Suffering is the eighth element in the Contemplative life. I place (Suffering) in brackets. I isolate it. It stands alone. It does not often feel like a gift from God, nor does it feel like my offering to Him. But it is an inevitable to which we all must respond, and our response determines how well we fulfill our destiny.
Within the Holy Place suffering is the incense we sprinkle on the hot coals on the Altar of Incense.
The golden Altar of Incense was in front of the Veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It was square with each side measuring 1.5 feet and was 3 feet high. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. Four horns protruded from the four corners of the altar.
Mornings and evening, at the same time the daily burnt offerings were made, the priests burned incense on the golden altar. It was to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The incense made of an equal part of four precious spices - stacte (myrrh), onycha, galbanum and frankincense - and was considered holy. This formula was exclusive to the worship of God and not to be used to make perfume for their own consumption; if they did they were excommunicated. (Exodus 30:34-38). Three of these spices were made from a sap or resin from a plant or tree, received by making a slice in the bark. Onycha has been lost to time and is a mystery.
Frankincense was especially significant. The wise men brought gifts to Jesus when he was a toddler; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They brought gold because He was a king, myrrh to speak of His death and burial, and frankincense because He was God manifest in the flesh. We think of the gold as the richest, but the most costly gift was the frankincense.
Frankincense is a white resin or gum, a symbol of holiness. It is obtained from a tree by making incisions in the bark and allowing the gum to flow out. It is highly fragrant when burned and was therefore used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. Frankincense on the altar of incense speaks of our willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving ourselves up in surrender to the Lord.
Myrrh and Galbanum
Myrrh and galbanum are gum resins; collect in the shape of tears flowing from the plant. Stacte/ Myrrh is simply the sap that drips from the tapping of the wood of the myrrh tree. Myrrh is a burial spice, and there is a death to self and self will that is affected though the crucible of suffering. It can produce a level of surrender made possible no other way.
Like onycha, suffering always contains an element of mystery. It begs the question of why. It longs for relief that sometimes never comes. It hurls its accusations at God who remains silent. It is a mystery that must simply be embraced and placed with the rest of the spices on the Altar of Incense, in worship and adoration to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Surrendering what we least understand can be our greatest and most costly gift.
These four spices were ground fine and combined to produce the incense. In ministry and in all of life, more than our gifts, more than our anointing, God is most concerned about our character. Through suffering our character is ground fine, and refined, purified. Yes, the process can be painful, but the result is a sweet fragrance to God, and delighting His heart is what matters most.