Closeness with God through Prayer
Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 28
Habits of Gratitude and Prayer
Have you ever been speeding through a parking lot when your car suddenly jolted, bouncing violently up and down? You hit a speed bump. The purpose of speed bumps is to force us to slow down our vehicle and pay attention to our surroundings. In the same way, God has created rhythms and healthy rituals that help his people slow down and focus on him. That’s the message of Numbers 28.
This chapter explains the habit of morning and evening sacrifices, as well as the special offerings during sacred festivals. In the New Testament, believers offer prayers to God instead of sacrifices. Revelation 5:8 says that the elders in heaven were “holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (NIV) In other words, our prayers are the offerings that we present to God each morning and evening.
In addition to daily prayers, we may fast once a week or set aside a few days each month to pray. Having special dedicated times to come close to God allows us to offer more to God and maintain an intimate relationship with Him. Believers are not required to observe Israelite festivals, but they may choose to do so if these festivals help them to slow down and focus on the Lord. I believe that the purpose of festivals is to allow us to slow down and focus on God rather than to obey the laws. This is the goal. When we slow down, still our hearts, and draw near to God in silence, our lives are changed. As we offer our prayers to God, we experience the closeness of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Numbers 28 gives us details about the Israelites’ offerings (vs 2). The people were to offer regular offerings (verses 3-8), a burnt offering every Sabbath (verses 9-10), a burnt offering at the beginning of each month (verses 11-15), burnt offerings for seven days after the Lord’s Passover (verses 16-25), and a burnt offering at the Feast of Weeks (also known as Festival of Harvest and Pentecost). In Numbers 29, the people were to offer a burnt offering at the Feast of Trumpets (verses 1-6), a burnt offering on the Day of Atonement (verses 7-11), and a burnt offering at the Festival of Booths (verses 12-38). These offerings cover all of Israel’s festivals throughout the year.
The goal of these offerings is not to cover Israel’s sins, but to offer a pleasing aroma to God. Verse 2 says, “Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’” This verse clearly states that the aroma of these food offerings brought God pleasure, just like he was pleased by the aroma of Noah’s offerings (Genesis 8:21). In the Old Testament, the pleasing aroma of burnt offerings is always mentioned.
But in the New Testament, we no longer offer bulls and lambs. Instead, we rely on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Hebrew 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” This verse clearly states that when we offer our grateful prayers to God through Jesus Christ, they become worthy sacrifices. This kind of praise brings joy to God. Ephesians 5:20 also says, “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Psalms 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Thanksgiving allows us to enter the door of God’s tabernacle (the outer court), and praise allows us to enter the inner court (the Holy Place). Thanksgiving is an entrance into the gate, and praise brings us a step further into God’s dwelling place. We can enter directly into God’s presence when we worship him, as if we were in the Holy of Holies itself. Many people refer to “thanksgiving,” “praise,” and “worship” as the three steps to enter God’s presence.
Every skill we learn requires practice, and practice leads to mastery. Through practice, we develop habits. This is the reason God instituted festivals. At these appointed feasts, God’s people would bring offerings with pleasing aromas. God’s purpose was to assist Israel in developing good habits. The Chinese believe that once you develop a habit, it becomes second nature to you. After we’ve formed a habit, it will eventually become a part of our lives and personalities. At the end of the day, this habit will determine what kind of life we are going to have. For example, if we have a habit of going to the movies every Sunday but never attend church services, this habit will lead to a worldly lifestyle. However, if we make it a habit to attend church every Sunday, we will develop a more spiritual lifestyle over time.
New believers have formed many worldly habits and are not accustomed to approaching God’s presence with thanksgiving, praise, and worship. That is why it is critical to assist these new Christians in developing good spiritual habits.
Thanks to God’s mercy, I was taught good spiritual habits soon after being saved. I was saved in the Local Church Movement, a denomination that places a strong emphasis on spiritual practices. Morning prayers (praying and reading the Bible in the morning) and evening prayers are two of these spiritual practices. They also taught us that Christians should pray three times a day (morning, afternoon, and night) like Daniel. When I first believed in God, I was 27 years old and did not have the habit of praying in the morning. As a result, an older brother called me every morning and prayed with me in the morning. We prayed and read the Bible together. At first, I couldn’t get out of bed on time. However, this elderly brother insisted on calling me every morning. If I did not wake up on time, he left voice messages saying that he was praying for me and blessing me. I eventually developed the habit of praying in the morning. This habit does not develop overnight. It takes time to establish these habits, practices, and rhythms of the Christian life.
