THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER
Last week we looked at how we can misuse prayer through wrong motives and wrong attitudes. Today I want to spend sometime looking at the spirit of prayer or to put it another way ‘praying biblically.’
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER.
Turn with me to Daniel 9 verses 4-19. We are going to use this prayer of Daniel as a blueprint for our own prayers. The context for this prayer of Daniel is outlined in verses 1-3 of the same chapter. Daniel, along with the people of Israel, is in exile in Babylon. It is almost 70 years since the exile had begun and Daniel states that he has been moved to pray whilst reading Jeremiah (verse1-3). When I read those first three verses I was immediately struck by the spiritual preparation that Daniel made before he sought God in prayer. He had fasted, he had mourned the plight of his people, he had put on sackcloth (a sign of mourning) and he was meditating/studying the Word of God, Jeremiah 29v10-12. I was challenged about how often I race into prayer without any preparation. How often I am in a hurry and the result is often jumbled words, no thought and no heart preparation. Not Daniel. He prepared himself to enter into the presence of God in prayer. Verse 3 reveals a reverence for prayer. Not only a reverence but an understanding of what he is about to do, namely to intercede for his people before God. Daniel did not take this task lightly or wantonly. So I believe for each of us this morning there is the first characteristic of the spirit of prayer – PREPARATION. Isn’t it amazing how long it can take some people to prepare to go out somewhere? Isn’t it amazing when teenagers suddenly become aware of their image and suddenly all sorts of products appear in the bathroom? We prepare for so many things. We take time with our appearance etc but yet we neglect to prepare for prayer. What does it reveal about our hearts and our attitude to prayer when we fail to prepare. Daniel prepared his heart by studying the Word of God, by looking around him at his people and mourning their plight. So we must prepare our hearts for prayer – with the Word of God and also by spending some time looking around us and weighing in light of Scripture what we need to pray for our people.
REMEMBER GOD IS AWESOME AND FAITHFUL.
Daniel begins his prayer by focusing on the nature and character of God. The ascription used by Daniel, ‘great and awesome God,’ is almost word for word the one used by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1.5) and may have been a common liturgical ascription in prayer. Daniel begins by focusing his heart on the majesty and sovereignty of God. He draws near to God in prayer but is mindful of whose presence he is entering in prayer. He never wants to forget the awesome majesty and power of Almighty God. Although prayer speaks of intimacy of God it does not, nor should it ever, speak of familiarity with God. There is respect, reverence and fear in this opening sentence. There is also a declaration of adoration in this opening sentence. But I want you to note also how this is counterbalanced with the phrase ‘who keeps his covenant of love.’ Daniel asserts God’s steadfast and faithful love. He is here appealing to God’s faithful promise in the covenant with His people. The people, as we will see in verse 5 following, have been faithless but God must remain faithful to His covenant and it is to this that Daniel appeals repeatedly. Daniel appeals to God’s name right at the beginning of his prayer. Turn with me to Exodus 34 verses 5-6 READ. God’s name is revealed as ‘faithful and steadfast love.’ The faithfulness and steadfast love of God is in stark contrast to the fickle and disloyal character of the people. But it is to the character of God that Daniel appeals in prayer. He begins by reminding his heart, reminding himself and those who will read this prayer, that God is awesome. That God is majestic sovereign and that God is also bound by His Word and His covenant promises to His people, even when the people have broken that covenant. Friends I want to say to you this morning that the only way for Daniel to know this was through the study of God’s Word and through personal experience of the faithfulness of God. Through the reading of the Law (the Torah) Daniel knew all about the covenant between God and Israel. Through personal experience he knew about the faithlessness of the people of God and its consequences. But he also knew of the faithfulness of God in the deliverance of his three friends from the fiery furnace and of himself from the lion’s den. So when he comes to prayer he states God’s awesomeness and appeals to God’s faithful love in keeping the covenant.
CONFESSION OF SIN.
We live very much in a culture where ‘blame shifting’ has become the norm. We speak of people making ‘mistakes’, or having ‘addictions’ or of someone’s ‘weakness.’ You know when I read this prayer of Daniel I was struck with his honesty of calling it as it was then, and is now. By reminding himself, his heart, his hearers, of the awesome majesty of God Daniel brings conviction of sin to bear on his life and the life of the people. There is no passing the blame on to others here. Look at what he says – read verses 5-6. Look how all encompassing the definition of sin is. Their sins are against God and one another. There is no sanitising of the language. He says the people of God, and he includes himself, have been wicked (perverted), rebelled against God and disobeyed His Word. They have turned their hearts away from God and from those He sent to warn them. They rejected God, His prophets, His Word. The people have in the words of Judges 17.6 ‘done what seemed right in their own eyes.’ The result is that they suffered the consequences of their sin. But I want you again to notice how Daniel speaks of this in his prayer – look at verses 7-8. The contrast is between God and His people.
