Summary: Daniel’s prayer life provides the example and the explanation of persistence in prayer.
Why We Pray Without Ceasing
The Daniel Story
Introduction: For nearly a year we have been digging into the theme of prayer. We have examined some of the basic principles regarding the power of prayer. We took the Lord’s Prayer apart phrase by phrase. We looked deep into some of the places the Lord takes those who devote themselves to prayer. This will be our last excursion into this particular study of prayer. I guarantee we will be back.
In this last message of the year on prayer, I want to explore what may well be one of the most important principles regarding prayer. Paul taught his readers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). What does that mean? Some have taken it to mean that a believer ought always be in an attitude of prayer. I am not convinced that this is the point. First, I am not sure I know what an attitude of prayer is. I know what an attitude of faith or dependence on God might be. I understand the concept of humble submission to the will of God. I do believe the Bible calls us to live each moment with the awareness of God’s presence. Yet none of this is the same as praying.
Clearly Jesus was in constant communion with the Father. The Father’s will was his will. Perfect faith, humility, and submission were hallmarks of his earthly life. Yet Jesus sought special time alone to pray. There were times when he was praying and times he wasn’t.
I seriously doubt that anyone can actually pray all of the time without ever stopping. The only way that can happen is to redefine prayer from actually talking to God to thinking about talking to God. I am convinced that real serious prayer requires focus and concentration. If we think of praying without ceasing as non-stop praying, we run the danger of never actually praying at all. When we think we have never stopped praying, we probably have never actually started!
I think the call to pray without ceasing is closer to what Jesus taught his disciples. He told them “to pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). This kind of praying is not necessarily 24/7. But it is tenacious. It keeps coming back to the Father again and again with the same concern as long as that concern seems unresolved. The opposite is to pray and quit. A quest for instant gratification will always be in conflict with prayer. Asking once, forgetting about it, and going on to something else is not Jesus’ idea of prayer. For a very good reason!
Our goal in praying maybe to get what we want. God’s goal is to get us! To get us to know him better, to trust him more, to obey him more completely, to love him more deeply! Prayer is not about what we want and how to get God to give it to us. Prayer is about knowing the God who already knows our needs, discovering his will, and aligning ourselves with that. Prayer is about relying on him 24/7. God knows that sometimes the best way to accomplish his goal for prayer is to prolong the answer to our requests.
Some people have learned well the lessons of patient (without fainting) prayer. Others of us still don’t get it. What’s the difference? What do some valiant pray-ers know that the rest of need to learn? What habit patterns build strong prayer lives? What life lessons grow powerful prayer lives? I want to take you to what is fast becoming one of my favorite Old Testament books for some answers. The Daniel story is a lesson in prayer that refuses to quit.
Daniel was a young Jewish boy when the Babylonians over ran the capital of nearly six hundred years before the time of Jesus. Daniel and a number of his colleagues were taken captive so they could be trained as a young Jewish ruling class who would be loyal to the foreign captors once the occupation was complete. The book of Daniel tells the adventures of Daniel and his friends during this period of captivity and education in Babylon. The book emphasizes a series of dreams interpreted by Daniel for the pagan kings and visions given directly to Daniel about the future of God’s Chosen People.
Before we get to Daniel and prayer, I want to call your attention to three of the most significant passages in the book. Daniel is a striking book. Unbelievers and skeptics must deal with it because of its profound and uncompromising predictions about the Messiah. First, Daniel 7:13-14 is probably the origin of the most commonly used term by Jesus for himself. When Jesus called himself the Son of Man and used the term in his teachings about the second coming (“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” – Matt 24:27), he had this passage in mind: