Monday, December 12, 2016

"Smoke... or Ash?"

Revelation 8.3-4 NIV

“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 the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”

How easily I tend to mystify and over-spiritualize the simple acts of devotion to God. Prayer, for example, is speaking to God. How complicated is that? I know how to talk. I can open my mouth and talk to God.

In this chapter of Revelation (vv. 10-11), John sees “a great star, blazing like a torch” and falling from the sky. “The name of the star is Wormwood.” C. S. Lewis names his novice devil after this star in the classic The Screwtape Letters. Older demon (Screwtape) mentors his young nephew (Wormwood) on ways to discourage his Christian “patient” from engaging in effective prayer:

“The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether…this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrotlike nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication.’ This is exactly the sort of prayer we want...” [1]

These prayers resemble nothing of the “prayers of the saints” rising “before God from the angel’s hand.” Prayers like those described by Wormwood’s uncle in The Screwtape Letters are no prayers at all.

Advice to self: Don’t spiritualize your prayers turning them into ash which dissipate in the wind of nothingness. Rather, simplify your prayers. Make them actual. Like a child, say them aloud and say them daily. Set aside special time to tell God exactly what’s on your heart and your prayers will rise with the smoke of your angel’s incense before the throne of God in heaven.

[1] The Screwtape Letters ~ How a Senior Devil Instructs a Junior Devil in the Art of Temptation, C.S. Lewis, Macmillan Paperbacks Edition, 1959, pp. 19-20. Of this book, the author himself confessed: “Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment” (p. xiii). This book is a must for not-faint-of-heart believers who are looking for a fresh dose of convicting and compelling truth.

The image of smoke is entitled "Blue smoke" and I found it at this interesting photographic website:

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