I could smell the LongShan temple before I could see it, as the heavy essence of incense filled the humid air.
As I stepped across the raised, temple-threshold in Taipei, I caught sight of two large round containers filled with the burning joss sticks of the worshipers.
Tucking out of the way, I began to take in the ritual going on before me. Most visitors brought their own incense sticks and lit them at the convenient fire troughs burning toward the back of the courtyard.
Once the joss stick was burning, the devotee held the incense between their palms, and lifted it high against their forehead before beginning to pray toward their selected god. Although it didn’t seem absolutely necessary, many of the worshippers bowed their palms and forehead to the ground three times before moving on to the next deity.
At some point, individuals stuck their joss stick into the ashes of the large container, allowing it to continue praying for them as they scooped the smoke onto themselves and their children.
I later asked my Taiwanese neighbors the meaning of the ritual. “What’s the big deal with the smoke?” I queried.
“Most of the young people don’t really believe in the old ways anymore,” she explained. “We go through the motions and scoop the smoke onto us just in case we might otherwise be missing a blessing. Usually, we only go to the temple when desperate, hoping the scent of our prayers will reach the nose of our deity and move his heart.”
That night, as I lay in bed, her words seemed lodged in my brain. Did the scent of my prayers please God? Were they any different than these ritualistic burnings, I wondered. Were they any more pleasing to His nostrils than those offered at the end of a joss stick?
As I struggled with the answer, the Lord brought several truths to mind:
1. The aroma of a pleasing sacrifice is soothing to the Lord.
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma…and God blessed Noah.” (Genesis 8:20-21; 9:1)
2. Yet, His delight is not in the fragrance of the offering on the altar, but in the sacrifice of a willing heart.
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:22)
3. Allowing His Spirit free-reign through our lives is God’s favorite fragrance.
”I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
As we explore the spiritual sense of smell, let’s make sure our lives are a soothing aroma to Him.