Summary: We need to be willing to pray for as long as it takes. Pray that it will take long enough and be hard enough for God to receive all of the glory.
On the Swedish Island of Visingso, there is a mysterious forest of oak trees; mysterious because oak trees aren’t indigenous to the island and its origin was unknown for more than a century. Then in 1980, the Swedish Navy received a letter from the Forestry Department reporting that their requested ship lumber was ready. The Navy didn’t even know it had ordered any lumber. After a little historical research, it was discovered that in 1829 the Swedish parliament, recognizing that it takes oak trees one hundred and fifty years to mature and anticipating a shortage of lumber at the turn of the 21st century, ordered that twenty thousand oak trees be planted on Visingso and protected for the Navy.1
That is thinking long.
For the record, the lone objector was the Bishop of Strangnas. He didn’t doubt that there would still be wars to fight at the end of the twentieth century. He was the only one who anticipated that ships might be built of other materials by then.
One dimension of thinking long is thinking different and prayer is the key to both. Prayer doesn’t just change circumstances. More importantly, it changes us. It doesn’t just alter external realities. It alters internal realities so that we see with spiritual eyes. It gives us peripheral vision. It corrects our nearsightedness. It enables us to see beyond our circumstances, beyond ourselves, beyond time.
It’s not enough to dream big and pray hard. You also have to think long. If you don’t, you’ll experience high degrees of discouragement. Why? Because we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year. Of course, we also tend to underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. The bigger the vision, the harder you’ll have to pray and the longer you’ll have to think. But if you keep circling, it’ll come to pass in God’s time.
Share about a big dream that will take a long time to accomplish—either personal or corporate. Example from The Circle Maker: the 2020 vision of National Community Church in twenty locations by the year 2020 (TCM, page 136).
Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.
Can you imagine having a conversation with your guardian angel? It’ll be one of our most revealing conversations when we get to heaven, but Daniel got to have a short conversation on this side of the space-time continuum. For some of us, it’ll be an awfully long conversation because we kept our angel awfully busy. That is certainly true of Daniel. I can’t help but wonder if they had a little side conversation about the lions’ den.
Like all angelic greetings, it begins with do not be afraid. I guess that’s angelic protocol. Then the angel reveals the realities of the spiritual realm in a way that is seen nowhere else in Scripture. We know that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but this encounter fleshes it out. The angel reveals the importance of praying through. The angel reveals the spiritual warfare that is being waged beyond the curtain of our consciousness. The angel reveals the way prayers are processed.
Daniel’s prayer was heard before the words even passed through his vocal chords, but it wasn’t until the twenty-first day that he experienced a breakthrough because of spiritual oppression. An evil spirit known as the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted the call for angelic backup until the twenty-first day.
I can’t help but ask the counterfactual question: what if Daniel had quit praying through on day twenty? Well, just like the Israelites who circled Jericho or Elijah who got down on his knees and prayed for rain, if you stop praying through before the breakthrough, then you forfeit the miracle.
To Their Knees
Daniel ranks as one of the most brilliant minds the ancient world has ever known. He was a Renaissance man two thousand years before the Renaissance, with an unusual aptitude for both philosophy and science. He could explain riddles and solve problems unlike anyone in his generation, and no one could dream or interpret dreams like Daniel. But the thing that set him apart wasn’t his IQ. It was his PQ. Daniel prayed circles around the greatest superpower on earth, and because he got on his knees, he brought kings and kingdoms to their knees.