In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:2-3)
Before we even get to Daniel’s prayer itself, it is enlightening to examine what the prayer was in response to. And we see in these early verses of the chapter that his prayer was born out of Scripture.
I have said many times before that we must start by studying the Word of God and let prayer flow out of that study. Unless we understand Scripture, we will not understand the purposes and plans of God, and so our prayers will not be governed and guided by His will. It was when Daniel saw and understood God’s plans for Judah that he began to pray.
But we can say even more than that. I am certain that Daniel believed his prayer to be an element in the fulfillment of God’s revealed will in Scripture. Of course, Daniel believed absolutely in the sovereignty of God. He knew that if Scripture said something would happen, it would certainly come to pass. And yet, Daniel still prayed.
Human reason responds in a totally different way to God’s sovereignty. If we are reading Jeremiah and see that God will rescue Judah after 70 years, and if we believe that God always fulfills His word, then we might be tempted to think, “What is there to pray for? It’s cut and dry. Praying won’t change anything.”
But that is not Daniel’s response. Even though we humans struggle to understand the relationship between our prayers and God’s sovereign plan, Daniel still felt the responsibility to pray.
I don’t think I will ever understand the relationship between God and man. I don’t understand how God can write the Bible while using men as the instruments. I don’t understand how God can become a man and still be God at the same time. I don’t understand how I can be saved by my own choice and also by God’s sovereign will before the foundation of the world. And I don’t understand how my prayers can have any part in God’s sovereign work. But this is not for me to understand.
When Daniel read the plan of God, rather than becoming fatalistic and saying, “Well, that’s that,” he immediately went to his knees in brokenness and penitence and cried out to God in sackcloth and ashes on behalf of his people. And the essence of his prayer is a request that God would do what He had promised to do.
Again, we are inclined to ask, “Why is Daniel praying? God already said that He is going to do it.” But Daniel is not interested in logical human reasoning. He is simply pouring out his heart. And why do that? Why should we pray when we read about God’s purposes in His Word? It isn’t because God needs us to pray; instead, it is because we need to line up with God’s causes. Prayer is for us.
In prayer, we see our own sinfulness and we see our need of His grace and his power. In prayer, we come to the place of submitting ourselves to His plan. In this way, prayer and the Word are inseparably linked. I don’t think you can pray properly unless you are in the Word. As Psalm 119 says,
I have more insight than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation. (Psalm 119:99)
In other words, the psalmist understands more than his elders because he has discovered God’s will in Scripture. He is saying, “If I want to get in on Your plans and understand what You have commanded, I have to commit myself to Your Word.” Prayer, then, isn’t for changing what God is going to do. It is for identifying ourselves with His plans. And we cannot do that intelligently without understanding His Word.
If you can read Scripture and not be driven to prayer, you are not listening to what you are reading. Whatever passage you read should be cause for confession of sin in your life, praise to God for His blessedness, and thankfulness for the unfolding of His plan.
This is why Acts 6:4 says that the apostles had devoted themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Prayer and Scripture go together. The Word naturally generates prayer. When it speaks of God, we long to commune with Him. When it speaks of glory, we long to receive it. When it speaks of promise, we long to realize it. When it speaks of sin, we long to confess it. When it speaks of judgment, we long to avoid it. When it speaks of hell, we pray for the lost.
The Word of God is the cause of prayer. And just because we know something is inevitable doesn’t mean we fatalistically get off our knees and walk away in some kind of sickly theological indifference. Daniel’s prayer, like all true prayer, is born out of studying and understanding Scripture.
Now that we have looked at the source of the prayer in Daniel 9, next time we will look at the tone of Daniel’s prayer and the lessons we can take from it for our own prayers.
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