Prayer

I.       Introduction

Today is our final lesson on the life of Daniel.   Next week we begin the books 1st and 2nd Thessalonians which are alien letters from the planet Thessalonia.  Or maybe not, I haven’t started studying the next lesson yet.

But today, the book of Daniel, and we’ve been studying Daniel’s life.  The entire book of Daniel is far more rich and complex with the revelation of prophecy and the fulfilment of prophecies.  Some of those prophecies are still yet to come and are elaborated further in the book of Revelation.  But we are studying Daniel’s life and not prophecies this year.

II.    Background and History

When we began this study 6 weeks ago, Daniel was a young teenager when he was captured and brought to Babylon.  Daniel demonstrated his character by refusing to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  The Lord gave Daniel the gift of prophecy and interpretation, and Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  Daniel has grown old in captivity; here in the 9th book of Daniel, Daniel is now in his 80’s.

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Daniel has served under King Nebuchadnezzar, then Belshazzar, then Darius, and now Cyrus.  He’s been promoted from captive to intern, to official, to ruler.  He’s served under the Babylonian and now the Persian empire.  He’s been promoted and persecuted, thrown into the den of lions.  Unless someone here has led a more interesting life than I’m aware, none of us have ever served multiple kings or held captive by multiple empires.  Daniel’s life of service can be hard for us to relate to.

But maybe Daniel’s personal life is more illustrative.  Daniel is a role model, someone we can imitate and emulate when we’re outside our comfort zone.  How do you live for God when you’re a Christian and your boss is not?  How do you live for God when you’re a Christian and the people around you are not?  How do you live for God if you’re the only Christian member of your family and the rest of your family thinks you’re more than a little crazy?

Do you feel alone and vulnerable?  So did the entire nation Israel.  But Daniel is a role model; he shows us how to consecrate ourselves to God, to live for God, to never compromise with our faith and leave the results to Him.

We know the year is 538 BC from Daniel 9:1 –

In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom – in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.  So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

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Daniel is probably reading Jeremiah 25:11-2 and Jeremiah 29:10 and doing the math – remember, Daniel knew Jeremiah wrote this in 605 BC.  He might be over 80 years old but he can still do simple arithmetic.  605 BC – 538 BC = uh oh, 67 years.  Daniel knows this prophecy will come true sometime in the next 3 years.  Then what happens?  Jeremiah 25:12,

“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever.”

Knowing that the land you live in is about to become “desolate forever” sounds frightening.  But Daniel has an amazing faith in the Lord and doesn’t respond in fear.  He responds in prayer.  Daniel knew that when he prayed, God heard Daniel.  I think I’d like that, knowing God hears me.  Wouldn’t you?  We’re going to focus on Daniel’s prayer to see if we can learn how to pray to God in such a way that we can have confidence God hears us.

III. The Concept of Prayer

Prayer, as a concept, seems simple enough.  It is personal communication with God.

Prayer as a reality can seem much harder.  Even Jesus’ disciples struggled.  They asked Jesus in Luke 11:1,

“Lord, teach us to pray”

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They knew Jesus spoke directly to the Father in intimate and powerful ways and they wanted to know how to do that, too.  Jesus gave the disciples what we now know as the Lord’s prayer that begins, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  So it that how we pray?

Well, no.  Of course it’s not that simple.  In fact, Jesus also told is in Matthew 6:7,

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

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In fact, it’s easy to pray incorrectly.  In James 4:3,

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

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We petition God for things that are outside of His will, which God is not obligated to honor.  The reason we do that is that we don’t have an awareness of God’s plan.  We don’t study the scriptures as Daniel did, we don’t know what God is doing, we don’t have any idea of God’s calendar, so we really don’t know how to pray.  We just live from one problem to another problem and we want God to fix it.

