Daniel's Audacious Prayer
Last week I had the privilege of preaching at Hudson Valley United Reformed Church in New Hampton, NY (outside Middletown, NY) and in the evening I unpacked Daniel's powerful and audacious model prayer in Daniel 9:1-19. I noted that the Scriptures contain several model prayers. For instance, 1st Chronicles 29:10-13 records David's prayer over the materials Solomon would use to build the temple in Jerusalem. 1st Kings 8:22-61 includes Solomon's prayer of dedication for the temple on the other side of the construction project. And Acts 4:23-31 contains the early church's prayer for holy boldness in the face of persecution. Of course the best known model prayer is the one offered by our Lord in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 which we know as the Lord's Prayer. Historically the church has understood this prayer to be a model or guide for helping Christians to pray. The Westminster Shorter Catechism devotes Q&As 99-107 to the Lord's Prayer and the Heidelberg Catechism devotes Q&As 118-129 to the same. This is true of many other catechisms and confessions. But that night I wanted to focus on the special appeal of Daniel's powerful prayer. Note well that Daniel enters into this prayer because he has been meditating on Scripture, specifically the prophecy of Jeremiah (probably 25:11-12 & 29:10) where the prophet records that God will bring his people back from exile after about 70 years. Daniel realizes that he is getting on in years and prays asking God to fulfill his promises made through the tongue of Jeremiah. As we read the prayer we also note that Daniel is steeped in other portions of Scripture besides Jeremiah. The prayer is a covenantal prayer and we begin to sense that Deuteronomy 6:26, and chapters 27 & 28 are also working in the background of Daniel's thinking as he prays. The prayer, in other words, is a response to Scripture and is suffused with Scripture. Truly God speaks to us in his Word and we respond in prayer. That is real communication. Daniel begins his prayer the way prayers should be begun. He begins with the greatness of God who is both awesome and loving. Why does Daniel (and for that matter, David, Solomon, the early church and Jesus) begin his prayer that way? Perhaps because the circumstances in which he finds himself have the potential to overwhelm him and he needs to be reminded of the great works of redemption (the magnalia Dei) that God has performed in the past. If God demonstrated his love for his people back then just maybe he will do it here and now. As is usually the case, however, when we see God as he is, in all his wonder, holiness, and glory, we also see ourselves in all our wretched sinfulness. Daniel offers a prayerful recitation of Israel's history of unfaithfulness. While God is faithful his people have not been so. They have departed from God's law given through his servant Moses and they have failed to heed the prophets. All strata of Israelite society are involved in this unfaithfulness. It is significant that Daniel does not stand off to the side condemning his fellow countrymen while excluding himself from divine judgment. Like other true prophets he sees himself as involved in the disobedience of the people (one thinks of Isaiah's reaction to the vision of God's holiness in Isaiah 6). Daniel identifies with his people, sinful though they are. Ministers of the Word when praying congregational prayers in public worship ought to pray in like manner. I am not suggesting that we confess to sins we have not committed but that we acknowledge our sinfulness which we share with our people. Remember that Daniel is one of the few Bible heroes which we have about which nothing bad is recorded. Indeed, his colleagues in government could find nothing to pin on him and so they prevailed upon the vanity of the king that no one should pray to any other god than the king for a certain number of days, knowing that Daniel would persist in his habit of thrice daily prayer. Nevertheless Daniel does not exempt himself from the searching indictment of God's holiness. Daniel concludes his prayer with a heart-rending plea for divine mercy. Daniel recalls God's greatest act of redemption in the exodus and calls God to do it again. Daniel pleas for God to act in mercy for his people not because of their great righteousness (they had none!) but because of his great mercy. Go back and read verses 15-19 of Daniel's prayer and see how he ends his appeal with such holy audacity! "Oh Lord, awake! O Lord, pay attention and act!" Who in our day prays like that?! Daniel prayed like this because he knew intimately the God whom he addressed. If I had left the congregation with a variation on "Dare to be a Daniel" I would not have done my job. I noted that as we read Daniel's audacious prayer we are blown away by his faith and boldness. We almost recoil in fear that he may have overstepped the bounds of propriety. Daniel certainly knew how to pray. He encourages us to approach the throne of grace with boldness in our time of need. But remember this. Daniel was an Old Testament saint. A saint he most certainly was. But we have more! We stand on the other side of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. We also stand on the other side of Pentecost. We also have the Holy Spirit in abundance. Daniel does provide us with a model of how we can pray. But even more he points us to a greater Daniel. He points us to Jesus Christ our great high priest and intercessor. When we sense our failure in this pilgrim life and especially as we sense our failure to persevere in prayer as did Daniel, remember this. Jesus Christ intercedes for us at the Father's right hand. And what's more. We have the Holy Spirit praying with us as we struggle to communicate with a holy and awesome God. The Holy Spirit helps to make our prayers acceptable to God. When we don't know what to say or how to say it rightly or when we ask for the wrong things, the Holy Spirit sanctifies our prayers. In other words, even as we pray we must come into prayer robed in the righteous robes of Christ our elder brother and cleansed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And do not forget that Daniel's prayer was instigated by meditation on the Word and was permeated by the Word. Daniel did pray an audacious prayer. We too can pray boldly because we pray to a Father that wants to hear us, through our great high priest Jesus Christ, and by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. What could be better than that?