Let my prayer rise before you as incense,
the lifting up of my hands as the
Common Worship: Daily Prayer
I THINK that this prayer made it into the draft version of the
Common Worship office of evening prayer, but into the
final version only of the vigil service. Still, whenever I say
evening prayer (not as often as I ought to), these lines from Psalm
141.2 slide into my mind.
Sometimes I do burn incense at my private prayers - although I
cheat, and use a stick of incense rather than get out a pot of
coals. I watch the smoke curl up to the ceiling, and imagine its
carrying up to God my rambling petitions and praise. I imagine my
worship's being as delightful to God as the smell is sweet to me.
It is a reminder to me that God is waiting for us to turn our
hearts to him, and enjoy him, as he enjoys us.
It puts a break on my instinct to treat my prayers as a kind of
news bulletin or shopping list. It stops me thinking of my prayers
as stuff I must say to God, and encourages me to think of my
twice-daily burbling as an offering of myself.
It is not so much what I am saying, but that I
am saying it that counts. God waits for us to come to him, to share
our day with him, to grieve over our disappointments, and to hold
our concerns before him. As we do so, we open up our hearts to him,
revealing both the good and the bad, for God to use as he sees fit.
It is a "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving", sweeter than any
I have not yet resorted to butchering any sacrifices, but I do
sometimes raise my hands. The idea that even the gestures of my
body are received by God grounds me in myself. Perhaps we can get
carried away by the idea that "I" am a mind, an intellect looking
out from this mortal shell of a body. But the body, too, is part of
who we are - however vexing or limiting that can be.
My aches and pains are me, too, to be brought before the throne
of grace; my digestion and my dexterity are elements of the "me"
that I offer the Almighty. My hands, held out to receive the
presence of God, make for prayer - every bit as much as my
scrabbling around for holy words.
There is an enormous sense of freedom to be had, knowing that my
worship is not only thoughts rattling around my head, but the
bringing of my whole self to attend to God's glory. I do not have
to present God with any specially pious or deep or noble thoughts.
I can simply kneel in the presence of God, and be a delight to my
I should say this version of evening prayer more often.
The Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff is a prison service