I read an interesting article ( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/14/half-of-non-believers-pray-says-poll ) that says 20% of non-believers pray regularly.  Think about that.  I don’t know who they expect to answer their prayers.  But when there is a crisis, non-believers actually pray as much as believers.  One non-believer in the article says he prays every night, but isn’t sure whether to classify his own prayers as superstition or as an insurance policy.”  And, even while the non-believers pray, over half of them say they don’t believe God hears their prayers.  Given that James 4:3 says that even believers ask and don’t receive because we ask with wrong motives, I’m surprised that half of non-believers feel God answers their prayers.

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Creation proclaims God’s existence to man, and I’m certain everyone knows God exists in some form or fashion.  Even atheists whose very name proclaims they are against being a theist.  They choose not to believe in a God they know in their heart exists.  And prayer for most people is our instinctive response to the crisis and fallen world that constantly surrounds and bombards us with horrific news.

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But how do we pray?  How can we be sure God will hear us?  As we study our role model, Daniel, we can learn many things about prayer.  Daniel’s prayer begins in Daniel 9:3-5,

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.  I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.

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Daniel’s prayer continues in this vein for another 10 verses, emphasizing 2 main points –

  • God is God.
  • We are not.

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When Daniel prays, he begins by acknowledging the distance between God and Daniel.  God is holy, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, in control of all past, present and future, omniscient, transcendent, unchangeable, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, perfect, unique and mighty.  And I… I am a sinner.

The reality is that prayer is simple.  At the same time, prayer is complex.  Prayer is not a mantra, a code, a ritual, a tradition, or even a religious expression.  Prayer is communication, communion, and fellowship with God.

Our relationship with God grows when we understand who He is, who we are, and His expectations for us.  How do we understand God?  In the next verse, Daniel 9:6, Daniel says,

We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel is reading scripture and recognizes that Israel has not upheld their end of the Mosaic covenant with the Lord.  Israel has ignored the prophets and all their words.

You know, God speaks to you all the time.  His Word is freely available.  I don’t know how many bibles I have and how many commentaries I have.  And if you count electronic bibles, the Word is in my pocket all day long.

Do I listen all the time?  Of course not.  I try most of the time, but if I’m honest, sometimes I want to do something my own way.  I don’t listen to the prophets in my pocket.  It’s like that great theologian, Jack Nicholson, once said, “You want the truth?  You can’t handle the truth!”

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Like Israel, we don’t listen to the truth.  How many times have you listened to a sermon and thought, “you know, so-and-so should be here to listen to that.”  Instead, you should be thinking, “I’m right here.  I should listen to that.”  When I study, I try to ponder the infinite wisdom God says He makes available and put it in an organized form and illustrate it with a pretty Powerpoint.  Then do I think, “You know who needs to be here to listen to this?”  And then I answer, “Me.  That’s who needs to be here to listen to that.”

If we are honest when reading scripture, should realize how far we are from the perfection of God.   Scripture shows us our hearts, our feelings, and our failures, and all while God is fulfilling His word.  Scripture shows us we cannot compare to the holiness of God, and Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

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The first step toward an effective prayer life is to remember that God is God, and we have no right to claim anything from Him.  He is holy and perfect.  We are sinners.

But the good news is that God never forgets His promises.  Daniel knew that God had made a covenant with Israel, and despite Israel’s rebellion, despite Israel’s idolatry, God would never change His mind.  Israel was once saved, always saved.  Daniel had confidence in the character of God and His promises.

We, too, are once saved, always saved.  God has made us a promise that if we put our faith in Christ alone, then He will save us from the punishment we so deserve.  Maybe we step out of line, maybe we rebel, maybe we let our pride and selfishness and rebellion control our actions.  Hebrews 12:6 tells us what we can expect –

because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.

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We can expect the Lord to correct our path, not because He is disappointed in us, but because He loves us too much to let us continue going down the wrong path.  But what else can we expect?  Romans 8:37-39,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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God will never allow anything to separate us from His love.  Nothing can snatch us out of His hand.  We can know we are His forever.  And because of His great mercy, we can appeal to His character to hear us, to see us, and to act for us.  We cannot dictate the hand of God, but we can appeal the hand of God to be with us.  God has promised we cannot be separated from His love.

