedication to God. Real passion in worship isn’t a religious emotion we work up ourselves; rather, it’s a blessing that God sends down as we yield ourselves to Him.
In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a soul. Cold-hearted praying is not effective praying
James 5:16, “Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
Prayer isn’t simply a bunch of words we mix with the hope they’ll be heard by God and answered. The Bible names some of the “ingredients” of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition, submission (1 Timothy 2:1) and even gives us a pattern to follow:
Matthew 6:9-13, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
The priest would NEVER rush into the tabernacle, quickly burn the incense, and then rush out. NO WAY! He prepared himself and respectfully approached the altar, knowing that he was in the presence of the holy God and any mistakes might be the cause of his death. We need to not rush into the presence of the Lord and disrespect the altar of the Lord.
Remember that because of the work of Christ on the cross, the veil no longer blocks believers. We have 24X7 access to the very presence of God, and there we can worship and pray in the name of Jesus
Hebrews 10:19-25, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Our living, reigning Priest-King, Jesus Christ, is interceding continually for us in heaven (Hebrews 4:14-16), and the Holy Spirit also intercedes in our hearts
Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
The priests were warned not to use this golden altar for anything other than burning incense (Exodus 30:9), for there are no substitutes for prayer. No amount of sacrifice can take the place of true praying.
The golden altar wasn’t a place for making bargains with God or trying to change His mind. It was a place for adoring Him and praying, “Your will be done.”
James 4:1-4, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”