Prayers as Incense

Oh, the beauties of home-school! Lessons with half the kids in their pajamas, readings during which the teacher has an epiphany and the whole class goes running to gather supplies for an object lesson instead. Lessons with cousins along, just for fun. Lessons where your stuffed animals get to play the starring role. We read today about Abraham, in Genesis 22, destroying myths early. Ideas of a warm, fuzzy God come crashing down as we read: God tested Abraham, Abraham carried the knife, Isaac asked, "But where is the lamb for the sacrifice?"

We talk about Amy's encephalitis and the 5 days when we talked about the fact that she might die. I remember the moments so vividly - holding Katy on one side, and Rosy on the other, and talking about what the doctors were about to do in surgery, and the fact that Amy might always be different, or she might go to heaven that night. We had 50-50 odds that she would be with us the next day. The altar we were asked to tie her to was an operating table. The man holding the knife was the surgeon. But it was the same awesome, just, vigilantly pursuing God that tested us. The kids look into my eyes today, as we read Genesis, and they know that we have been tested, too. We talked it through - "Did Papa and Mama get angry with God, and curse His name, and refuse to believe because it was a hard time?" No. We said, with Abraham, "Here I am." We prayed, begged, certainly. And the angel said - in whispers - from heaven, Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your daughter, your precious daughter.

But the lesson was not about trusting God through tough times. It was about the Lamb of God. Why a lamb? We read John 1:29, when John the Baptist sees Jesus walking toward him, and says, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. We talked about how tiny and helpless lambs are, how graphic the picture is when the red blood pours down the white fleece as the lamb gives it's life, over and over again through the Old Testament, a picture of the helpless, weakened Jesus, His blood dripping down the wood stake that held Him aloft for all to see as He washed away the sins of the world.

Finally, we get to Revelation. John is weeping because no one is found worthy to open the scroll he so desperately wants to hear read. The elder leans over to comfort him, and says, "Behold, the Lion of Judah!" The kids and I roar together, and picture how the Lion of Judah must look. What do you think of when you hear "lion"? Meek, mild, desperate, hope extinguished from dying eyes? Of course not. But that is what John turns to see.
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled...He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne...and all fell down before the Lamb. Each had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: You are worthy...because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and tongue and nation. You have made them a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5)
My prayers, incense in a golden bowl? My fleeting words that wisp into silence like smoke as soon as they leave my lips? Transformed forever into a sweet smell held in a precious bowl by the hands of the elders and creatures of heaven? It seems like an impossible fairytale. Today, it seemed so much more real, and so awe-inspiring, as we took the golden bowl down from the special place where our good dishes are kept. Lit a candle in it, it's fragrance wafting up like incense. Placed it before our little stuffed lamb. "Offered" the bowl to the Lamb, and knelt on our knees to praise God that He has purchased us, made us a kingdom, made us priests to serve our God, promised us that we will reign on the earth.

Is that real to you? Have you accepted the payment God made to purchase your soul, and bring it to heaven? If you believe, do you understand that you are part of a kingdom, you are a priest (for there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus***) to serve God, you will reign with Him on earth one day? Do you smell the sweet fragrance of prayers-as-incense, do you value them, knowing they are mysteriously physical in heaven, held in golden bowls and offered before the Lamb?

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***I Timothy 2:5; since Christ paid for our sins, all believers are priests serving under the High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16): for more proof, see also I Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 1:6; Hebrews 10:15-23; Ephesians 2:17-20; and I John 2:26-27.