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Listening to a replay of the Last Night of the 2021 BBC Proms I recalled their origin. In 1894 Robert Newman, manager of the then new Queen’s Hall near Langham Place, London, initiated classical music concerts that would be available for everyone. It was not long before the concerts became known as the Proms.
Despite financial challenges following the First World War, the concerts continued with BBC sponsorship and, after 1930 with the new BBC Symphony Orchestra. With television, radio, big screens in local parks and from 2009, cyberspace, the Proms attract many millions.
I touch on this history for it seems to me we all need to catch the vision of making God’s good news available for everyone. Last week I wrote on the power of God’s Word to change lives. Today, let me touch on the power of prayer.
In Daniel’s prayer (Daniel 9) we find two themes: confession and the honor of God’s name.
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans,… I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy… (Daniel 9:1).
By around 539BC, Daniel was amongst the elite of Jewish society who had been in exile in Babylon for some 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 he had not forgotten God’s promises through prophets such as Jeremiah that the Babylonian exile would be seventy years. Daniel was certain that God would not forget, and that the restoration of his people would occur.
However, this did not prevent him from praying. In fact, he actively prayed as he waited for God to fulfil his promises. This is very significant for it shows us that God’s sovereignty does not take away our responsibility. Blaise Pascal once commented, ‘God has instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality’.
Confession. 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.
While Daniel’s confession is general, he uses the first-person pronoun: ‘We have sinned and done wrong; we have rebelled; we have turned away…’ (9:5). He includes himself.
Furthermore, although personal, his focus is on God: ‘O Lord, we have turned aside from your commands and your rules’ (9:5). ‘We have not listened to your servants the prophets’ (9:6).
Following a summary of the sins of his people (9:7-12), Daniel acknowledges the failure of God’s people to heed God’s law, let alone ask for God’s forgiveness for their selfishness and idolatry, their greed and failure to care for the needy.
Honor. Yet Daniel dares to plead for God’s mercy ‘for the sake of God’s name’ (9:17, 18). Daniel reminds the Lord that his reputation, his name, his honor are at stake. It was he, the Lord who had brought about the release of his people from slavery in Egypt.
Daniel was echoing a similar prayer that Moses prayed. Numbers chapter 14 records Moses’ intercession for the people when God said he would destroy them. Moses reminded God that it was through his initiative and power that the people had been freed from slavery (Numbers 14:13). He reminded him of his commitment to his promises (Num 14:14). Significantly, he asked what the Egyptians and the other nations would think about him. Was he incapable of fulfilling his promise? ‘Lord, aren’t you a God of your word?’ he asked.
And so Moses prayed: “Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.”
Humbly but boldly, he spoke directly to God, reminding him of his promises, his nature to forgive and his steadfast love. Moses understood that he could beg for God’s mercy because he knew God keeps his promises. Above all he understood the mercy of God.
In his prayer, Daniel didn’t ask God to set aside his righteousness. Rather, he prayed that God would act because of his righteousness: ‘Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain;… (Daniel 9:16).
At the heart of Daniel’s intercession is the glory of God’s name. Daniel 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.
We don’t live under the same covenant as God’s ancient people. With the coming of Jesus the Messiah, we live under a new covenant grounded in God’s unchanging character.
The glorious thing about the God of the Bible, is that he is gracious and always willing to receive us when we repent and commit to start afresh.
Daniel’s prayer challenges us to pray. Even though the Western world has turned its back on its God-given heritage we should not cease to confess the sins of the nation and ask for God’s forgiveness.
The power of our prayer is not in our praying but in the One to whom we pray. God is the perfect Father who loves to give good things. Prayer is a precious privilege.
Will you join me in praying for God’s forgiveness of our nation? And also in praying that we catch the vision of enabling everyone around us to access God’s good news through ministries such as The Word One-to-One?
Phillips Brooks once commented: ‘Prayer is not conquering God’s reluctance but taking hold of God’s willingness’.
A prayer. 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.