With the help of the Local Church Movement, I also began a habit of praying at night. In our church, we had a dormitory called “Brothers House.” It was designed specifically for Christian young men. When I lived there, older Christian brothers would frequently visit our dorm, read the Bible with us, and pray with us at night. As a result, we eventually developed the habit of praying at night.
Metaphors and Pictures of Salvation
We often say that the Old Testament is a picture and the New Testament is the reality. The Old Testament stories are pictures of Christians’ spiritual experiences in the New Testament. For example, we all know that the image of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea in the Old Testament describes the experience of salvation as we journey from darkness to light.
Similarly, Numbers 28:3-8 expounds on the rules for daily morning and evening offerings. This is a spiritual picture of the morning and evening prayers that I previously mentioned. Every day, two male lambs with no blemishes would be offered to God. One lamb would be offered in the morning, and the other lamb would be offered at twilight. These lambs represent Jesus Christ, our flawless offering. These are the offerings we make in the morning and at night, along with grain offerings and drink offerings.
My Story of Fervent Prayer
Before we go further in the chapter, I want to tell my own story of daily prayers. During the ten years that I was infertile, I prayed diligently and fervently for a child. For many years, I would take a midday walk every day. In my prayers, I offered myself (burnt offering), repented (sin offering), was contrite for my sins (guilt offering), maintained my fellowship with God (peace offering), and experienced growth in my character and experience of salvation (grain offering). For a period of several years, I continued to make various offerings through prayer. After a certain period of prayer, I moved the heart of God.
One day in 2016, I met an English prophet. She told me that she felt God had some words to say to me. She didn’t know who I was, but she felt God telling her that I prayed often and offered myself to God, and that my offering was very pure and pleasing to God. Her prophetic words were very comforting to me, reassuring me that prophetic gifts are real. Though I had never told her about my prayers, she was able to reveal my hidden situation. Her words assured me that God heard my prayers. Another Korean prophet stated, “God has given you difficulty in exchange for your prayers. God will answer your prayers when the cup of prayers is full.”
During that time, in addition to praying regularly in the morning and at night, I spent extra time praying during the day. I felt close to God during these prayer times. These moments of prayers felt very sweet. Not only did I feel like I was in God’s presence, but I even felt like I was in the clouds a few times. The feelings of being with God was so real. If I hadn’t had these trials in my life, I wouldn’t have had as much time for prayer or as much sweet communication with God in prayer. I wouldn’t have been able to offer God so many offerings with a pleasing aroma that satisfied him. The more time we devote to prayer, the more spiritual offerings we will be able to make. Each offering will emit a pleasing aroma that satisfies God.
Details of the Offerings
Why are there so many special offerings at festivals and on special occasions, when we have offerings every morning and night?
As a morning and evening offering, the Israelites offered two male lambs a year old, a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, and a quarter of a hin of beaten oil, respectively. However, the number of offerings at festivals is much greater. This implies that the time devoted to the offerings (correlating to the time devoted to prayer) for special festivals will be much more. Two male lambs were offered for Sabbath day offerings, and the amount of fine flour was increased to two tenths of an ephah. The change in the amount of wine for the drink offering is not mentioned.
At the beginning of the month, Israelites offered even more sacrificial animals. Two male bulls, one male ram and seven male lambs were offered as a burnt offering at the beginning of each new month. The amount of flour for grain offerings was also increased. For each male bull, three tenths of an ephah of fine flour and half a hin of wine were required. The number of rams was the same as for the Sabbath offering. This offering required two tenths of an ephah of fine flour, and the volume of wine was increased to one third of a hin.
A tenth of an ephah of fine flour and a quarter of a hin of wine were required for each ram. This requirement matches the requirement for the morning and evening offerings. In addition, one male goat was required as a sin offering to the Lord. At the beginning of each month, many more sacrifices were required than on the Sabbath.
The burnt offering after the Passover and the corresponding amount of fine flour are the same as the offerings at the beginning of each month, except that this ceremony lasts for seven days. As a result, the total number of offerings is greater.
Seven days after the Lord’s Passover, the Israelites offered the same sacrifices as they offered at the beginning of the month and the day after Passover.
