DUNCAN/The prayer of Daniel
Please turn in your Bible to Daniel 9:1-27. Daniel is one of our great biblical models for what it means to know God. This was a man who knew God and knew the blessings of knowing God. We are told in Scripture that Daniel knew God through his consistent meditation on God’s word and by spending time with the Lord in prayer. If Daniel's keenness of prayer flows from his study of the word, his meditation on that word, and his regular practice of prayer, how much more ought we to be engaged in the pattern of study of Scripture, regular meditation on its truth, and true prayer. Daniel's prayer teaches us about the nature of true prayer and it calls us to true godliness. In fact, there are three things that we learn about prayer and about our God in this passage. First, we see that true prayer is grounded in the word of God. Secondly, we learn that true prayer recognizes who God is and who we are in relation to Him. Thirdly and finally, we see that true prayer is always heard by God.
I. True Prayer Is Grounded In The Word Of God.
In verses 1-3, we learn something about the context and the content of true Christian prayer. Daniel had been used by God as a prophet. Daniel had received revelations from God and yet he was studying the Scripture. Why? Because he desired for his heart and his mind to be informed by the Scripture. Daniel desired to be conformed to God by being conformed to His word. Do we also desire to be conformed to God by being conformed to His word? It is true that we live in a hectic world and there are many things that vie for our time. However, we must ask ourselves, “Do we have time for God and for His word? Do we have time for prayer?” None of us are doing work more important than Daniel. And yet Daniel had time for God, for the Scriptures, and for prayer. For example, we are told in verse 2 that Daniel, while he was reading Jeremiah 25:11-12, discovered that by his calculations the exile should be ending soon. If you and I had heard that the exile was coming to an end, perhaps we would have called for a celebration. But Daniel responds by going to the Lord in prayer. This shows us what Daniel knew about God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. Because God had promised a specific end to the captivity, Daniel felt the responsibility to pray that God would do what He had promised. Now, unless you believe in what the Bible says about how God's sovereignty and man's responsibility go together, that makes no sense. If God is going to do something, why would you bother praying about it? Because that is how God desires us to respond to the promises of His word. That's how all Christian prayer actually works. God moves His people to pray by His word, in accordance with His word, and the content of the promises of His word. His people grasp that truth in their hearts, and they lift their prayers back up to God. It has come to them from God and they send it back to Him.
II. True Prayer Recognizes Who God Is And Who We Are In Relation To Him.
In verses 4-19, Daniel prays to the Lord and offers pleas for mercy. As such, we learn several things from Daniel’s pattern of prayer. In verse 4, he humbly confesses that the covenant God of Israel is to be feared and to be trusted. Then, in verses 5-6, Daniel immediately begins to confess his sins and the sins of his people. In verses 7-8, he acknowledges God's righteous justice in punishing Israel. It's not only that he says “Lord, we're here because of our sins.” He goes on to say, “Lord, You were righteous to send us here and to punish us.” In verses 9-15, Daniel makes an appeal to God's mercy, not based on their deeds, but based on God's compassion. In verses 16-17, he requests that the Lord would restore the kingdom to Israel and that He would build up the spiritual condition of Israel. In verses 18-19, Daniel shows that true prayer is based on what God has promised that He will do. Notice also how God-centered Daniel’s prayer is, and how this prayer appeals to God's covenant mercy over and over. He touches the deep places of the heart of God and moves Him in His compassion for His people. This prayer doesn’t escape the responsibility of sin and the result of misery. Instead, it expresses the plight of God's people to the Lord and asks Him to forgive them.
III. True Prayer Is Always Heard By God.
In verses 20-22, we are told that God sent Gabriel as Daniel prayed. What is God telling us there in sending the angel to Daniel? God is telling us that He always hears our prayers immediately, even if His answer delays. His heart is immediately with His people. And in this case, He sent an angel to interrupt Daniel in the middle of his prayer to assure him that his prayer had been heard in heaven. We are also told that Gabriel came to aid Daniel in understanding the vision. Why? Because these verses are some of the most difficult to understand in all of the Bible. So Gabriel had to be sent for even Daniel to understand God’s message.
It is also important to note that we observe something interesting in verse 21. Specifically, we are told Gabriel came to Daniel about the time of the evening offering. Daniel doesn't draw attention to that, yet that is one of the most moving phrases in this passage, because this reminds us that though it had been decades since Daniel had been in Jerusalem at the time of the evening offering, his heart was still being set by the worship of God, morning and evening, in the sacrifices at the temple. His heart was with the worship of God and he longed more than anything else to see it re-established.
Finally, I want you to see that in answer to Daniel's prayer, God gives him a vision about the coming of the Messiah. Daniel had earnestly prayed that God would end the exile, but God responded with an even bigger picture. God was saying, “Daniel, in part, your prayers are being used as instruments for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince.” This reminds us that God answers our prayers beyond our fondest hopes because His mercy is full. Won't you trust God in your prayer? Won't you be conformed to God’s heart by the word and reflect it as you plead His promises back to Him? May God give us a heart for His glory and for His people like we see in His servant Daniel.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email.