I have a question: how often are your prayers prompted by your meditation on God’s Word?

In Daniel chapter 9 we read: In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans – 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 the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication …

Around 539BC, Daniel was amongst the elite of Jewish society who had been in exile in Babylon for over 50 years. During that time his abilities and his faith had shone when, at significant moments, his advice had been sought by Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius.

Now in his 80s Daniel had lost neither his intellectual sharpness nor his faith. And because he was a man who consistently read and meditated on God’s Word, he was very aware of God’s promise that Jerusalem and its people would be restored.

He knew of Jeremiah’s prophesy: Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words … this whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8,11).

And he also knew that Jeremiah had spoken of the restoration of God’s people: ‘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 will bring you back from captivity’ Jeremiah (29:12).

Daniel was certain God would not forget his promise. But he didn’t just sit around, enjoying life, waiting for God to step in. With the Scriptures open before him, he turned his face to the Lord and prayed. God’s sovereignty is not fatalistic determinism. Rather, he invites us to partner with him in the implementation of his plans. The 17th century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal observed, ‘God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality’.

Daniel knew the Lord and understood that the secret to addressing concerns and fears in life is found in heart-felt confession and petition.

Confession. Consider key elements of Daniel’s prayer. ‘O God, we have turned away from your commands and your laws’ (9:5); ‘we have not listened to your servants the prophets; we have not obeyed the laws you gave’ (9:10); ‘we have broken your law’ (9:11); ‘we have not looked for your mercy by turning away from our sins and paying attention to your truth’ (9:13). Significantly, Daniel reflects on God’s law, given to Moses, and identifies himself with the sin of God’s people. All Israel had sinned, including Daniel.

Throughout his prayer Daniel acknowledges the personal relationship that exists between God and his people. A covenant exists between them – a covenant with commands and laws which God himself has revealed.

It’s easy to think of God’s judgement simply falling on the godless and the perpetrators of evil. But Daniel’s prayer identifies sin as breaking God’s commands. How often we forget this today – in part because when we gather as God’s people we are not specifically reminded of God’s commands. Our understanding of sin in God’s sight becomes vague and subjective.

How important it is that we consistently open up and meditate on God’s Word. God delights in us growing in our relationship with him as the almighty Lord whose glory transcends the universe and speaks of his awesome power and purity. God wants us to understand his plan and purpose for us whom he has created in his image. Yet too often we succumb to the attractions of the world and our lives are compromised by the spirit of the age. And so we daily need to confess our own sin before the Lord, and when we gather as a church.

To follow Daniel’s example, it’s essential that we confess our broken relationship with the Lord before we petition him with our requests. Indeed, it is a pattern that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer put into the liturgies he developed in the Book of Common Prayer.

Petition. Daniel’s confession turns to petition with: Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away

Daniel didn’t ask God to set aside his righteousness and overlook the sins of his people. Instead, he asked God to act because of his righteousness. Paradoxically this was Israel’s only hope.

Like Moses, Daniel appealed to God on the basis of God’s character: Now therefore,… Incline your ear, O my God, and hear… We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.

At the heart of Daniel’s petition is the glory of God’s name. He did not hesitate to remind God of what he’d already revealed in his Word and urged him to roll up his sleeves and act.

Daniel was not presumptuous. Rather, he was humble, honest and contrite about his own sin and the sin of God’s people. But this didn’t prevent him praying on the basis of God’s character and God’s promises.

At the center of Daniel’s prayer is confidence that God is a God of mercy. The glorious and gracious thing about God is that he is always willing to receive people back when they repent and are committed to start afresh with him.

The New Testament knows of this type of faith and prayer. We see it in the faith of four men that brought forgiveness of sin and healing when they lowered their paralyzed friend through a roof.

With the coming of Jesus Christ and his commitment to build his church, how much more should we speak frankly and humbly to God, asking him to honor and glorify his name by acting with mercy towards our sinful world?

Do you regularly ask for God’s forgiveness, not just for your own sin, but the sin of others? Do you pray that for the sake of God’s name and reputation, he will act with mercy, softening hard hearts and awakening many to the truth of his good news? God has promised!

Prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory, have mercy on our broken and divided world; send your light and your truth so that as we proclaim your word of life many will turn to you; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

You might like to listen to The Perfect Wisdom of Our God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason