“‘For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11)
As a final project for the worship course Ie been taking this month, I was asked to design a worship service based on a priestly duty. I made the radical choice. I chose to design a worship gathering based on burning incense to the Lord. I’d like to share my final project with you.
As a Chinese Christian, burning incense is a taboo because we often see burning of incense being done in Chinese folk religions. Despite incense burning being a very biblical thing to do, Chinese Christians shy far away from it. But burning incense is not just a meaningful priestly duty, but our prayers are as incense rising up before the altar of God (Rev 8:3-4). It would be next to impossible to have a Chinese congregation open to doing this in a Chinese church. For Chinese churches, not only is this going to be radical and controversial, but also utterly unthinkable.
In any case, if this worship gathering were to become reality, my goal here is that the Truth acquired by the congregation will not only be understood rationally, but also felt emotionally and practiced experientially.
- This will probably be a special 2-hour evening worship service.
- Five small tables, which I call “spice altars”, are to be placed around the sanctuary each with bowls of spice sticks for a kind of spice that can be found in incenses according to Exodus 30:34 (more on these below). A large colorful banner is hung above each “spice altar” clearly showing the name of the spice and with some explanations about what each spice means.
- Opening worship set
- Explain the purpose of this special worship gathering
- First teaching segment: The purpose of burning incense
- Very brief summary on the teaching of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5).
- Address issues about incense burning in Chinese folk religion (ancestor worship, idol worship) and that those are done to seek blessings for oneself and how they differ from the biblical incense burning.
- Aaronic priesthood’s duty of burning incense:
- Priests perpetually burn incense to the Lord day and night (Exodus 30:7-8).
- Aaronic priests are set apart for this duty (1 Chronicles 23:13).
- The priest is to bring burning incense inside the veil of the Holy of Holies to meet the presence of the Lord (Leviticus 16:12-13).
- Priesthood of all believers also inherit this duty of burning incense:
- Incense and worship go hand in hand (Deuteronomy 33:10; 2 Chronicles 2:4).
- Our prayers are as incense before the altar of God (Ps 141:2; Rev 8:3-4).
- Nations (including Chinese people) are to come to know God and offer incense to Him (Malachi 1:11).
- Encouragement to participate in this priestly duty.
- Worship song presentation
- As the song is being sung, some incense would be lit at each spice altar, and so the smell of incense is starting to fill the room.
- Second teaching segment: The effect of burning incense
- Incense worship helps us understand that worship is two-ways: as we offer our worship to God, we are also changed to be like Him.
- Jesus (who was wrapped up in incense in his death) became the Incense that led us through the veil and boldly into God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19-20).
- We are the smoke of the incense in our life of prayer and devotion (Rev 8:3-4).
- We are the fragrant aromas of the incense as imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2).
- We are the spices of the incense as the Lord’s agent to the world (Exodus 30:34):
- Characteristics: a spice that only flow out from the tree when the tree has been broken and crushed; it is also known as alm of Gilead?which renders healing to others.
- Meaning: we are made to touch others like Him.
- Characteristics: a spice that is harvested from deep-sea shellfish; this word comes from a root Hebrew word, which means, o roar??deep calls to deep.
- Meaning: we are made to sound like Him.
- Characteristics: it smells bad, but when burned, it helps to prolong the scent of other spices; it is also used to drive away insects.
- Meaning: we are made to smell like Him.
- Characteristics: it is a white substance that burns clear and creates light; it is used 17 times in the Bible, sometimes representing God presence.
- Meaning: we are made to see like Him.
- Characteristics: essential for preservation, giving taste, and driving our thirst; a small amount of salt can affect something 1000 times its weight.
- Meaning: we are made to taste like Him.
- “Altars” call
- At this time, each congregation member is asked to pray before the Lord and seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit in his/her heart.
- Then he/she should get up and go around to whichever “spice altars” that he/she is convicted to go to, representing in what way he desires to commit to become Christ-like, and grab a stick of spice from each of the spice altar that he/she visits.
- After he/she has grabbed the spice(s), return to his/her seat and worship (sitting, standing, kneeling, etc.) and pray to the Lord to change him/her according to the meaning of the spice(s) he/she got.
- The lighting is dimmed low at this time and pre-recorded music is played over the loudspeakers. Each spice altar has adequate individual lighting to make them stand out in the dark.
- The minister asks a couple of congregation members to pray aloud as a conclusion to this segment.
- Group prayers
- Explain that as we become the spice, we are to “burn” the incense in “smoke” with prayers.
- The congregation is divided into groups. They will share amongst themselves about the spices they grabbed and why. Then they will pray for each other and with each other about this.
- The emphasis is that these prayers will honor and glorify God as fragrant incense.
- Final Exhortation
- The minister will conclude this worship gathering with an exhortation for the congregation to live their daily lives with fragrant aromas as imitators of God, and to offer these “spiritual incenses” day and night without ceasing.