At the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, the Israelites offered the same number of sacrificial animals (Chapter 29). However, the number increases for the Festival of Booths. The first day, the Israelites offered thirteen bulls from the herd, two rams, and fourteen male lambs a year old. These offerings were offered seven days in a row. The number of male rams and male lambs did not change, but the number of male bulls decreased by one every day. The quantity of male bulls are 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 and 1 respectively.
The number of sacrificial animals increases incrementally. From the daily sacrifices on the one end of the spectrum to the Festival of Booths on the other end, this increasing trend in the number of offerings indicates that the more time we devote to prayer, the more offerings with pleasing aromas are offered to God, bringing God pleasure.
The first time I read this chapter, I didn’t realize that these words conveyed an important insight about today’s spiritual experience. Later, I could see that this picture tells us to set aside more time to dedicate specifically to prayer. After receiving this revelation from the Holy Spirit, I noticed that the amount of time I set aside for prayer had been dwindling in recent days. Every day is such a busy day. Although I still pray in the morning and at night, my prayers don’t last as long. As a result, I miss my previous feelings of being close to God. Even as I urge my brothers and sisters to devote more time to prayer, I am also reminding myself to seek God more and more every day.
Should we observe Jewish festivals?
A woman in our study asked a good question: “Many Chinese Christians advocate for the observance of Jewish festivals, but other churches are opposed to this idea. So, should we observe Jewish festivals or not?”
I said, “Based on my observations, most Protestants follow Martin Luther, who was an Anti-Semitic. As a result, he ignored Jewish culture and went to an extreme in his interpretation of Paul’s writing. But in the Charismatic church, some prophets and pastors modified Luther’s belief. For instance, American prophet Kat Kerr testified that she saw Jewish festivals in heaven. Another prophet, Chuck Pierce, even teaches people that the Jewish calendar has implications for prophecy about the timing and wisdom of God’s actions. Thus, he consistently teaches the truth about Jewish festivals. Many of his teachings have been translated into Chinese, and as a result, many Christians from Chinese churches may begin to support Jewish festivals.
But Paul was clear in his words. He said, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). Paul also said, “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). Clearly, Paul teaches that we all have freedom to choose whether we observe or do not observe these feasts. If you choose to observe a particular day, you do so in God’s name. But you also have the option of not observing these days. As Christians, we must embrace each other, no matter what our beliefs on this matter. Today, our observance of the feasts is just a shadow of what is to come. Jesus Christ is the reality (Colossians 2:17). The reality is to enjoy freedom and peace in Jesus Christ and to have close communion with God.
A godly man once said, “God’s greatest desire is for us to have fellowship with Him through Jesus Christ.” But how can we have an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ if we do not pray? How can we know God if we do not prioritize making time for prayer? A brief and fleeting prayer may be a means of communicating with God, but it does not provide a context for closeness and depth. So, whether we’re learning from the increasing numbers of sacrifices in the Old Testament or the various commands to pray in the New Testament, our goal is to have more and more time to speak with God through Christ so that we can present more and more spiritual offerings. The best offerings we can offer God are our prayers. Our prayers and praises produce a lovely aroma that pleases God.
When Chinese Christians celebrate Jewish festivals do they do it only because others do it, or do they do it because they genuinely want to grow closer to God? I have no objections to Christians participating in Jewish festivals, but I hope we can all appreciate that the purpose of festivals is to allow us to take time out of our busy lives to pray and give offerings to God. If we want to observe Jewish festivals so we can devote more time to prayer, why not? If the purpose of observing Jewish festivals is just a ritual or a religion, then we have no basis for observing them.
At the start of Covid-19, I fasted and prayed for a certain amount of time every day at mid-day. These special times of fasting and prayer led to spiritual breakthroughs.
In addition, South Korean minister Yonggi Cho promotes Prayer Mountains, which is the practice of devoting time to being close to God and praying to Him. The practice of Prayer Mountain is taught in many American churches. The author of Heaven Awaits the Brides, Anna Rountree, testified that her church practices Prayer Mountains. If we are unable to go to the mountains to pray, we can always pray in our own closet at home. Let us take time out of our busy lives to come closer to God and make offerings that are acceptable to Him.
Remember that the more time we devote to prayer, the closer our fellowship with God becomes, and the more we can offer a pleasing aroma to God. This is a habit that we must cultivate.