The altar of incense in the OT tabernacle was set apart for God. It consisted of "a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy" (Ex 30.35). This compound served no other purpose and was not to be replicated for any other use.
God likens the prayers of the saints (think Christians) to this compound. This is an arresting thought. Judging from the fact that most Christian 'self-help' books center on prayer, believers must lament the inadequacy of their prayer lives. What makes prayer acceptable for such a heavenly compound?
The finished work of Christ makes our prayers acceptable for these golden bowls. Pride, hypocrisy, and doubt are unholy stances in prayer. Our prayers would taint and defile these golden bowls if Christ had not made them fragrant through a refining righteousness.
Of course, character counts in all of this. Spurgeon wrote:
If live in constant sin, and then go and say, 'Our Father, which art in heaven,' surely I might feel his hand closing my mouth, while I heard him say, 'How canst thou speak so? How darest thou say 'Hallowed be thy name,' when thou dost constantly defile it? How canst thou say, 'Thy kingdom come,' whn thou wilt not submit to my rule, nor yield allegiance to my government? How darest thou mutter out before me the words 'Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven' when thou rebellest against my will, and settest up thine own will instead of mine?