The altar was placed just outside the area of the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was located. It was the closest the priest could come to the Ark, and the very presence of God, on a daily basis. The incense was burnt on this altar each day to make intercession for the people. Just as the priest in the Old Testament made daily intercession before God so that He would forgive the sins of the people, Christ now intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Yet Christ is certainly not limited to offering prayers on our behalf, nor barred from entering the Holy of Holies.
Hebrews 6:19-20 confirms, "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
The components of the incense which God prescribed were costly. Like the woman who lavished perfumed oil on Jesus's feet and washed them with her tears (Luke 7), no doubt there were those who questioned the priests for creating an expensive mix of oils, only to pour them out on the tabernacle and its furnishings.
But when I think of them as the prayers of the saints, how often do we pour out prayers that might seem to be wasted? Do we pray sacrificially? Or do we just shoot a quick blessing before a meal or a shallow, "Lord, help them!" at the driver in front of us. There is nothing wrong with brief prayers in the moment, but are we giving of our time sacrificially in prayer for God's people - and for those who don't yet know Him?
How does viewing your prayers as offerings to the Lord, like incense wafting toward heaven, a pleasing aroma to God, change how you pray? Let's talk about how we can encourage one another in prayer!