Developing and perfecting our prayers is an effort we must keep pursuing our entire lives. What a great, noble pursuit!
God actually intends for your prayers to prepare you for king-priesthood. Striving for greater mastery in your prayers is a priestly, kingly pursuit!
Jesus Christ is about to be crowned King of kings and Lord of lords—and His saints will rule with Him as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10).
How do we prepare? Prayer is key. We can follow the example of King David, upon whose throne we will sit, by learning to pray “after God’s own heart.” David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and he truly knew how to pray effectively. He built his life around praising God and thanking God. These two activities are at the heart of being God-centered. They are two great building blocks to being a man after God’s own heart.
God considers those individuals He calls into His Church today His priests; the Apostle Peter describes God’s people as a “holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). This will be our job forever—yet God says He has already made us priests (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). In God’s mind, all His Spirit-begotten people, not just the ministers, hold this office spiritually today.
How vibrant is this reality in your mind: that as one of God’s called-out ones, you are part of a holy, royal, kingly priesthood?
Why did Peter use this terminology? He was an expert in the Old Testament, and he linked our role as God’s saints today with the priests who served in the tabernacle and the temple in ancient Israel. There you had a high priest, whose job pointed toward our High Priest today, Jesus Christ. Serving under him was a whole priesthood, each priest fulfilling his priestly duties.
Those priests were a type of God’s called-out ones today. The job they did teaches us about our job as God’s royal priesthood today, and the role we will have in God’s eternal Family!
What is the job of a priest? Peter gets specific: “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The physical sacrifices the priests offered anciently typified our spiritual sacrifices today. You need to learn about those sacrifices!
One of the offerings the priests made anciently—and the most important for us to understand today—was a direct type of our daily prayers. This gives us tremendous insight into just how important prayer is to God—and how important it should be to us!
A Priestly Honor
Anciently, God commanded that the Israelites construct a tabernacle, and later, a temple. He did this because He wanted to dwell among His people in spirit; it was to be a physical representation on Earth of His heavenly dwelling (Exodus 25:8-9). The details of the tabernacle have wonderful spiritual significance for us today.
The scriptures call the tabernacle by several different names: the tent, tent of the Eternal, house of the Eternal and many others. The name used most often—by a large margin—is “tent of meeting.” God intended the tabernacle to be the place “where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. And there I will meet with the children of Israel” (see Exodus 29:42-43; congregation in verse 42 means an appointment, assembly or meeting). This shows how much God wants to communicate with His people.
At the heart of the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, covered by the mercy seat (Exodus 25:10-22). That holiest of all holy places was sealed off by a veil. Right in front of that veil was the golden altar, upon which the high priest would burn incense every morning and evening (Exodus 30:1-8). God had them position this altar directly before the ark and the mercy seat, and said, This is where I will meet with you! We are going to commune with each other at my throne by way of this golden altar (verse 6).
This physical altar was a type of the true golden altar that sits in the third heaven, right before God’s throne! The incense ritual anciently was a type of the daily prayers of God’s people—ascending to God like a sweet fragrance, offered right before God’s throne. There an angel offers spiritual incense “with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne,” and this holy mixture “ascend[s] up before God” (Revelation 8:3-4 ; see also Isaiah 6:1, 6-7). The Apostle John is talking about spiritual incense and the spiritual incense altar. And remember, the veil separating the altar from the ark was ripped in two when Christ died (Matthew 27:51), showing that we now have direct access to God’s throne room in our prayers!
God has assigned specific angels to monitor the prayers of His people. On top of that, as we will see, Jesus Christ is directly involved in all our prayers. This shows how seriously God takes our prayers.
Look at the royal environment in which your prayers are handled. Look at the priority God gives your prayers! You must place the same supreme importance on your prayers! You must remember where they are going. This has a lot to do with how God’s people are judged today.
To kneel down and speak to God in prayer—to be able to make an offering to God before the incense altar—is a noble, exalted priestly privilege! We are entering the royal throne room and making a spiritual sacrifice on that golden altar as one of God’s royal priests! What an honor.
And what a responsibility. One of our duties as God’s holy priesthood is to offer sweet incense to God each day. The priest’s job really revolves around this golden altar.
Our Primary Focus in Life
Revelation 11:1 contains an important commission for our Work today: “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.”
God revealed the truth about this verse to Gerald Flurry back in 1992. Even in Malachi’s Message, he put in a reference linking the altar with the ministry. But in the February 1992 Trumpet, he printed an article called “Inspiring New Truth—Measuring the Temple.”
