The scent of a rose always evokes memories of my mother who loved and grew them. She entered heaven when I was a teenager, yet when I smell a rose, she is instantly present. The sense of smell does powerful things to us and for us. The fragrance of a summer rain can send us back to childhood. The aroma of baking cookies can help sell a house. A whiff of a certain perfume can ignite bittersweet memories of a romance.
God knows these things. After all, He created our sense of smell. That’s probably why David, the shepherd king of Israel, prayed, “May my prayer be set before you like incense” (Psalm 141:2 NIV), referring to the expensive and exclusive stuff that was used in the Temple. Such incense was compounded from a detailed commandment issued by God Himself (Exodus 30:34) and used only in worship. (Some of the precious ingredients even had to be imported—from Arabia, for example.)
That was the background for John the Beloved’s vision of God’s throne room, where:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:3-4 NIV).
Apparently, God (and David and John) knew that the olfactory sense aided prayer and worship. So, how can we use it in our prayer lives today? Here are some suggestions:
1) Light a scented candle or stick of incense to mark the beginning of your prayer time.
2) Recite David’s prayer from Psalm 141:2 to help you mentally tap into the power of smell.
3) Dab scented oils on your prayer aids such as a Bible cover or beads before you pray.
4) Pray outdoors in your garden or yard to inhale the fragrance of flowers or freshly cut grass.
5) Pair special times of prayer (for a particular person, perhaps, or on a birthday or anniversary) with the smells of incense, burning candles or wood oils that can evoke a church chapel.
6) Build a campfire for an extended evening of prayer. The smell of wood smoke and the crackling flames can usher you into a meditative state.
7) Notice the delectable fragrance of baking bread or cookies (or a neighbor’s cookout) to help you pray for those who will enjoy those treats.
8) Use a certain fragrance that reminds you of a person or situation that you want to pray for.
The aroma of prayer can be a powerful influence and, wisely used, remind us to pray or even enrich our prayers. I hope that the pairing of your sense of smell with times of prayer will enlarge and enhance your experience of God’s beauty and blessings.