How often have you asked, ‘How long, O Lord?’ David asked it in Psalm 13. Daniel asked it when God’s people were in exile.
In Daniel 9 we read one of the great prayers of the Bible. In fulfillment of the words of prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar had defeated the people of Judea, destroyed its city and its temple, and had taken its people into exile.
But Jeremiah had also 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 knew these words and was certain God would not forget his promise. But he didn’t just sit around, enjoying life, waiting for God’s promises to come true. He prayed for God to act.
God’s sovereignty doesn’t take away our responsibility to pray. God’s rule is not simply a fatalistic determinism. He invites us to partner with him in the implementation of his plans.
Daniel understood this and knew that the secret to addressing concerns and fears in life is found in prayer. Confession and petition are two themes that stand out.
At the heart of his confession Daniel prays, ‘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 identifies himself with the sin of God’s people. It was not just some people or some leaders who had sinned. Rather, all Israel had sinned – including Daniel.
Throughout the prayer, Daniel acknowledged the personal relationship that existed between God and the nation. A covenant existed between them – a covenant with commands and laws.
It’s easy to think of God’s judgment simply falling on the godless and the perpetrators of evil. But Daniel’s prayer is primarily for the people of God. There is a principle here that applies to God’s people today. We need to ask: ‘Is God pleased with the church?’ Each of us needs to ask: ‘Am I living as God expects, or am I compromised by the spirit of the age?’
We cannot truly pray for our church and the success of God’s gospel without first confessing our own sin. It’s a reason we need a prayer of confession when we meet as God’s people.
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 from 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, opening the eyes of the blind, awakening them to the truth of his good news? God has promised!
© John G. Mason