Aromatic Prayer

We have a tiny herb garden. It’s just a couple of plants each of a few different herbs– basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, etc., in small planters on our back stoop. Just enough to have fresh herbs for cooking. They smell really good when I go out to water them, or clip some to add to chicken stew or spaghetti sauce or noodles and butter.

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They add flavor and color, too, but it is the smell that grabs the attention and brings immediate joy.

Our prayers are supposed to be like that, too. The Bible compares our prayers to incense with a pleasing aroma. God delights in the fragrance of our prayers.

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That seems reasonable for prayers of praise, but what about prayers of pain? How can such prayers bring joy to God?

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When I water my herbs, they give off a pleasing aroma. But when I chop and crush the herbs to use them, the scent is stronger, the flavor richer, as the plants give all they have to the dish. Left in their planters, they will grow tall, but they will not be useful. They will smell good, but they won’t fulfill their greater purpose.

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God wants our praise– certainly. And He is worthy of it–completely. But God also wants our chopped, crushed, bruised, torn, and painful prayers of need and brokenness. He wants us to trust Him to make even our groans and cries for help into fragrant offerings.

Prayer and Pizza

Have you ever looked at a pizza and thought– “Wow, this reminds me of prayer?!”  Me neither. But God works in mysterious, and sometimes mischievous, ways to teach us great lessons.  God is an awesome teacher, and he often uses parables, object lessons, and analogies to illuminate his truth and make it memorable and comprehensible.  God tends to use a lot of food-related analogies (bread and wine, fish, mustard seeds, vineyards and grapes, fatted calves, bitter herbs, yeast, and salt…), likely because he knows that the way to our hearts and minds is often through our taste buds!

So yesterday, as I was thinking about prayer (and listening to my stomach rumble a bit), I sat down to write, and I was suddenly thinking about how prayer is kind of like a pizza– a wonderful, freshly made pizza.  The same ingredients that make a great pizza should help us build a great prayer life.

Every good pizza starts with dough.  Every good prayer starts by recognizing our “knead” to rest on God’s grace, his promises, his timing, his strength, and his love.  Whether your dough yields a traditional yeast and flour crust, a matzoh wafer, a cauliflower thin crust, a deep dish corn meal extravaganza, a flaky biscuit-dough crust, or even a culinary experiment, it provides a base for all the other ingredients.  I could get side-tracked into an entire blog just about the crust analogies (three-ingredient, yeastless crust: Holy Trinity?  self-rising crust: resurrection? round crust: eternity?  pray without ceasing?  crusts that are tossed, pressed, rolled out, or put on the rack?), but I’ll let that sit there and go on to the toppings.

One of the wonderful things about pizza is the endless combination of toppings.  Prayer can be just as unique as the person and occasion involved.  Some prayers are simple two- or three-ingredient prayers.  Some are piled on with praise or loaded with concerns.  Some prayers include ingredients that are sweet, or bitter, or crushed, or salty.  Some prayers are meaty, some are fruity, some are cheesy, and some are saucy.

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But ah…the aroma!  And the final product!  Something miraculous happens when simple (or complex) ingredients combine on the crust and come through the heat.  God takes our worries, our praises, our confessions, our remembrances, our groaning, and our rejoicing, and turns them into something supernatural and mysterious.  He compares our prayers to an aroma (like incense, not precisely pizza, but..) rising to Heaven.  Tangy, pungent, comforting, or mouth-watering, our prayers become satisfying, nourishing, powerful, and enticing, beyond what our mere words could ever produce.

The next time you make a pizza (or order one)–thank God for his gift of the food you eat– but remember to thank him for the miracle of prayer as well.

Buon Appetito!

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