About twelve centuries before the birth of Christ a woman called Tapputi-Belatekallim worked in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. Tapputi mixed flowers, oil, cyperus, myrrh, and balsam with water to produce perfumes which made such an impact that her name and career were recorded on cuneiform tablets. For almost as long as we have recorded history, people have been making and delighting in scents. Just a quick walk into any department store will show that Tapputi’s craft is alive, well, and big business; according to a UNDP report some $12 billion is spent on perfume every year in the USA and Europe alone. Scent, it would seem, is something that people see as so delightful and important that they will spend whatever it takes to give themselves a nice smell and create a positive impression on those they meet. As people we delight in good smells, what’s amazing is that we’re made in the image of a God who also delights in them. So what scents appeal to God? Does He sit in heaven hoping we dab on a spot of after-shave before we come to church? Is He thinking of Marilyn clutching her bottle of Chanel No. 5 and wishing we’d follow suit? No. He loves the smell of our prayers and receives them like fragrant incense.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
– Revelation 5:8 (ESV)
A few weeks ago I’d had one of those weeks where you can start to feel no earthly use to anyone, I thought that I’d annoyed some friends when I wanted to help them and I hadn’t had the most productive week in the office. By the end of the week I was feeling unneeded, unnecessary, and frankly rather surplus to requirements. It’s interesting the way we often project how we’re feeling about ourselves on any given day not only onto others but also onto God. If I don’t feel like I’m much worth to people, it’s so easily to slip into thinking that I’m not much worth to God. Despite knowing and believing in the grace of God and justification by faith alone I find myself slipping into the mindset that for God to take any delight in me I must be constantly doing, that I must earn His love. Something that spoke to me so much while in this little tantrum of self was that actually God is taking delight in me just being there worshipping and praying. He takes active pleasure in our company. Just because we haven’t brought half of the office to church, preached the gospel to a stadium full of people and still found time to heal the sick, doesn’t mean that He isn’t in heaven inhaling the sweet incense of our prayers and thinking how glad He is to be in loving relationship with us.
Sometimes people can be challenged by the fact that a God who is sovereign over all, who knows all our days and the number of them , wants us to get down and pray. If He already knows our needs , then why pray for them? Why doesn’t He just give us everything as and when? Because the act of prayer is one that benefits us both. When we pray we’re taking our trust and reliance and placing it with God, we’re growing in Him at the same time that He is taking pleasure in us. Has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve really wanted to help someone you cared for but they just wouldn’t recognise that you could, they wouldn’t take your help so floundered on and left you with those feelings of being unwanted? If we’re floundering around in life but refusing to ask God for help, we’re doing just that; it’s like us making a statement that even though we have needs we’re not going to bring them to Him.
I know that as a person it hurts when people don’t want to let you help, it’s somehow as though they’re not recognising the fact that you care and want to do good for them, so how must if feel to be omnipotent and yet have the objects of your measureless and passionate love not even recognise it enough to ask you for help? I think that this can help us understand something important; God delights in our prayers  because He first delights in us. When we pray we’re responding to His love for us. I like to look at history as God’s relentless and breathtaking pursuit of relationship with us; He has done so many amazing things all because of His love for mankind  and when we pray we’re making a response to His love. It’s the moment that everyone who has ever loved anyone wants, the moment when the person they love recognises it and responds.
Think about that for a moment. When we’re in trouble, when we’re asking forgiveness, when we’re praying for needs, begging for healing; when we come before Him in prayer He’s not despairing at the terrible mess we humans get ourselves in, He’s delighting in a fragrant smell. That can seem a little confusing but we need to understand the fact that God knows the end from the beginning. We may believe that he will one day make everything well, we should believe that, but He knows it with complete certainty. He can receive our prayers like incense because he already knows that everything is going to be turned for the good of His plan. Receiving our prayer like incense does not mean He takes any kind of pleasure in our circumstances if they’re bad, but rather that when we pray we’re inviting Him to outwork His goodness in those circumstances; what pleases Him is the fact that we have brought them to Him and He knows that He can make all things well in His perfect time.
It’s so important for us to grow in the revelation that God actually loves us as people. He delights in our praises and receives our prayers like incense. It’s us. We are what He wants. I can’t begin to understand why but then love never did make sense, if earthly love confuses people then how much more so heavenly love? But the more we grow and learn what God delights in, the more we can delight Him. The more we rest confident in His love the more we can bear fruit. It feels like I spend a lot of time thinking on the love of God, and writing of it in blogs, and there are moments when your jaw hits the floor and you have a sudden realisation of His love and think that maybe just maybe you’re starting to understand it and then you realise that the more you learn of it the less you know. Reading the epistles of Paul you find that he constantly was talking of this love and how vast it was. When we find out He loves us more it makes us all the more aware of how impossible it would be to earn and thus how even deeper than we could imagine it could be. Every time we think we glimpse it we realise that it is bigger than we ever imagined.
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
– Psalm 141:2 (ESV)
Something I want to remember is that when I have those weeks when my get up and go is gone, and I feel like I’ve nothing to offer, the very fact I’m bringing those feelings to God is a delight to Him. Just us being there with Him actually has meaning to Him, our coming to church means something real to God not just to us. Rest and let Him delight in you for a while. My purpose is not found in whether my code validates at work, whether I manage to bless my friends, whether I feel like I’ve served enough in church that week, my purpose is found in existing and growing in relationship with Him. All of the doing stuff, that’s great, but that’s the fruit that comes from the relationship not the reason for it. If I can do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with my God  everything else is going to blossom out of that.
It’s so easy to view prayer solely for its benefits to us. We get to bring our needs and troubles to God, we get to entrust things to Him, we get to see answers that we never could have thought of; we can get a view of prayer that is entirely one dimensional, as though it were just a fancy way for us to bring a shopping list to God, but that’s missing the important point that God desires us to pray and delights when we do. It’s something that we can do for Him, not just to Him. So we pray on, delighting Dad and aligning our futures to His plan for them, and while we do so? He inhales and rests in satisfaction that those He first loved are returning His love. Man, God is amazing.
Further scripture references:  Psalm 139:16,  Matthew 6:8,  Proverbs 15:8,  John 3:16,  Isaiah 46:10,  Romans 8:28,  Micah 6:8