Renting my own apartment was one of the best steps I have made as a functioning adult.
Walking into it and realizing that I finally had a place to call my own nearly brought me to tears. Happy tears. Though I had been content for many years to be a roommate, that time sometimes felt like purgatory* just waiting for paradise.
Paradise had been found.
Then one day soon after moving in, I returned home to a smell I had not encountered in any home I’d lived before.
The snake in the Garden.
Yes, several of my neighbors smoked cigarettes and it didn’t matter that they did it in their apartment and not mine. More often than not, the smell of nicotine and tar wafted through the HVAC ductwork and lingered in my home. My home.
Air filters and air fresheners helped, but nothing could quite eradicate the smell, er, stench. Though my home had so, so many good characteristics, the invasive scent of cigarette smoke was the singular drawback to perfection.
At least, I was able to get a spiritual application out of this “tragedy.” Unfortunately, the spiritual application was a tragedy too – how much must my sins stink to the Holy Spirit?
“Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20**)
There is a solution! Spiritual aromatherapy.
In the Old Testament Tabernacle and its successor, the Temple, the altar of incense sat in front of the curtain of the Holy of Holies and contained a special blend of spices that were burned continuously. As with everything in the Tabernacle, God had given specific instructions about this incense.
But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the Lord. Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.” (Exodus 30:37-38)
This altar of incense symbolized the prayers of God’s people, as seen in passages in both the Old and New Testaments.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (Psalm 141:2)
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8, see also 8:3-4)
he warning from Exodus remains: if our prayers are symbolized in the aromatic spices of the former temple, how much more should we be careful that those spices (our prayers) are used for His glory and not ours.
You ask [pray] and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3, emphasis mine)
The Spirit doesn’t want a home where the pleasures of the world are celebrated. Where the stench of smoke fouls the air. Where sin overpowers our prayers like strange incense upon the altar. Where we view God as our magic genii whom we can manipulate into giving us whatever we want.
Our spiritual aromatherapy begins when we recognize that God is our Father and our Judge. We serve One who is both Love and Holy.
Because He is our Judge, we approach Him in humility. But because He is our Father, we can confess our sins knowing that He will hear us. Thankfully, His grace is matchless because it is limitless, and His forgiveness is peerless because it is boundless.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)
* I don’t believe in purgatory, of course, merely a figure of speech.
** All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.