DEVOTIONAL: BIBLICAL PRAYER - DANIEL
It is 539 B.C., during the first year of the reign of Darius in Babylon,
the fabulous capital city that was built astride the Euphrates River,
where a four-horse chariot could turn around on top of the high wall of a
hundred gates. Babylon boasted the famous Hanging Gardens, one of the
seven wonders of the world, as well as a staged temple-tower 295 feet
high, and according to Herodotus, several colossal gold statues weighing
Daniel, with other members of the royal family and the nobility of Judah,
was carried into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar, in 605 B.C., had risen to
leading government posts on the basis of his intelligence and wisdom. In
586 B.C. Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonians, and
Jeremiah had departed to Egypt with the remnant of the surviving
leadership. His prophecies had been written down and somehow Daniel
obtained a copy. Daniel must have been about 75 years old when he read
these words from Jeremiah 29:10-14.
"This is what the LORD says: 'When seventy years are completed for
Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you
back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the
LORD,' plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope
and a future.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to
you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back
from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I
have banished you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back to the
place from which I carried you into exile."
Reading that passage of Scripture caused Daniel to turn to the Lord Go d
with fasting, dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and prayed an
extraordinary prayer that is recorded for us in Daniel 9:4-19. His prayer
is in response to learning the promises of God, his plans to prosper his
people, to give them a hope and a future, and to restore them to their
homeland. It is a prayer of confession and repentance on behalf of all his
people, for their rebellion against God, for their not listening to the
servants of the God, the prophets, for being unfaithful to God. They are
covered with shame for their sin against God which has brought upon them
their calamity. Despite all that h ad happened to Israel "we have not
sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving
attention to your truth." (Daniel 9:13)
Daniel humbles himself before the Lord. He looks back over his long life,
all the privileges he has enjoyed in the king's service, all the
activities of state he has participated in, the power players who have
come and gone, all the ceremonies and celebrations he has witnessed, and
he realizes how little it matters unless he has learned that God is
sovereign over all, that it is his plans that will eventually prevail, his
word that will be fulfil led, that empires rise and fall, but it is the
LORD who alone can be merciful and forgiving.
It is the characteristic of wisdom to be able to learn from the past.
Daniel learned that his people had made bad choices over the generations
and had to suffer the consequences. He wanted to break that pattern
through acknowledgement of their failings, and a total disclosure of the
nature of their addiction to autonomy: of wanting to lead their own lives
without reference to God. "The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster
upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does, yet we
have not obeyed him. " (Daniel 9:14)
There is no indication that Daniel himself rebelled against the lordship
of God in his life. He appears to have been a very godly man who endured
much testing, yet remained faithful. He was thrown into the lion's den
because he refused to give up his practice of praying to the Lord three
times a day. Yet, in looking back over his life, and the history of his
people, he learned that he was part of the problem, that he could not
escape blame, and t hat he could not pass the buck to a previous
generation for the disaster ha t had befallen them.
Daniel's prayer of confession and repentance on behalf of his people
teaches us that, whether we like it or not, we are all sinners. Yet,
despite our rebellion against him, God wants nothing but the best for us.
He is merciful and forgiving. He has come to us in Jesus, and suffered and
died for us on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He has
plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a
future. But we must be prepared to seek him with our whole heart if we are
to find the fulfillment he desires for us: the restoration and the
resurrection to new life that is his gift in Jesus Christ.
Daniel learned from the past and responded according to what he
discovered. As you look back upon your life, what have you learned about
Some people, like Israel of old, can go through life oblivious to what God
has planned for them. They never seek him with their whole heart. They
never find his plans to prosper them, to give them a hope and a future.
God is no t intimately involved in their lives. If you were to read their
personal autobiographies it would be a succession of one activity after
another, one tri p after another, one story about friends or family after
another, one divers ion after another, but absolutely no reflection on
what it all means, of what their life is meant to be about, or what God
may be wanting to do in their lives.
A person can go through one disaster after another, one illness after
another, one broken relationship after another, one job disappointment
after another, and never reflect on why they make bad decisions, why they
never seek the guidance of God in their lives, why they don't humble
themselves before the Lord. Daniel prayed: "all this disaster has come
upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning
from our sins and giving attention to your truth."
What is the truth we need to give attention to? It is the truth about the
presence and the purpose of God in all of life which we are meant to seek.
There is a form of practical atheism or agnosticism which, while giving
lip service to a belief in God, denies that God has any daily relevance to
one's life. An agnostic is a person who is neutral on the question of
God's existence. The agnostic claims that God may exist but that it is
impossible to truly know him, or for him to make a difference in your
life. Therefore you should go about your life keeping busy, and filling up
the hours to avoid thinking about what life is meant to be about.
Luke Timothy Johnson, Robert Woodruff Professor of New Testament at
Candler School of Theology, Emory University, has written, "Agnosticism is
a contemptuous uninterest in the truth of the world. Because the question
of God's existence affects the perception of absolutely everything else
that exists and the way we deal with all that exists, agnosticism seems to
the believer to be a form of atheism by default that pretends to be a
refined and gentlemanly restraint on a difficult and unsolvable question."
(The Creed, p.68)
What would Daniel, the wise advisor to kings have to say to the
contemporary agnostic who is indifferent to God's truth? The book that
bears his name in the Bible emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of the
Lord, and that the fortunes of kings and the affairs of human beings are
subject to God's decrees, and that he is able to accomplish his will
despite the most determine d opposition of the mightiest potentates on
earth. He begins his prayer by t his acknowledgement: "O Lord, great and
awesome God, who keeps covenant of love with all who love him and obey his
commands, we have sinned and done wrong." (Daniel 9:4)
Daniel would say with St. James: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to
the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up."
(James 4:6,10) Jesus said, "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and
who ever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:12)
Humility is the opposite of the reckless, arrogant indifference to God
which characterizes the agnostic, who makes such friends with the world
that he becomes an enemy of God. Humility is the acknowledgement that we
need t o learn from the past, that we need to face our failings; that we
need to reflect upon what God is doing in our lives. It is seeking God
with our whole heart. When we do that we will be given the grace we need,
and God will lift us up to a new life.
Daniel prays with passion: "We do not make requests of you because we are
righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord,
forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay,
because your city and your people bear your Name." (Daniel 9:18,19)
When was the last time you prayed with passion? When was the last time
prayer was that important? What resulted from it? While he was still
speaking and praying, confessing his sin and the sin of his people Israel,
and making his request, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel and said, "I have
now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to
pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are
highly esteemed." (Daniel 9:22,23)
When we humble ourselves before the Lord in honest acknowledgement of
what he has taught us about our past, we will receive insight and
understanding. God promises that when we call upon him, and come and pray
to him, he w ill listen to us. When we seek him with all our heart, we
will find him. When we find the Lord Jesus, we will find ourselves, our
true self, our authentic self, and God's plan for us, which will give us a
hope and a future.
Whatever the result of our prayers, we will find that prayer and
reflection on God's Word will give us insight and understanding. We need
to be encouraged that when we come to the Lord, and begin to pray,
an answer is give n. We may not know it, we may not be told by an angel
immediately, but at the appropriate time, we will know it. In the mean
time we must know that God esteems us, he loves us, he hears us and he
Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives;
he who seeks finds; and to Him who knocks, the door will be opened."