Prayer is...

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After reading Daniel chapters 7 and 8, we’re used to Daniel’s weird visions of animals—leopards and goats and bears, oh my!
Daniel 7 and Daniel 8 are focused on visions Daniel has and the interpretations of those visions. Two full chapters of weird, apocalyptic visions, and then we get to Daniel 9.
As we come to Daniel 9, we take a sharp left and we’re in much different territory.
It’s like riding in the car when Meghann’s driving: you’ll experience all kinds of whiplash and, just as you think you’re heading in one direction, you get jerked to this side or that and all of a sudden, you’re heading in that direction. She can’t help it; she was raised in Johnson County where they’re instructed to be really bad drivers.
Daniel 9 is a like that. It’s quite the departure from where we’ve been. Just as we start to get used to all the weird visions and apocalyptic imagery, just as we’re getting our “sea-legs” under us, so to speak, Daniel pulls the rug out. Daniel 9 is not another vision; it’s a prayer.
And I think we will be glad for this break in the weird, not only because it’s a break from the weird, but because what Daniel does here is teach us how to pray.
Daniel's prayer consists of worship and confession and pleading.
Daniel’s prayer in grounded on God’s promises. He prays with a spirit of humility.
And, in many ways, Daniel teaches us how and why to pray.
This is good for us. It’s almost as if God knew what He was doing, giving us this Book, arranging this Book the way He did. We need examples of God’s people—in the best of times and in the worst of times—praying to their God.
We are a praying people, this I know. A sermon on prayer to people who pray is like preaching to the choir. I’ve never understood that expression, really. “Barrett, you’re preaching to the choir.” “Well, of course I am! That’s the whole point!”
>If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to Daniel 9. Keep your Bible open in front of you and follow along as we look at and learn from Daniel’s prayer.
Daniel 9:1–3 NIV
1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
Babylon has fallen. There’s a new ruler in town. And Daniel is praying and reading from the scroll of one of God’s prophets, a fellow named Jeremiah. He reads (in what would be Jeremiah 25 and Jeremiah 29 in our Bibles) and notes that seventy years is the period God has marked out for Babylon’s domination and Jerusalem’s desolation.
Daniel isn’t confused by what the Lord spoke through Jeremiah. He gets it. And he’s excited, because if Babylon’s rule is at an end, then Jerusalem’s restoration is about to begin.
Jeremiah 29:10 NIV
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
Daniel is praying for the restoration of Jerusalem. He’s praying that he and his fellow exiles get to head back home after all these years. He’s listening to what God has already said, he’s trusting in His promises, and praying that this comes to pass sooner rather than later.
The Lord’s promises drive Daniel’s prayers.
The Bible is our prayer-book. Let the promises of God fuel your prayers.
For instance, God has promised to complete the good work He began in us (Phil. 1:6). In the midst of trials, we can pray that God will use these trials to further His work in our hearts and lives.
God has promised to give us peace, a deeper peace than the world gives (John 14:27). Therefore, in conflict and in the middle of turmoil, we pray for peace that only He gives.
The Lord has promised to be our Shepherd and to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with us (Psalm 23). We should pray for His care over us and for Him to hold onto us in darkness and the storm.
God has promised to bring in a new heaven and a new earth where He will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21). We pray, then, for that day to come quickly, for the trouble and pain and sorrow of this world to be replaced by the unending joy of God’s eternal kingdom.
We pray the Bible. On the back of our weekly bulletin, the reasons we exist are listed there for us: We exist to worship, proclaim, and serve.
Under worship, we read that we exist “to worship the Triune God—we read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible (in communion, offering, baptism).”
We pray the Bible. The Bible and the promises of God within the Bible inform our prayers. We don’t have to guess what to pray. If you’re ever stuck in a prayer-rut, of if you find yourself not knowing what to pray, find a comfy chair in a quiet place, open your Bible, and let the Word of God guide your praying.
Daniel prayed that God would do what He had promised, and He prayed with confidence because he was praying for what God had promised. So it should be with us.
Daniel’s prayer is grounded on God’s promises. God’s promises drive Daniel to prayer. In his prayer Daniel teaches us that:

