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"Teach Me to Pray Like Daniel"



          This week we return to the book of Daniel as we come to chapter nine.  This chapter is divided into two parts.  The second part is a bit like chapter eight, filled with prophecies of the future brought to Daniel by the angel Gabriel.  You’ll recall in chapter eight that Gabriel interprets for Daniel this powerful vision he has had of the ram and the goat and the little horn. The first section of the chapter however, is one of THE model prayers in all of sacred Scripture.  One of the unusual features of this prayer, which it shares with Daniel’s prayers in chapter ten, is the author peeling back the veil covering the spiritual realm, giving us the privilege of witnessing the profound impact of Daniel’s prayer in the heavenly realms as it comes before the throne of God.  In verse 23 Gabriel tells Daniel, “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.”  This is a fascinating look at the impact of a God-honoring prayer.  Daniel prays this prayer and immediately God sends a prophetic word to Gabriel, who then, while Daniel is still praying (v.20) delivers it to Daniel in response to his prayer.

          We will speak of that prophecy next week, Lord willing.  For today, we want to look at this prayer.  This part of the chapter is not simply about prayer.  It’s about God and the grace he has worked into Daniel’s life so that he can be a person who pray like this.  My goal this morning is to magnify that grace in Daniel so that through the Spirit, a passion for God and his grace would be embedded into our hearts resulting in the raising up of an army of prayer warriors like Daniel.  First, let’s set this chapter in context.  Daniel gives us the date of his prayer in verse one.  In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans…”  As we saw several weeks ago, this one here called “Darius the Mede” probably began his reign in about 539 B.C. so that dates this prayer about a year prior to the return of the first group of Jewish exiles to the Promised Land.  The exile of the Jews in punishment for their covenant-breaking sins against God will soon begin to draw to a close and they will return to the land God had 1500 years earlier promised to give Abraham and his descendents.

          Verse two fills in the context specific to Daniel.  It says, “in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.”  Daniel had been studying the writings of Jeremiah who had died only a few decades earlier.  This verse tells us that even at this early date, what we now call the book of Jeremiah was regarded as the “word of the Lord.”  Daniel reads Jeremiah and discovers that God had prophesied the length of the exile they were now experiencing would be 70 years.  He was probably reading Jeremiah 25:11-12 where the prophet predicts to the nation of Judah as they were wallowing in their idolatrous sins, “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  12Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.”  He makes the same prediction in Jeremiah 29:10.  "For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” 

          As Daniel reads one of those two verses, God powerfully quickens his heart to prayer.  He prays this incredible prayer of confession to which God so dynamically responds.  The other night in prayer meeting, we were praying that God would grant to us as a church repentance from lukewarmness and spiritual superficiality and many other sins we as a church need to repent of.  During that meeting, it was noted that though many people today pray and feel badly about their sin, there is far more remorse in the church today than there is God-given repentance that produces a change in heart and change in behavior.  I’m convinced one reason why there is not more genuine life changing, God-wrought repentance is because we are not very truth-driven in how we regard and respond to our sin.  If we regarded our sin and responded to it in a more Biblically faithful manner, we would doubtless see more repentance and therefore more changed lives and more genuine, lasting and God-honoring reform in Christ’s church. 

          Daniel’s prayer is among the most powerful prayers of confession in the entire Bible.  So if you, like we in that prayer room, are deeply troubled by committing the same sins over and over again, without any genuine, lasting change of life that comes from repentance, an important part (only one part) of the solution to that dilemma is before us here in this first section of Daniel chapter nine.  By God’s grace, let’s study this prayer and discern the marks of God’s grace seen in Daniel that are manifest in this a God-honoring, God-moving prayer of confession.  There are probably more than I will list today, but I found four.

          The first is seen in the fact that this prayer is rooted and grows out of God’s promises.  This prayer doesn’t begin with a feeling in Daniel’s spirit—its origin is found in his time in the word of God.  Verse two tells us that this prayer grows out of Daniel’s study of the book of Jeremiah and specifically in a promise of God found in its pages.  The launching pad and the initial thrusters that fuel this prayer heavenward is the truth of God’s promise concerning the exile.  The Holy Spirit, as he speaks through his word to us, powerfully enables us to overcome the downward spiritual pull of this world and our lukewarm, lazy flesh and give us lift off into the heavenly realms.  That one promise from God’s word is absolutely foundational to this prayer.  If Daniel does not read that promise and meditate upon it, this prayer never gets sent up.  It’s ROOTED in the word—you cannot separate the prayer from the word—the one grows out of the other.  That means that if you want to pray prayers like this—if you want to have a dynamic prayer life, spend time in the word of God and allow his promises to stoke your heart for prayer. 