In Revelation 11:1, God commissions the pcg to measure the “altar” first, and secondly “them that worship therein.”
Today, the altar represents the ministers that lead the worshipers. The altar is mentioned first because of the very crucial responsibility the ministers have toward God and the saints. …
The ministry—or the altar—is used by God to direct the spiritual lives of the saints. The ministers are responsible to see that the saints are approaching God, motivated by the Holy Spirit. …
The ministers’ job is to direct the kind of spiritual sacrifices made on the golden altar! The greatest, most magnificent job ever given to any man! And God watches it with the closest scrutiny.
The incense altar is a type of the holiest place in the universe. Spiritually, it [also] represents the ministers serving the great God!
—Gerald Flurry, Philadelphia Trumpet, February 1992
A priest’s job revolves around that golden altar! Spiritually, the incense altar represents the prayers of God’s people.
Mr. Flurry reprinted this article in the May-June 1998 Royal Vision. When he did, he added this statement:
The royal ministry must lead the people in building the golden character of God. That is why mankind was created. The ministry must lead God’s people in building their entire lives around the incense altar!
Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer! That is our number one priority. That is how we grow in God’s royal Family.
The ark represented the throne of God. The golden altar was placed just before the ark in the physical temple. This altar was where the prayers of the saints were offered. It symbolized faithful prayers which were acceptable to God!
—Gerald Flurry, Royal Vision, May-June 1998
What an earthshaking statement! Our lives overflow with constant, competing demands for our time and attention. How clarifying that God has told us our “number one priority” must be the quality of our prayers!
God has made us priests. We are called to serve as the priests of God forever. And perhaps the best way to prepare to be a priest is to learn to pray like a priest.
This is particularly important for those ordained into the ministry today. But the fact is, all of those in God’s Church today are called into God’s royal priesthood. The ministers’ job today is just a type of the job that all of us will have toward the whole world very soon! God needs a royal priesthood to serve the needs of the world.
One of the primary ways we serve this world—and this Work and Church, and God’s people—is through our prayers. As we do so, God builds our character and prepares us for our eternal positions as priests of God and of Christ.
How does God expect His priests to pray?
The Incense Altar
God’s instruction concerning the ancient incense altar is in Exodus 30. It is wonderfully detailed, and contains clear, practical and profound parallels that will, upon reflection, improve the way we offer spiritual incense to our Father. God’s instruction regarding this crucial part of the tabernacle service shows that He took it very seriously, and that He wanted the priests and the people of Israel to as well.
In verses 1 through 6, God describes the construction (the materials and dimensions) of the incense altar and its position inside the tabernacle. The altar was beautiful and elegant. God instructed, “And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee” (verse 6). The altar was right before the ark and the mercy seat, and God said, This is where I’m going to meet with you!
Then God begins His instruction to Aaron on how to burn incense.
“And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it” (verse 7). Preparing the incense and then offering it on the altar was the priest’s first priority upon arriving at the tabernacle each day. Other priestly duties, such as trimming the lamps and offering sacrifices, were to be performed only after he had prepared the incense and it was burning away on the altar.
God’s people are king-priests in training, and like Aaron, our first duty each day is to prepare and offer incense to God. Do we place this level of importance on morning prayer—that it is part of our job description as king-priests? Jesus Christ did (Mark 1:35).
“And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations” (Exodus 30:8). Aaron was instructed to close the day by burning incense. God wanted Aaron to get into the habit of preparing and burning incense as soon as he arrived in the morning and right before he left in the evening. He wanted him to open and close his day by burning incense to Him! Think on this practical symbolism.
In addition to this emphasis on morning and evening, God also calls it “a perpetual incense”—meaning constant. Likewise we are instructed to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That is a priestly priority.
God was very particular about what was offered on the incense altar (Exodus 30:9). Incense burned in the temple was not a hodgepodge mix of herbs and spices. God provided the priests with detailed instructions about the ingredients, the portioning and the way the incense was to be offered—and His instructions had to be followed exactly. He cared deeply about the quality of incense.
Verse 34 has the exact recipe: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight.”