You (God) are righteous…we (the people) are unrighteous (covered in shame). You (God) are faithful…we (the people) are unfaithful. You (God) are awesome…we (the people) are humiliated. These two verses acknowledge that God is right and just in what He has done to His people because of their sin. Where once they were a proud people they are now covered in shame. Listen to what was once said about them – READ Deut.7.6; 28.7; 28.10 – but all of these have been reversed due to sin. These people have become the object of scorn and shame is their garment. The question is have we become such? Daniel then speaks of the righteous act of God in bringing judgement on His people (verses 9-14). Yet he begins by stating that God is ‘merciful and forgiving’ but the response of the people has been ingratitude (verse 9). Daniel exalts the justice of God even though it proves to be a painful experience for the people of God, and Daniel personally. Daniel reminds us that God retains and maintains His integrity and His identity (His character) by punishing sin. God is righteous and His righteousness is proclaimed and demonstrated in punishing His people for their infidelity. The punishment of Israel is a vindication of God’s holiness and a demonstration of His faithfulness to His Word (to His covenant with them). Daniel says: like the penitent thief on the cross beside Christ; “We have received our just deserts.” Daniel makes no plea of mitigation against the guilt or shame of the people. There is a humble and honest confession of sin before God. Daniel knows that only if God’s mercy and forgiveness prevail will there be a restoration of the relationship (covenant) and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. The only possible plea is to the character of God – now can you see why he so confidently states the character of God at the beginning of his prayer? The people have no grounds for complaint against God. God had made plain the consequences of sin and disobedience (Leviticus 26.14-15/Deut. 28.15-68). The very apathy of the people in turning away and refusing to obey was blameworthy itself.
APPEALING TO GOD
Having stated God’s character, having confessed his sin and the justification of God’s punishment Daniel begins this part of his prayer with ‘And Now…’ He appeals to God to act in accordance with the deliverance in times past and prepares the way for an appeal to the Lord’s reputation in verses 16-19. Look at verse 15. It is an appeal based on the faithfulness of God and the unchangeableness of God. It is a plea based upon the character of God and that God remains true to His character. Can you see how what has gone before this in Daniel’s prayer actually logically leads to this request before God? Daniel’s appeal or plea before God is based solely on God’s honour and God’s glory – verses 16-19. Daniel says that the people, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, all places identified with God, have become objects of scorn and derision. By implication he says God has become the object of scorn and derision amongst the nations. The humiliation of God’s people, of God’s holy city and of His Temple has led the pagans to believe that God was either powerless or a delusion of the people. Daniel pleads that God would vindicate His name and His character before these nations by restoring the people of God, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple – not for the sake of the people but for His glory and His honour. I want to make one thing abundantly clear at this point – Daniel was not asking God to turn a blind eye to the sins of the people. He had already stated that God’s punishment was just and righteous. Daniel wants God to restore His people in response to their repentance of their sin – so that God would be glorified through the mighty working of His power in restoration. This would be visibly displayed in the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple and the fulfilling of the promise made to the people of God through the prophet Jeremiah almost seventy years earlier. He pleads with God to fulfil His promise to a repentant people – like Moses did in Exodus 32.12-13 after the incident with the golden calf. The lesson here on the spirit of prayer is that God’s honour and God’s glory amongst the people of this world should be our concern in prayer. we appeal to God to be faithful to His promises, as He has always been. We acknowledge the justice in His punishment of sin and we look to His mercy and forgiveness when we repent. I think it must have been a terrible burden on the heart of Daniel to know that God was scorned and despised because of the way His people lived. Is that not the same today? Are we not the reason God’s name is not honoured or glorified? The stark truth is that even amongst those who claim to be His people His honour and His glory is not the chief concern. That His name would be honoured, His character vindicated and His Word fulfilled is not the focus of prayer. Learn a profound lesson on prayer here. When we come to pray our focus in everything we bring before Him is to be ‘what will bring you glory, what will honour you and what will vindicate your word. I think we need to remember the first four commandments more often in prayer- where we are warned that God will not share His glory with anyone or anything else. The commandments where we are reminded that our God is a jealous God and that He will hold us guilty for misusing His name.
EXPECTATION OF AN ANSWER.
In verse 19 Daniel expects an answer. He makes a final appeal that God would not delay in fulfilling His Word and that He would do so not for Daniel’s sake, not for the sake of the people but for the sake of God’s holy name. Ever ask yourself why God is so concerned about His name in Scripture? It is because God is His name. That verse I read from Exodus 34 at the beginning actually reveals the answer – when Moses wanted to see God’s glory God revealed His name – faithful, steadfast love and mercy. God’s glory is His name and Daniel wants God to answer without delay so that God’s glory might be restored amongst the peoples of the earth. His concern at the end as at the beginning of his prayer is God’s glory and kingdom. Well if we had time we could go on this morning and read how quickly God did answer Daniel’s prayer – verse 20 following tells us that whilst he was still praying God sent the archangel Gabriel to answer him.
I believe Daniel expected an answer to his prayer because he knew his prayer was according to God’s will revealed in God’s Word. It was whilst studying the Word of God that Daniel was motivated to pray. His reading of Jeremiah led him to understand that God would restore His people the city of Jerusalem and the Temple because God had promised to be faithful to His covenant with His people. When the people repented and returned to God, and to obedience of the covenant, then the blessings attached to obedience would flow from the throne of grace, just as the curses of punishment had for their disobedience and faithlessness to the covenant. The same will be true for us under the new covenant. So this morning when we come to pray we should remember:
Awesomeness of God
Confession of Sin
God’s glory and God’s name – to be the priority
Expect an answer
But none of this will be true if we do not actually follow the example of Daniel and pray.