Memories of the Aroma of Diesel and Prayer

Whether with vehicles lined up before movement at a military camp in Arkansas, or in Tennessee, Germany, Georgia, Arizona, California, or Afghanistan, I associate the smell of diesel with memories of Army vehicles, Soldiers, vehicle maintenance, preaching, and prayer. As a military chaplain, I spent time helping my assistant with checking oil and other liquid levels in our assigned vehicle, but I also conducted a number of religious services in motor pools, staging areas, and in areas near running vehicles in training areas and in combat zones. The memory of the aroma of diesel intertwines with the taste of grape juice used in Communion as I recall those occasions. Whether the service lasted for thirty minutes or was much shorter because of mission constraints, we always prayed. The Bible connects prayer with smell, often that of incense, in several passages:

“I call to you, LORD, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:1-2).

“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

“Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

In the Old Testament, aroma from burning sacrifices arises to please God. The prayers of believers do the same. The Psalmist prayed that his prayer would be like incense, his posture of prayer like the offering of a sacrifice to God. He prayed urgently that God would hear his prayer, that God would receive his “call for fire” as a pleasing sacrifice. Diesel is an unexpected incense, but it performs that function in my memories of leading Soldiers in worship to our God.

  • Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version.

About Michael Summers

Michael Waymon Summers has preached in twenty-seven of the United States as well as seven other countries. Michael earned a Master of Theology degree. He also has done graduate work in international studies. Michael likes to run, loves to sing, and reads voraciously.
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