Prayer is Worship

Daniel 9:4 NIV
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,
Notice how Daniel begins his prayer: by worshipping; he begins with adoration. It’s not exhaustive or extensive, but it’s there.
Dale Ralph Davis is right when he says, “Sometimes Bible pray-ers are under such pressure that they immediately rush to their burden, but almost all the time, there is a deliberate, explicit address (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name) or rather extended adoration as in Daniel 2.”
As we’re praying, some sort of adoration is absolutely right. We should, like Daniel, stop and consider Who it is we’re speaking with, the One with Whom we are speaking—and we should worship Him.
The Lord is great and He is awesome.
He keeps His covenant of love; He loves us.
Starting out with something that acknowledges, even briefly, who God is and how amazing He is—that’s absolutely the proper way to pray.
Daniel teaches us how to adore and to rejoice over our God—and this is something we can do in our prayers in spite of circumstances or feelings, because God is Who He is, and that doesn’t change.
Regardless of the mess I’m in, no matter how I’m feeling, our God is always great, always awesome, always loving. And He’s always worthy of our praise, our adoration, our worship—this is the most important aspect of our prayer.
As we pray, we need to think about Who it is we’re addressing.
Wednesday Night at Bible Study, my good friend Carla Schmidt sits in the chair next to me. This week, like most weeks, I tried to take Carla’s cup of hot chocolate from her (you’d understand if you’ve ever had any of Dixie Vodry’s hot chocolate; you’d try to steal it, too).
I reached for her hot chocolate, and Carla rightly smacked my hand…and as she was smacking my hand away said, “Goober!”
I said, “That’s Pastor Goober, thank you very much!”
You see, she forgot for a moment who it was she was speaking to and smacking. I might well be a goober, but I’m also her pastor.
Who is it you think you’re speaking to when you pray? God’s not your servant, there to do your bidding. God doesn’t owe you anything. He is not beholden to you. The One to Whom you’re praying is the One you should be worshipping.
At some point this week, set aside the list of needs and petitions and requests, and, as you pray, spend the entire time worshipping Him, praising Him, adoring Him. It will be good for your soul, I promise you.
Learn this from Daniel: Prayer, before it’s anything else, is worship.
In his prayer Daniel teaches us that:

