The high desert altitude of western Utah boasts of some of the purest air in the world. In the last week, however, smoke has filled our skies. Out running early, I was fascinated by the rising sun, a huge orange-red orb struggling to penetrate the smoky haze. Unlike most days, on this day I could look right at the sun with no discomfort.

Gazing directly at the sun is demonstrably bad for your eyes. Retinal damage occurs instantly. Fortunately, repair is rapid if the insult doesn’t last too long.

Life on our planet is completely based upon energy from the sun. Photosynthesis, the biological method for converting carbon dioxide and water to the 6-carbon sugar glucose, requires sunlight. Glucose is the basic energy unit that runs the vast majority of all biological systems. In humans our cells convert glucose to ATP which is the unit that powers our bodily processes. 

But while sunlight is the foundation of all life, none of us can survive its full radiant strength without protection. Our earth has several gaseous layers comprising an atmosphere. The composition of the atmosphere allows us to breathe but also protects us from the overwhelming brilliance and heat generated by the source of our life. Without the atmosphere the sun’s energy would destroy us.

Gazing at the feeble sun submerged in smoky haze reminded me of Leviticus 16 where God is giving instructions to Aaron the high priest on how to observe Yom Kippur. He is told in verse 13 to “put the incense on the fire before Yahweh, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die.” Aaron took the censer of smoking incense into the Most Holy Place the first thing in the ceremony and didn’t remove it until the conclusion of the celebration. All of his activities in the Most Holy Place were performed shrouded by the smoke of the incense. The aromatic smoke spared his life as he labored in the Most Holy Place on this day.

As we contemplate these 40 days of change there is no substitute for the presence of the Almighty—for dwelling in His House. Psalm 141:2 likens incense to our prayers and the lifting of our hands as the evening sacrifice. This connection is also made in Revelation 5 & 8 providing a picture where incense can be seen as prayer combined with worship on fire from the Holy Spirit. In a very real sense, we must be covered by prayers of thanksgiving and praise if we desire to be in the presence of our beloved. As John says in chapter 1 no man has seen God and lived. 

Just as our life depends on the tangible sun but we require the atmosphere to protect us, our life depends upon our Holy God, but we “will die” unless bathed in a cloud of the smoke of the incense. When we are enveloped in the fragrant smoke of the incense we can draw near and experience his transforming presence. 

As we traverse these 40 days remember to intentionally lift up incense to our wonderful Father.


John Conrad

BYNA Elder


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