Likewise, our prayers must have specific ingredients, as many scriptures reveal. In our daily prayers, we cannot just throw together any old concoction. In Matthew 6, Jesus Christ gave us the recipe for creating spiritual incense! And He didn’t merely provide the ingredients for successful prayer. He gave us the outline, the focus and even an idea of the portions for creating a powerful prayer that pleases God. We cannot neglect praise and thanks—and still have prayers after God’s own heart! We cannot neglect intercessions for God’s Work and for God’s people. We cannot neglect repentance. Our prayers must have these ingredients to accomplish God’s purpose for prayer!
Anciently that incense was to be “blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy” (verse 35; rsv). At the time this instruction was given, making incense and perfume was a widely practiced art in Egypt and across much of the Orient. God expected the priests to delight in and take tremendous care, and to be constantly honing and perfecting their ability to make incense. He wanted them to make it a form of art. God wants the same from His priests today: He wants us to hone and perfect the way we pray—to develop the art of prayer.
Verse 36 continues: “And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.” For incense to burn properly, and to ascend as a cloud over the altar, it had to be beaten fine.
For the priest, this meant work—mortar and pestle. There were no blenders or stores selling pre-ground herbs and spices in Israel. Grinding, measuring and mixing these spices took energy, focus, attention to detail, patience and time—all before the priest went to the incense altar! It wasn’t a menial task that could be achieved with little thought in a rushed few minutes. Then they were all to be “infused in the oil” of pure frankincense (Matthew Henry’s commentary).
The same applies to our prayer life. It is natural for our prayers to get lazy. It is natural to be general: “Bless my family,” “Bless the brethren,” “Heal the sick.” It is natural for our prayers to become casual, routine and passionless. We must work to make them as God wants. This is a major lesson to take from this priest analogy. Why else would God have put these men through all this effort?
God wants us to get detailed and specific, and to beat those prayers fine, like handfuls of dust, infusing them with the oil of His Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). He wants us bearing down, thinking through the fine points of the matters we pray about, and lighting those aflame with Spirit-led passion to get the smoke rising in a sweet cloud!
A detailed prayer list can be an enormous help—preparing those spices and putting in the work in advance so you know what to pray about. Even daily praying over a few names on a long list of people in your congregation can spark important thoughts: I haven’t talked to this person in a long time. I need to do so. What’s going on with him? Or, perhaps, you will be reminded of specifics to pray about that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. You might even recognize something you could say or do for that person—to call, send a card, give that word of encouragement, pay a visit, share that helpful article, donate that sweater. Those are impulses you would do well to act on.
Here is another measure of our prayers: If we are praying like a Christ-minded priest, we will feel there is not enough time to get in everything we need to! We cannot afford to waste time in prayer, or fruitlessly go on and on about our personal issues: That would be neglecting other important matters. And there is always a sense of “unfinished business” as you get off your knees. Clearly we cannot pray all day, but we feel that sense of duty—that there is more work to be done.
We never want using prayer lists to become routine and robotic; there is that danger. We must fight that tendency. Strive to use that agenda to add structure to heartfelt, sincere prayers that are offered with an ever growing measure of God’s love.
Lastly, consider verses 37-38 of Exodus 30: “And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.” Not just anyone could make this incense! It was specific to the priests, and they were not to make it for themselves; it belonged to God. Incense made for selfish purposes was an abomination to God! He didn’t want His priests using or selling incense as perfume for selfish gain as the Gentiles did.
Again, consider the awesome parallel to our prayer life. What is our motivation for praying? Are our prayers too self-centered, too vain?
Needed for Protection
Incense was burned on the incense altar; it was never brought inside the holy of holies except by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. God outlines the functions of the high priest on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16.
Verses 12-13 read, “And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not.”
When he stood before the mercy seat (representing God’s throne) in the holy of holies, the high priest was to put the burning coals on the ground, and then pour finely beaten incense over them. This would create a sweet-smelling cloud that would drift over the mercy seat. Why? “That he die not.” The high priest burned incense so he could be protected: Forgetting or neglecting to burn incense meant death.
Understand: This cloud of incense was only a temporary ceremonial type—it didn’t literally, physically screen the high priest from God’s glory. God was making the point that, like incense arises from hot coals, prayers are to ascend like a cloud from the righteous—and as the incense protected the high priest, so our prayers protect us!
Yes, having a strong prayer life is a matter of survival for God’s people. Consider our cruel and terrifying world. It is fraught with danger and growing more threatening every day: wars, famines, natural disasters, murders, home break-ins, social unrest, bullying at school, persecution in the workplace. We need God’s protection more than ever!