          This is primarily a prayer of confession, so if you want to pray God-honoring prayers of confession like this think—turn over and over in your mind Biblical promises connected to confession.  Promises like Proverbs 28:13,Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”  Jeremiah 29:11-13 where God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  13You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,” When you are lying in bed and you don’t want to get up in the morning to pray—that promise can hoist you out of the bed.   First John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”   If meditating on that promise doesn’t drive you to Daniel-type praying, it’s because you haven’t apprehended the glory of being forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.  More about that later.

          How about Matthew 7:7 where Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!   That means that it is FAR more likely for you to give your child a rock when he asks for a dinner roll.  It is FAR more likely for you to give her a snake when she asks for a snack than it is for you to come to God and not receive forgiveness and cleansing and freedom from guilt when you ask for it. “HOW MUCH MORE will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

          One more truth I just want to note and that is this—Some people ask this question of those who believe in Reformed theology—“If God predestines everyone, then why do you pray for people to be saved?”  There are probably many good answers to that question but one is exemplified here in chapter nine.  Daniel reads that God has promised—he has decreed, predestined that the Jews will return from exile after 70 years.  According to some in the church, this prayer was absolutely unnecessary because God had predestined that it would happen.  Many in the church today, if they discovered this promise in Jeremiah, would breathe a sigh of relief, kick back and wait for God to deliver the goods.  One of the marks of God’s grace in Daniel is seen in that he did NOT respond that way.  Far from stifling prayer—this promise is what impels Daniel to pray.  John Calvin gets it right.  He says, “The faithful do not so acquiesce in the promises of God to grow…idle and slothful…but are rather stimulated to prayer.  For the true proof of faith is the assurance when we pray that God will really perform what he has promised to us…Nothing…can be better for us than to ask for what he has promised.”  Perhaps the most powerful motive for going to the unreached people who do not want the gospel and who hate God is because we have a sure promise from God that he has some of his people there—“from every tribe, and language and people and nation.”  The promise doesn’t throw cold water on faith, it ignites it!

          A second mark of God’s grace seen in Daniel is this prayer is characterized by a naked honesty springing from a humble and sincere heart.  I see three areas of honesty here. First Daniel is refreshingly honest about the wickedness of his and his people’s sin.  Notice that although the Bible doesn’t have one negative comment about Daniel and his character, he includes himself in this confession.  He includes himself along with the others 11 times.  He is not standing aloof from the sins of his people; he personally owns them sins as God’s representative.  That’s a good lesson for anyone in community and especially those in leadership—we are one body.  Notice the words Daniel uses for the sins of the people.  The ESV translates them as “sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, turned aside, not listened, treachery, not obeyed, transgressed, turned aside, refusing to obey, not entreated your favor, done wickedly, iniquity, not gained insight by your truth.”  There is no softe-pedaling of sin here.  Sins are not diluted into being mistakes or errors or misjudgments.  Those words speak to many of the facets of our sin.   

Sin is a multifaceted evil.  It is criminal because God is a righteous judge.  It is personal because God has entered into a covenant relationship with us through Christ.  It is treasonous because it is an act of rebellion against our king.  It is adulterous because it is unfaithfulness to our heavenly bridegroom.  It is insubordination because it violates the orders of our Commanding Officer.  It is profoundly foolish because when we divert from God’s plan we are saying that we know what is better for us than the omniscient Lord of the Universe.  It is cruel because we know it grieves him and we do it anyway.  That’s cruelty.  It is the ultimate betrayal because it is committed against the God who gave us life—who brought us into being—we owe him EVERYTHING. He gives us not only life, but eternal life through his only Son who suffered and died for us.  In response to this indescribable grace we stick a knife in his back. Those are the kinds of nuances Daniel is communicating with all those different words.  When we sin, we need to come to God in confession, not as someone with a list to quickly check through, but with a hideous, grotesque, multifaceted evil to bring before the One we have grieved.

