Throughout Scripture we see the inward and outward aspects of worship offered to God in unity with one another. For example, Scripture tells us to lift our hands and our hearts to God. The hands are outward, and the heart is inward. God is glorified by both, and He commands us to worship Him with both. We rightfully advocate both the lifting of our hearts and the lifting of our hands to God. They are complimentary to one another.
Incense and prayer work the same way.
They are two halves to the same coin:
“Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense.
And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice. ”
In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us to pray the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer, we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God wants to be worshiped on earth in the same way He is worshiped in heaven. Heavenly worship includes incense, in both the Old Testament (Isa. 6) and the New Testament (Rev. 8). If heavenly worship includes liturgy, robes, and incense, then our earthly worship should include the same.
Scripture is literally filled with references to incense for the worship of God.
Exodus 25, 30, 31, 35, 37, 39, 40
Leviticus 4, 16
Numbers 4, 7, 16
1 Samuel 2
1 Chronicles 6, 9, 23
2 Chronicles 2, 13, 26, 29
Jeremiah 17, 41
Revelation 5, 8
By considering all of these passages, we should be able to discern the usage of incense which would please God in the context of worship.
One of my favorite incense passages is Malachi 1:11. He prophecies of the New Testament Church age, during which time God expands His blessings to the Gentiles in the world at large:
“For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
And here is a helpful passage from the New Testament:
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
According to the New Testament, our prayers actually ascend to God with the smoke of incense. Pretty cool, huh?