And like the high priest, we need to be working hard to ensure we are sending up an incense cloud before God’s throne. How thick is your incense cloud? The more dangerous that conditions become, the thicker our cloud of incense needs to be.
Revelation 5 says those golden vials in God’s throne room are “full of incense.” The angels responsible for handling and monitoring our prayers have a big job, but it is our responsibility to ensure the vials are full of incense. We must prepare our daily incense meticulously, and burn it morning and night!
What a Priest Really Does
Our prayers should have the “ingredients” that God commands throughout the Bible, including praise, thanksgiving and repentance. But again, the most plentiful ingredient should be intercessions.
In earlier chapters we looked at 1 Timothy 2:1-4, where the Apostle Paul instructed us to pray for all men, since God wants all men to be saved. Notice: That passage begins, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (verse 1; rsv). First of all! Paul is talking about our number one priority—our primary focus in life: improving our prayer life!
Notice how Paul continued this thought: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (verses 5-6). Here is how Christ conducted Himself.
If you want to know what the role of a priest is, look at Christ: He is giving Himself and serving and sacrificing—to be a mediator between God and men. A mediator is a go-between—a reconciler or intercessor. That is what being a priest is about: bringing people to God. It is about facilitating a family relationship between the Father and a Spirit-begotten son.
This is what Christ is doing today. Christ is our High Priest—the Priest of all priests. He is Mediator, Intercessor and Advocate. He takes the incense we offer, refines it and brings it before the Father to intercede for us. He lives to make intercession for His people! (Hebrews 7:25). Christ’s life revolves around the incense altar! That is what makes our relationship with the Father possible.
We need to learn to pray like Christ! (1 Timothy 2:8). He is our example. He is the master at making supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for all men. God wants the same commitment to the responsibility of intercessory prayer from His priests today.
This is the primary way we can learn to pray like a priest.
How Christ Prayed
How did Christ pray? The Apostle John wrote out a detailed outline of one of Christ’s prayers. It is the most remarkable prayer in Scripture—and is surely one of the Bible’s deepest chapters. It gives us wonderful insight into Christ’s prayer life with His Father. It shows how a faithful priest of God prays! It gives us much to emulate in our own prayers.
Lange’s Commentary labels John 17 “The high-priestly, intercessory prayer of Christ on behalf of His people.” Remarkably, He prayed this the night before He was crucified, while under the agony and pressure of that imminent brutality. If you want an example of how to pray while in a trial, study this chapter.
None of us, of ourselves, could ever pray as Christ did here. This is a perfect prayer—an expression of God’s perfect love! However, we can allow Christ to come in us through His Spirit, and we can bring Christ’s mind into our prayers. Then we can pray like this! Our spiritual sacrifice on that golden altar will be acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
This prayer is saturated with honor for the Father—not just at the beginning, but all the way through.
Father—I just want to glorify you, Christ begins (John 17:1). Note throughout the prayer how He focuses not on Himself but on His Father. Knowing YOUis real life! You are the only true God. You have given me these disciples, but they are yours. All mine are yours. Your word is truth. What deep respect and honor Christ showed toward His Father in His prayers.
Strive to express such honor in your prayers. Rather than skipping through a few words of praise at the beginning so you can get to what you want, stop and really praise Him! Offer your heart to Him—at the beginning, and all the way through.
Remarkably, in this prayer, Christ makes only two requests for Himself. The first is in verse 1: He asked the Father to glorify Him—so He could glorify the Father! The second is in verse 5: He asked the Father to glorify Him—so He could be with the Father! Christ prayed for Himself, but even those requests were unselfish.
The greatest portion of this prayer—more than double everything else combined—is Christ interceding for His people. Christ deeply focused on praying for others.
A Three-Part Formula
John 17 supplies a three-part formula we can emulate in our intercessory prayers for God’s Work and God’s people.
First,Christ praised His people before the Father. Scripture says Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Christ is the praiser of the brethren! They have kept your word, He prayed. Notice that, Father! They have received your words. They have believed! They know! (verses 6-8). Christ brought to His Father’s attention all these good points. He reminded God of His disciples’ faithfulness and responsiveness to Him.
This is how a priest should pray. Notice those positive things—then talk to God about the good points you see in His precious people! As Paul said, offer up thanks for them.
Second,Christ informed the Father about the difficulties His people face.