A second element of Daniel’s naked honesty about sin is in his acknowledgment of the punishment his sin justly deserves.  In verse 11 he says, “the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.”  There is no game-playing here from Daniel, no trying to blame others or justify or rationalize or place the sin in its best light.  He says in effect—the reason we are in exile, under the curse of your covenant is because that is exactly what our sin has earned us.  You wrote it clearly in your law, you repeatedly warned us through your prophets and generation after generation blew you off.  So, you exiled us and we are exactly where we should be right now.  How refreshing is that?  How many of you parents if your child came up to you with tears running down his cheeks said, “Mom and dad, I was wrestling with the neighbor kid in the basement and I broke the lamp down there.  You have repeatedly warned me against that and I foolishly did it anyway.  My behavior was careless, inconsiderate and foolish and I feel terrible about hurting you this way. I gladly accept the punishment you offer because I have it coming.  Will you please forgive me?” Unless that lamp is so expensive it has NO business being in your home--If you have a shred of parental wisdom and you hear a confession like that,), you are going to walk away from that encounter with a heart full of gratitude to God. He gets it!  He sees the seriousness of his act and he takes full, personal responsibility and willingly submits himself to the consequences of his action because he knows he deserves it.  That kid is not far from the kingdom of heaven!  That’s what God wants from us—no games, no excuses, no denials, just coming before God in blood honesty. 

The blessing that we have that Daniel didn’t know is that those moments of facing up to what our sin justly deserves should progress into worship.  The reason for that is because unlike the Jews in exile, we are not going to receive from God what we deserve.  Christ received it for us.  But that doesn’t mean that we should not, with Daniel rehearse what our sin deserves because as we think about the eternal torment our sin deserves, that causes us to see the profound grace seen at Calvary.  In Luke 7:47 Jesus says to a Pharisee who had NO concept of what his sin deserved from a holy God, “he who has been forgiven little loves little.”   The converse of that must also be true—he who has been forgiven much, loves much.  So if you want to love God much, be blood honest about your sins before God. Think about the utter wickedness of it and what you deserve from it--not for the purpose of self-flagellation, but so  your love for God can grow as you see how much you have been forgiven.

Closely related to that is the honesty Daniel shows as he cites some of the consequences of God’s chastening of Israel’s sin.  In both verses seven and eight he says to the Jews belong “open shame.”  He says in essence that their sin had left them open to public ridicule.  The nation that had miraculously conquered seven nations larger and more powerful than them—the nation that claimed there was the one and only God and He had chosen them out of all the nations of the earth—no one else.  That once prosperous nation has been for decades a vassal state under the boot of Babylon and more recently the Persians.  They had been reduced to little more than a spoil of war given as a trophy to the latest conquering king.  Their national pride was depleted.  They had no land, no temple, no national wealth, no military might and no regional status.  Their sanctuary, which once served as the earthly residence of the Lord of the universe is now broken down and according to verse 17, desolate.  They had become as verse 16 says, “a byword among the nations.”  Three times, Daniel says that “calamities” have come upon them.

Daniel is honest about the consequences of their sin.  Sometimes, our sin brings us consequences.  Our relationships can be broken, our good name spattered, our children disappointed in us or worse, disillusioned.  We can lose a promotion or a pay raise or the favor of our employer—our spouse can become disgusted with us.  Sin has consequences even though in Christ we are forgiven.  Daniel shows us what the grace of God looks like in the face of those consequences.  He humbly confesses that they are richly deserved.  Likewise, when we see the hole we have dug for ourselves through our sin, the response that shows grace is not to blame others for their lack of grace to us or to make excuses—simply admit the truth.  My sin brought these consequences upon me—no excuses, no running away, no bitterness toward anyone else—I made my bed.  Now I will have to learn to sleep in it and look to God, who is willing and able to use even these bitter consequences redemptively for his glory and my greater joy.”  That’s what the grace of God looks like.

The worst consequence is that our unconfessed sin hinders us from enjoying sweet fellowship with God.  David owns up to this in reflecting on his great sins.  He says in Psalm 32:3-4, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”  He doesn’t blame God or worse, get angry with him.  He simply states that his sin had built a wall between him and God.

A third mark of God’s grace in Daniel is seen in the fact that this prayer reeks of a God produced fervency.  Daniel is in his 80’s by this time, but that did not diminish the passion of his prayer.  He prepares for this confession according to verse three by fasting and putting on sackcloth and ashes.  Daniel is convicted that praying this prayer in a God honoring way is worth going hungry.  He doesn’t want to be distracted by the things of this world—he wants to focus like a laser beam on God.  Notice what he says in verse three.  Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas…”  Again, this prayer is an earnest seeking after God, not simply working to settle an account with God.  When we confess our sins, personally and corporately do we come to him to make sure our sin ledger stays reconciled—or do we earnestly seek after Him?  We dare not reduce our confession of sin to simply settling our accounts with God.  Four times Daniel uses the word, “plea.”  Don’t miss that fervency.  He is pleading.

