Prayer Blog – May 02

photo20of20incenseA Fragrant Offering

How do you smell? I don’t mean by which means do you smell, i.e. through your nose but what do you smell like?

Spring is a time of year when our nostrils can be filled with fresh new aromas. I love the smell of the yellow gorse. Not only does the bright yellow colour brighten up our landscape but the smell is very pleasing. Somehow it reminds me of coconuts and you could easily be transported, by your imagination, to a warmer climate by the aroma it makes. Just this morning I was out walking and I got my first whiff of wild garlic. Not something you expect in Scotland but again it can provoke the imagination into more exotic places. The list could be endless; roses, honeysuckle, plants and flowers of all sorts have their own particular scent and we all have our own particular favourites.

However, not all smells are good, and again the list could be endless, but perhaps the worst of bad smells are made by humans. I recall my first job, in a glass factory, which was very hot, and body odours became a real problem. We had nick names for one or two people who were shy of soap and deodorant sprays and on one occasion a culprit was even posted a bar of soap on his birthday but he did not take the hint. He did not get it! (Although everyone else did)

So, how we smell, in a physical way, is important to us. We live in a culture which expects us to at least not smell bad and at best smell good. Usually this is encouraged by advertising some perfume or fragrant spray.

But Paul, in Ephesians 5:1-2 encourages us to be fragrant in a different way. He encourages us to be imitators of God…to live in love…as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The way that Jesus lived, even in the way that he died, sacrifially, is so pleasing to God that we are urged to follow that example. To imitate God in this way is to live our lives as a fragrant offering in a world that is often infused with bad odours. We are given examples of them, and how to respond, in the preceding verses of Ephesians chapter 4; speak truth to your neighbours (not lies)…be angry but do not sin…give up stealing…be honest and work hard…let no evil talk come from your mouths…put away bitterness, wrath and anger…be tenderhearted and forgive one another…(Ephesians 4:25-32) Being imitators of God means living lives that are spiritually fragrant, Christ like. We can become more like him by spending time in his presence.

Of course this can be difficult when, at times, bad odours pervade life. The protestant reformer, Martin Luther, was well aware of the tensions of living between two kingdoms, which overlap, and the Christian is caught up in the tension of living in one while trying to be obedient to the other. Anfechtung, is a German word which means temptation but with an emphasis on struggle. For Luther, prayer was understood as ‘struggle with God’[1] that the fragrance of his presence would overpower us.

We constantly live in a world where bad odours can overpower the fragrance of a life lived in imitation of God. Therefore, we constantly need to be in communion with the one who is a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That we may overcome the temptation to be anything other than, like him. So then; how do you smell? Does our fragrance remind others of a different place, the kingdom of God? And so, may we be infused afresh with his fragrance each new day.

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Psalm 116:12-19

 

How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

O LORD, truly I am your servant; I am your servant,

the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,

in the courts of the house of the LORD— in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Praise the LORD.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children

and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself

 up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

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[1] Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999), 23

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