IV.    The Power of Prayer

So if we have no right to claim anything, why does God answer prayers?  Daniel 9:16-19,

“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.  O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name.  For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act.  Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

I want you to notice something in this prayer.  Daniel doesn’t tell God what he wants God to do.  He throws himself at the feet of the Lord and pleads for compassion.  He asks God to see, to hear, and to act, but without a demand.

Daniel appeals to God and His infinite mercy.  He appeals to God’s promise to never reject His people, even though His people had rejected Him.  Daniel trusted in God’s promise to reconcile with His people.  Today, this reconciliation is possible through the saving grace of Christ Jesus,

There are parallels in this passage that show how through Christ Jesus how God makes prayer possible, from each believer to God Himself.  Daniel talks about “your holy hill” which we can accept at Golgotha, our Savior, hanging on a cross.  Our Savior, worthy of praise, but crucified in our place, demonstrating ultimate humility, and absorbing the wrath we deserve.

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Jesus will be God’s true servant, a picture of both grace and mercy, which allowed God’s face to shine upon His sanctuary.  For God’s own sake, He would listen to this servant, Jesus. And because of His sacrifice, God would be able to have mercy on people.  And because of Jesus, God would be able to make His face shine with favor upon His sanctuary.

And what, after all, is God’s sanctuary?  It is the place where God’s presence indwelled on earth – which in Daniel’s time was the Temple at Jerusalem which had been destroyed.  Now, though, the Holy Spirit dwells within each believer.  We, His people, are His Temple, His sanctuary.

So we sinners, saved by grace, have nothing of our own to offer.  We accept that grace, we accept the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we study His word to understand our position – not on our own two feet, but on the cross.  Humility defines our position with God.  Grace defines His position with us.

And that should be our attitude in prayer.  God answers because of His grace.  In Daniel 9:19:

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Daniel knows it is not Daniel’s people. It is not Daniel’s kingdom. It is not Daniel’s city or his comforts or his status; it is not even his concerns.  Daniel’s prayer humility before God and grace by God:

  • Your own sake
  • Your city
  • Your people
  • Your name

When we pray, I bet we usually use the first person singular.  My problem, my future, my relationship, my job, my health.  There is a place for that personalized request but it is secondary.  We first should recognize His greatness and our humility.  Realizing our true position before God, in Christ, is the first step to a healthy and vibrant relationship with God.

V.       Conclusion

So Daniel is reading his scripture, understands scripture to know the earthly kingdom he lives in will come to an end, he’s living among pagans and idolators that occasionally want to kill him.  What have we learned?  We’ve learned to pray.

Prayer is important for us first because it is important to God.  Jesus died  so that we may approach our most holy God.  God wants us to pray.

When Daniel prayed, he modeled a passionate prayer that He knew God would hear.  Daniel read the scripture and understood God’s hand at work in his life and the land of Israel.  Daniel acknowledges the glory and righteous of God.  Daniel confesses the sin of the people and how they deserved God’s wrath.  And Daniel appealed to God’s mercy to see, to hear, and to act according to His great love and mercy.

Prayer is not about having the right words.  It is about understanding who God is, and who we are.  We are sinners, but we are also adopted children of the Lord, and the Lord loves us.  Our prayer to our heavenly Father is like incense to Him, it is pleasing to the Lord, and that alone should motivate us to pray.  We pray to God because it is right to give Hiim praise and honor.  We pray for God’s intercession because we know God is compassionate and He loves us.  We pray for God to see, to hear and to act.

So, with that, will you join me in prayer?  Matthew 6:9-13,

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Let us give all credit to our Father in Heaven, to whom all glory is due and from whom all blessings flow, now and forever.

All glory to God through Christ alone.  Amen.

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