This site uses cookies to provide you with more responsive and personalized service and to collect certain information about your use of the site.  You can change your cookie settings through your browser.  If you continue without changing your settings, you agree to our use of cookies.  See our Privacy Policy for more information.

The Sweet Scent of Prayer


For thousands of years, people have fashioned various oils and herbs into incense for a variety of purposes. Incense can cover unpleasant odors, and some forms of incense made from frankincense and myrrh, for instance, have been shown to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Incense typically produces a pleasant, sweet scent when burned.

Incense is used in many expressions of both Jewish and Christian worship. A crucial basis for this association is the Altar of Incense, a fixture in both the wilderness tabernacle and in Solomon’s temple and on which incense was burned regularly (see Ex. 30:1–10 and 1 Kings 7:48).

But as we see in our text today, the use of incense in worship also serves as a sensory metaphor for our prayers, which have properties similar to incense (v. 2). As the smoke of incense rises toward the heavens and creates a fragrant experience, so too our prayers should rise to God with a sweet, pleasing quality.

Psalm 141 offers a sense of what such a pleasing prayer might look like. While the author cries out for his own sake, asking God not to give him “over to death” (v. 8) and to keep him safe (v. 9), his most fundamental wish is not for his own vindication. Rather, he desires to attain the righteousness that glorifies God. Out of this desire he prays to God to “set a guard over my mouth” (v. 3) and “not let my heart be drawn to what is evil” (v. 4), and he even vows to accept blows from a righteous man who would correct him (v. 5). Such a prayer, centered around the desire that our eyes remain “fixed on you, Sovereign Lord” (v. 8), surely rises to God with a sweet scent.

apply the word

We might assume that we will recognize and reject evil. Today’s psalm corrects our arrogance. Evil will often be alluring, drawing our hearts and appearing to be as tempting as “delicacies” (v. 4). What temptations might be seeking to draw you from the path of righteousness? Pray that God would help you see them and guard your heart against them.

BY Brad Baurain

Dr. Brad Baurain has worked as a writer and editor for Today in the Word since 1993. Currently, he serves as associate professor and TESOL program head at Moody Bible Institute. Brad has the unique privilege of holding a degree from four different universities (including Moody). He has also taught in China, Vietnam, the United States, and Canada. Brad and his wife, Julia, have four children and reside in Munster, Indiana.

Browse Devotions by Date