Jesus Christ came in human form and understands the pulls of the flesh. He knows the weaknesses of the human spirit and the flesh. With that experience, He can help us get through to the Father in every detail. He has experience the Father doesn’t have. And the Father wants to hear His point of view. … The Father says to Christ, I want to hear you tell me about my son.
Here we get a glimpse at the conversations that continually take place in the third heaven between Christ and the Father. In verses 11 and 14, Christ passionately and with detail says, Your people are here in the midst of this satanic world—with all the pressures and pains and trials that come with it. They’re being hated—persecuted! They are strangers and pilgrims—and that’s not easy to endure. I can tell you—I experienced it! They have a difficult road. Satan is coming after them. The world hates them.
How awesome to have someone else, someone like that, praying for you! We can certainly talk to God in the same way. Discuss your own experiences. Share with God your point of view regarding someone in trial. Intercede! God wants to hear us tell Him about His sons too.
Third,Christ made several requests on His people’s behalf. “I pray for them,” He said, specifically referring to His people (verse 9). Later, He did pray for those in the world, but He placed far greater emphasis on praying for God’s people.
Jesus made about 10 specific requests here. He asked the Father to keep them and help them to be united (verse 11). He asked the Father to fill them with His own joy (verse 13). What a remarkable request, considering the circumstances. When going through trials, strive to have Christ’s mind and pray that others would have the joy Christ has given you!
Christ also prayed for our protection from Satan (verse 15). He didn’t pray God would remove all problems from our lives, but He did pray that He would provide a hedge of protection from the devil.
He also prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth …” (verse 17). I pray for my future disciples, Christ said, talking about us! (verse 20). He prayed that the Father would help us be one, perfectly united. He prayed heavily for our unity, and for perfect peace in the Church (verses 21-23). He prayed for our spiritual success. Jesus Christ prayed that we would grow and flourish spiritually.
Notice this beautiful request: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (verse 24). Christ loves us and wants to be with us!
This is the way a true priest of God thinks. This is the way a true priest of God prays.
Remember this practical, three-part formula in your intercessory prayers for God’s Work and for God’s people: 1) Praise people before the Father; 2) tell the Father about their difficulties; 3) make requests on their behalf.
Praying for the World
Christ also prayed for the world—even amid the most trying moments of His life. This is how big-minded He was. Read John 17:21: “… that the world may believe that thou hast sent me,” and verse 23: “that the world may know that thou hast sent me,” and that you love my disciples. He prayed for His people, then extended that love to the world—for all men to be saved!
Look at the extraordinary unselfishness of this prayer! Jesus didn’t spend His prayer time wrapped up in His own problems, trying to get God focused on Him and what He wanted. He praised, empathized and interceded! He offered the prayer of a holy, royal priest of God.
How beautiful. What a glory to the Father. What sweet incense.
Follow His example! Bring more and more of His mind into your prayers. Bear down, work and do all you can to prepare to be a king-priest sitting next to Him as His Bride!
These kinds of prayers are the love of God! This is why, as Mr. Flurry wrote, “Our primary focus in life must be on how we talk to God in prayer! That is our number one priority. That is how we grow in God’s royal Family.”
God expects His ministers to pray for the Church members. The lives and the problems of the people the ministers pastor should fill our daily prayers. This is what godly priests do.
When Samuel was priest, the Israelites knew they needed him to intercede for them (1 Samuel 12:19). Samuel responded, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you” (verse 23). Yes—it is sin for one of God’s leaders not to pray for the people he leads! It breaks God’s law of love. It is simply not thinking like God.
In Chapter 5 we saw how the Apostle Paul set the same priestly example, praying regularly and fervently for the people he was privileged to serve (e.g., Ephesians 1:15-19; Colossians 1:7-11).
We all need to learn how to think like priests of God, becoming experts at intercession.
Grow in God’s Love
Through our whole life, we must keep pursuing the goal of becoming experts at praying prayers after God’s own heart. We can never stop working toward perfecting our prayers so they are increasingly saturated with the perfect love of God.
This is part of our calling as God’s priests. Our lives should revolve around the golden altar. This is how God’s Work gets done. This is how the Church advances spiritually. It is also how God builds His mind and develops His character in us: by teaching us how to love—through how we pray. This is how we become more and more like God. This is how we prepare to be king-priests sitting beside Jesus Christ as His Bride. This is how we can come to have a heart after God’s own heart.
Learn to pray like our High Priest, Jesus Christ, every day—every moment of your prayers. Make your prayers the prayers of a priest.