This does NOT mean that our forgiveness is based on our fervency in prayer.  Our forgiveness is based on the truth of the gospel.  Daniel simply illustrates for us what it looks like to have the grace of God powerfully at work in you and one of those marks is fervency in prayer.  Prayer lists are a very good thing.  I use one and they are very helpful.  But we must not allow our prayer to be reduced to checking off items on a list—as if we were simply entering data on a divine ledger.  No!  We must come to God pleading.  The promise we cited earlier from Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,  If you want a good illustration of what it looks like to seek God “with all your heart,” spend time in Daniel chapter nine because by the grace of God, Daniel seeks after God with all his heart.  This isn’t respectable praying—it’s not sterile or clean—it’s messy.  You pray like this and you will breathe in some carpet fibers because your face may be on the floor.  This is praying that swells your eyes and drenches your face with tears.

When it comes to this matter of fervency, another caution is required.  It is quite possible to be intensely fervent in prayer—especially a prayer of confession—not because, like Daniel you are seeking after God, but because you are simply an emotional person--you cry at the drop of a hat or you are simply feeling discouraged and defeated by your sin.  You can be very fervent in a prayer of confession simply because you are tired of being a failure.  That’s not God-centered.  So a good question as it relates to fervency is—how do I know when I am fervent for God in a good way or simply tired of failing or hoping my intensity will manipulate God into doing what I want him to do?  Can’t you see how bad I want this?”

A fourth and final mark of God’s grace in Daniel gives us the answer and is:  this prayer’s appeals are based in God’s character and are motivated by a passion for his glory.   

Notice in what Daniel roots his appeals.  He doesn’t say, “liberate us, forgive us because we really want to go back to the Promised Land—forgive us because we are weary of being held up to ridicule—deliver us, forgive us because we want our own temple—forgive us because we are tired of feeling like failures and we think we have been here long enough.”  Verse 18,

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.  What emboldens Daniel to ask for forgiveness and liberty is not primarily his own need, but God’s mercy.  That word for mercy is powerful.  The scholars tell us that in the original it is the plural for the word “womb.”  That word “denotes the strong feeling of love expected within a family, especially of a mother for her child.” [Lucas, 238]  Daniel is banking his request on that aspect of God’s character that loves his people like a mother loves her newborn baby.  “Have mercy on us, because your love for us is so strong, God.”  That is a God-centered prayer. 

This is the basis for David’s confession in Psalm 51.  Verse one says, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”  David knows he deserves death for his sins. But he comes to God and says in essence, “God, I am making my appeal to that part of your character that I know is full of steadfast and abundant mercy.  Because that is the way you are, blot out my transgression.”  The plea is not rooted in my need or my desires, but in God’s character.  That’s how you know whether you are being fervent in a way that delights God or simply in a way that gives you a sense of emotional release.

          Not only is God’s love appealed to but also his faithfulness to his covenant.  This is the only chapter in Daniel where God’s covenant name, Yahweh is used in the Hebrew.  That name communicates, among other things, his enduring, unbreakable commitment to his word through his covenant.  Daniel refers to God four times that way in this prayer and in doing so implies what he says outwardly in verse four when he addresses God as, “…the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.”  The appeal is grounded in the fact that Israel, though guilty of countless idolatries are still nonetheless the people descended from Abraham to whom God promised the land and an enduring legacy and name through his descendents.  Because Daniel knows that God is faithful to his promises, he makes this appeal rooted in them.

          Finally, notice Daniel’s main motivator is his passion for the glory of God.  Verse 17 says, “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.  That same sentiment is expressed in verse 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."   Hear the root of Daniel’s concern.  He is praying, “O God, your people, who all the nations know belong to you and who know of your claims through them and promises to them—your name, O God will be besmirched if we stay much longer here in captivity.  For the sake of your Name, your reputation, do not delay.  Your city—the one you founded, your people, whom you have called and blessed and to whom you have given your law are a captive people.”  Daniel reaches fever pitch in his fervency when he is calling for God to come and vindicate his name.

          That’s one way you know whether your fervency in prayer is God-given or fleshly.  Are my appeals based on my sometimes selfish desires, or because they are in keeping with God’s character and his promises?  Is my intensity in prayer rooted in a passion for God’s glory or simply a white hot desire for something I want?  This prayer of Daniel radiates the grace of God.  May God give us this grace to love him as Daniel did and pray in a manner consistent with that love.


Page last modified on 2/04/2007

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