Saturday, July 2, 2016

Praying like Daniel

Daniel 9 is a rich chapter, and it contains what could be called THE most disputed prophecy in the whole of the Bible.  That we will tackle next week, because the first half of the chapter is Daniel's prayer, and we can learn so much about how to pray from it. It's one of the best prayers in the Bible, and it's a shame that it is neglected, because of the second half of the chapter.  This sermon is going to be a practical one on prayer.

As we see from Daniel 9:1-19,

1) Daniel is motivated to pray by his study of the Word.  In verse 2, he is reading the scroll of Jeremiah, when he comes across the 70 years of the desolation of Jerusalem, and he calculates that it is coming to an end.  This drives him to intense prayer that includes fasting and sackcloth and ashes.  Why?  Isn't God perfect?  Isn't he going to do what he says he's going to do? Even though the restoration has already begun to take place, Daniel is motivated to pray. 

2) Daniel's prayer is one of repentance.

3) Daniel's prayer is not a series of commands to God but a series of praises for God.

4) Daniel acknowledges that his people sinned and continue to do so.

5) Daniel acknowledges that the Lord is just.

6) Daniel not only is inspired to pray by scripture, but he cites scripture in the prayer itself, specifically out of the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 28).

7) Daniel includes not only the prophesied punishment, but he reminds God of his prophesied righteousness and salvation.

8) Daniel continually enforces the point that he and his people are not worthy to receive mercy.  Israel has no righteousness of their own, but their restoration is entirely dependent on the Lord's mercy.

9) Daniel's petitions at the end of the prayer include requests for God to act and to forgive, both things that are eventually fulfilled by Christ's death on the cross.  Daniel is quick to add that acting and forgiving is not for Israel's sake but for God's own sake.  Remember, to God be the glory.

Now for the practical part.  Turn to Luke 12:22-34.  Let's pray this passage of scripture.  Let's say that we have been motivated by the Spirit, through scripture study, to pray this passage.

"Heavenly Father,

"You have told us through your Son not to be anxious about our lives, but we have failed.  We are continually anxious about what we will eat and what we will wear." Notice that we acknowledge our failure and sin.  We're not just jumping to "keep us from sinning" but saying that we flat-out sin. "We actually believe that our lives are no more than the insignificant things. We don't consider the ravens; we don't consider the lilies; even though you, gracious Lord, feed and clothe all of your natural creatures.  Even though we brought sin into the world and have corrupted everything, you sustain us and keep us in your hands.  Even though we have turned away from you, we are still valuable to you.  We have no righteousness.  We are unable to expand our lives one inch.  You have numbered our days, and only you know when our time comes."  There are some references to Psalm 139 and the curse in Genesis 3 here. Now, we can begin slipping petitions in: "Lord, we lack faith; please bestow on us just a little faith.  We seek the things of the world over your kingdom; please turn our hearts from worldly things and focus them on heavenly things."

Where God gives commands in scripture, do as Daniel does.  He doesn't say, "we've tried to keep your commands, please help us!"  He says, "we have failed to keep your commands, please don't destroy us!"  In this last section of the Luke passage (32-34) there are a series of commands.  It would be easy to slip into a laundry list of "helps," such as, "help us to not fear, help us to sell our possessions, etc."  But where Daniel's prayer points toward Christ to come, ours should end pointing to Christ having come and having succeeded in restoring the kingdom. Christ has saved us.  Christ has brought forgiveness.  Most importantly, God has acted. "Thank you for giving us the kingdom through the death of your son, Jesus Christ.  Even though we still fear out of sin, we see that it was your good pleasure to send your Son.  Christ sold his possessions, he gave to us needy sinners, he provided moneybags that will never grow old and wear out, and the treasure within is himself.  Christ does not fail. No one can steal him from his people, and nothing can destroy him.  Father, help us make Christ our treasure, and turn our hearts toward him."

These don't just have to be "we" prayers.  They can be "I" prayers, or you can pray for a specific individual who is struggling in these areas.  Remember, focus on our own sin and failure, Christ's sacrifice and success, and God's grace and glory.