Last time, we began examining Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 by looking at what provoked him to pray in the first place — namely, God’s revealed will in Scripture. Knowing this, we might expect that his prayer would be muted or half-hearted; after all, God’s promises are certain and unchangeable.
Instead, though, Daniel’s prayer is overwhelmingly characterized by fervency. His interaction with God in Daniel 9 is not like two ships passing in the night, with the sort of prayer that goes, “Lord, by the way, I’ve got this little thought I want to drop on you while I’m passing by.” That’s the way so many pray, but that is not at all how Daniel prays:
So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)
In other words, he didn’t just give the Lord a passing nod; he fixed his gaze on Him. His prayer had passion and persistence. He went without food, he put on sackcloth, and he covered himself with ashes — all indicators of humility in his culture. And we’re here saying, “Daniel, this is a little ridiculous. I mean, God said that it was going to be 70 years, so 70 years it’s going to be. What in the world are you getting so upset about? Put your ashes away.”
However, Scripture calls for this sort of seriousness and persistence in prayer. It tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is about as persistent as you can get. And in Luke 11 we get the story of the impudent friend who knocks on his neighbor’s door at midnight to ask for some bread. And having told this story, Jesus says this:
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. (Luke 11:8-10)
I don’t know how it works, but we become a part of God’s plan when we pray. As James 5:16 clearly teaches, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” And we see at least part of what Daniel’s prayer accomplishes later in the chapter. We don’t know how long Daniel was praying, but after a time of fasting and petition, he received a response in the form of Gabriel’s appearance. (Daniel 9:20-21)
This sort of persistence is hard for us, isn’t it? We live in a society where things come to us in short spurts. We watch half-hour shows and listen to three-minute songs and watch 60-second commercials. This constant exposure generates thinking patterns that lead to short attention spans. And so the art of meditation and persistence in prayer is extremely difficult for us. But through Daniel we see that God responds to fervency.
We often forget to pray for all the battles that are being fought in our own lives, the lives of our families, and the lives of our churches. We struggle spiritually. We struggle financially. And sometimes we say, “Jesus is going to come anyway, and it’s all going to be well in the end, so it doesn’t matter.” We may think we are being spiritual, but really we are being fatalistic.
Sure, I know that only few are going to enter the narrow gate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pray. I know that things in this world are going to get worse and worse, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pray that God will still be glorified and that souls will still be saved. Daniel knew the prophecies of Scripture, but he still prayed.
If we never get on our knees in fervent prayer, and if we never really identify with the will and the Word of God the way Daniel did, we miss out on the intimate communion this brings and on the opportunity to experience blessing as a response to prayer.
The testimony of Scripture, both by command and by example, is that prayer should be fervent. It cannot be just a passing thing, because it is a setting of the heart toward something. Says the Puritan Thomas Brooks,
As a painted fire is no fire, a dead man no man, so a cold prayer is no prayer … Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings: they peirce [sic] not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers do always freeze before they reach to heaven. (Heaven on Earth, page 261)
The cleric Jeremy Taylor likewise says,
[I]f we can have fondnesses for things indifferent or dangerous, our prayers upbraid our spirits, when we beg coldly and tamely for those things for which we ought to die, which are more precious than the globes of kings, and weightier than imperial sceptres, richer than the spoils of the sea, or the treasures of the Indian hills. (The sermons of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, page 50)
Let us follow the pattern set by Daniel and other believers who have gone before us. Let us be people of fervent prayer.
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