Several years ago the Lord called me aside to spend nearly a month with Him in “solitary confinement.” His purpose was clear: He wanted to place me in an intensive “Mary position” so I could hear clearly what He wanted to say to me. I didn’t realize it then, but the words I would hear at the end of those weeks of isolated prayer would lay part of the foundation for my ministry during the remainder of this decade. I came to learn later that He was also saying the same thing to other members of His Body around the world.
I suspended my travel itinerary and positioned myself far from the nearest telephone. (The voice I needed to hear did not need a phone, fax machine or latest technology to reach me.) During that period, I spent precious hours waiting on the Lord, and He blessed me again and again as I sat at His feet and listened for His every word. At the end of my prayer consecration, the Holy Spirit gave me an order from the Father’s throne: “It’s time for fire on the altar.”
I had been awakened in the night a few months earlier, and for two hours my mind had been filled with eight phrases that kept circulating in my thoughts as I sought God’s face: “Blazing altars...the fire and the altar...altars ablaze...flaming altars...the altar and the flame...altars aflame...altars on fire.” The one phrase that struck me the most was, “Fire on the altar.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was an exact quote of a portion of Leviticus 6:9, which says, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it.’”
This is followed four verses later by the summary command, “Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out” (Lev. 6:13). This reference refers to the Levitical altar of sacrifice, but this Old Testament priestly function involving fire and sacrifices carried a much greater and abiding significance on this side of the cross. The fire of the altar signifies the prayer of the saints, and can be viewed as a command to restore unceasing prayer before the Lord.
According to the instructions that Aaron, the high priest, received through Moses in Leviticus chapter 16, before the high priest could pass through the inner veil into the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies), he was supposed to minister at two stations in the outer court and three within the Holy Place. First, he would offer up the sacrifice of blood at the brazen altar. This was followed by the ceremonial washing of water at the laver. After entering the Holy Place through the outer veil, the priest would approach the lamp stand (which held seven golden candlesticks), the table of shewbread, and the golden altar of incense, which rested immediately in front of the inner veil.
Beyond the veil in the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant, with the mercy seat flanked by its covering cherubs. This was the place of communion—the place where God’s presence was manifested and His glory was made known.
Where do we stand corporately in God’s prophetic time-table? The stations of service in the tabernacle of Moses perfectly picture the progressive work of God to perfect His Bride in the earth. The Protestant Reformation restored the spiritual truths depicted by the brazen altar and its blood sacrifice. This simple yet profound understanding of justification by faith in the blood of Christ is the beginning place in our journey into the presence of God.
In the 1800s, John Wesley and the Holiness Movement helped to reclaim the spiritual truths of the laver: the place of cleansing and sanctification. At the turn of the century, the Pentecostal Revival returned the emphasis of the power and the gifts of the Spirit as represented in the lamp stand (or the seven golden candlesticks). Sixty years later this was followed by the Charismatic Renewal, which highlighted the fellowship of breaking bread as exhibited in the table of shewbread.
Perhaps today, in God’s progressive plan of unfolding truth, we find ourselves ministering at the altar of incense. As the New Testament priesthood of believers, we are prophetically swinging the censer of praise and prayers unto the Lord Most High. Today, in the global prayer movement, we stand collectively before the altar of incense and the time for lighting our incense has come!
- James W. Goll, author of The Lost Art of Intercession