The birds enjoyed the morning as well, especially a red-bellied woodpecker that sat on the old corner post of the dog pen, singing his high pitched “chuck, chuck, chuck.” A cardinal answered with “purty, purty, purty,” and soon a blue jay joined in the chorus with his pretty wooden whistle rather than the usual ugly squawk. But by the time Chloe and I returned from the gate, the birds had stopped singing and smoke had begun to filter in. Someone was burning off a field or a brush pile nearby, and before long I had to go inside just to take a deep breath and clear my lungs.
Smoke has a way of taking over. You can’t miss whatever smell it brings—acrid leaf fires, fragrant wood fires, aromatic barbecues, or the sad and awful smell of someone’s home burning to the ground. Whatever the odor, it hangs around for a long time, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not.
My favorite reference to smoke in the scriptures is the one in Rev 8:3,4. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Just as smoke cannot be ignored, just as burning incense fills your nostrils to the point that any other smell is extinguished, our prayers rise to God in a way He cannot disregard. We mean that much to Him.
If you have ever been in a room where someone has lit a scented candle some time in the day, you know its odor lingers long after. In fact, I can smell mine just walking by the drawer where I keep them, even inside a plastic bag, never yet having been lit. Incense is even stronger. That smell will permeate the furniture and draperies. It will seep through the cracks under and around the doors and waft down the halls. That is the figure God chose to encourage us. Even in the midst of the horrible suffering those early Christians were about to endure, He told them, “Your prayers to me will not be ignored. I will smell them as intensely and constantly as one smells the smoke of incense. I will not forget you or what you have endured for my sake.”
That promise stands for us as well. It is easy, as we endure trial after trial, to think that God has forgotten us, that He no longer hears our prayers. Yet our prayers rise like incense every bit as much as those first Christians’ prayers. Why did He save that writing for us if it isn’t true? He knew what they were about to endure, and that they must endure it, so He gave them the ultimate encouragement—I am still here; I am still listening; I am in control and all will be well in the end.
So how much smoke are you sending up to Him as you face your trials? How strong is that burning incense? Don’t make it so weak that even God would miss it.
O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!... Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Psa 88:1,2; 141:2.