The List

Many moons ago, I dated a girl who was extremely introverted. Every conversation we had was unilateral. On our first date, I frequently attempted to initiate conversation with a question. My prayer was that she would respond with an insightful, and hopefully, exhaustive answer. Unfortunately, she would reply with a one- (or on those rare but lucky occasions) two-word answers. Why I proposed a second date is beyond me, but I did. I do like the sound of my own voice and truly believe that what I have to say is fascinating, however, I honestly liked this girl and wanted to develop a relationship with her. I knew that good conversation with her was the best way for that relationship to cultivate. Therefore, in preparation for what could only be anticipated as an excruciating experience, I sat down at my desk and made a list of 50 sure-to-win conversation starters. I memorized the list and was ready for the date of my life. That evening, I used up all 50 icebreakers in a matter of minutes.

Dreadful!

I often approach God as if He’s an introverted woman, who is just there to listen to my fascinating stories and then patiently wait for me to rattle off every “need” from my list—the list I so carefully prepared ahead of time. For the most part, I don’t expect more than a one-word response from God. “Just give it to me straight: Yes, No, or Wait.”

How can I ever expect a meaningful relationship with God, if we don’t spend time together in meaningful conversation?

In the Holy Place of the Tabernacle, the priests would burn incense at the Altar of Incense in the morning and in the evening. Throughout the Bible, incense symbolically represents prayer. Burning incense is a silent duty—you burn it, you raise your hands, and you pray. The priests didn’t talk…and they didn’t bring their crap to God. There’s a place for confession and supplication…but it isn’t before the Altar of Incense…that’s the function of the Bronze Altar out in the courtyard. The Altar of Incense sat directly in front of the Holy of Holies. When the priests burned incense, only a veil separated them from the holy presence of God. They were close to Divine Holiness, and they needed to be quiet.

Psalm 141:2-3 reads:

May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

—Psalm 141:2-3

Hillsong quotes Psalm 141 in the opening lyrics to “Like Incense”:

May my prayer like incense rise before You
The lifting of my hands as sacrifice
Oh Lord Jesus turn Your eyes upon me
For I know there is mercy in Your sight

In the Bridge at the end of the song, the lyrics read:

I will seek You in the morning
I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

Prayer like incense…the lifting up of our hands like an evening sacrifice, guarding our mouths, turning our eyes upon God, and seeking Him in the morning is for the sole purpose of having Him lead us—step by step. We can’t learn to walk in His ways or learn what it means to follow Him all of our days, if we’re not listening to Him. “Yes,” “no,” or “wait” are just not good enough in order to develop a meaningful relationship with God—to  know Him, to know His ways, or to follow Him. In order to have that meaningful, dynamic relationship with our Creator, we have to approach the Altar of Incense, shut our pie holes, and listen for the voice of the Lord.

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