Prayer is Confession

Daniel 9:5–14 NIV
5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. 7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
Notice the pronouns. This is so important. Daniel isn’t praying like the Pharisee, thanking God that he’s not like other people.
Daniel puts himself in the midst of all of this. Daniel is confessing, not just the sins of his fellow Israelites; Daniel is confessing the sins of the people, his sins included.
The words we and us and our dominate his prayer. Daniel isn’t saying “They have sinned. Man, he messed up. She is the worst of all sinners.”
No, no. Daniel realizes how messed up they all are. Daniel realizes that they are scumbags, the whole lot of them, himself included: we, us, our.
Daniel 9 has been a good tutor for me, a good teacher in this whole confession thing.
One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is simply, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus taught us to pray this in one of His parables. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
What a simple, and powerful, prayer. And yet, I don’t pray it nearly enough. My prayers lack the confession and contrition they ought.
So you know, I’ve never prayed that all of you sinners would straighten-up, as if I’m the only good person here (I’m the chief of sinners). I’ve never singled-out anyone in particular as I was praying (though I’ve been tempted; you know who you are). I’ve never pointed the finger at anyone as I was praying (as if God needs me to tell Him who is really sinning).
I’ve never done any of that. But I also haven’t confessed our corporate sinfulness as often as I should. “Lord, have mercy on us, sinners all.”
Daniel teaches us what a crucial part of prayer confession is: we need to spend significant, regular, set-aside time for confession.
God is holy, righteous, blameless. And we are not. We have sinned…we are wicked…we have rebelled…we have turned away from [God’s] commands.
We can, and should, say along with Daniel: “We have sinned against You.” For whatever else our sin is, it’s an affront against the Holy God. For whoever else our sin affects, it is primarily a sin against God. “We have sinned against You.”
Daniel speaks of the peoples’ serious guilt, their rebellion, their turning away, their refusal to listen.
Daniel knows that their only hope, the only hope they have is the abundant mercy and forgiveness of God.
Daniel 9:9 NIV
9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;
God is rich in mercy, which is great, because the people are rich in sinfulness. So it is with us.
It is exceedingly good news that God’s mercy extends far greater and wider and deeper than our sinfulness.
Daniel understands the great need for confession, and so he confesses the sins of his people, understanding not only the great mercy of God but God’s faithful anger.
Because of their sin and rebellion, the people of God are in exile. Remember way back in the very first verses of Daniel, it tells us:
Daniel 1:2 NIV
2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
God is righteous, righteous in everything He does. He must punish sin. He cannot abide sin. He won’t put up with it.
We don’t like to hear this any more than we like to admit our wrongdoing or our sin. It’s hard to admit you messed up, isn’t it? It’s hard to own up to your failure.
Geoff Thomas is a pastor in the United Kingdom. He tells of making a hospital visit to a lady in his church and then going around to see the other patients there. One elderly woman kept repeating, “I want to die.” So Pastor Thomas gave her the beginning of the Good News which begins with bad news.
He said to her, “Well, if you die, you know, you are going to meet God, and so you must pray now if you are going to meet Him. This is what you must pray: ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“I’m not a sinner,” she shot back, “and if you knew me, you’d know I wasn’t!!!!”
Someone like that can’t even begin to scratch at the screen door of the Kingdom of God.
One of the primary marks of the Christian is that he or she continually mourns over his or her sins.
What distinguishes us from the world is not that we are less wicked, but that by the grace of God we have learned to see our wickedness for what it is and that we confess our sins. The Church is the only group on earth that confesses sin. Where the confession of sin dies out, the church is no longer church.
The Rotary Club doesn’t engage in the confession of sin. The city council doesn’t. The United Nations doesn’t confess its sins. Only the Church (when it’s really church) confesses sin.
Daniel teaches us here that mourning over our sin, being heart-broken over our sin is the mark of God’s true people—evidence of having a new heart and a new spirit.
Prayer is worship of the Holy God. When we rightly see His righteousness and His holiness, we will understand our need to confess our sinfulness.
Prayer is worship and confession, and

Prayer is Pleading

Daniel 9:15–19 NIV
15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. 17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
We likely spend the bulk of our time in prayer pleading or petitioning or in supplication. That is, we likely spend the majority of our time praying for certain things, requesting this, praying for other people, asking this or that from the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not wrong to pray for this or to pray for that person. But it’s certainly not the only aspect of prayer.
I remember as a kid praying for a million bucks. I had a flawed understanding of prayer. The problem my prayer was all petition, all requesting, 100% asking God for stuff like He’s some cosmic genie or slot-machine in the sky. There’s all manner of problems with prayers like mine. For one, there’s no basis in the Bible for it, God never promised material wealth.
For our prayers to be all petition, only making requests is missing the point.
It’s not wrong to plead for or request certain things, but notice what it is Daniel is pleading for: He’s pleading with God for the sake of God’s Name. What Daniel is asking God to do, He’s asking God to do for God’s own sake.
Daniel is pleading for certain things, but he’s pleading while appealing to God’s reputation. It’s about God’s holy name, God’s city, God’s holy hill;
Daniel’s pleading for the Lord to act for His sake, for His name.
This is an enormous difference in Daniel’s pleading and our pleading, isn’t there?
Our focus in prayer is often on what is good for us, not necessarily on what’s good for God.
I know I’ve prayed, “Lord, please heal Dad; take his cancer away.” And I prayed that without much thought about God’s Name.
Now, it’s true that if Dad was declared cancer-free, that would be the Lord’s doing and His name would be praised as a result.
But what if Dad having cancer does more for the name of God, for the sake of God than him not having cancer?
What if our proclamation that knowing the Lord is better than life itself does more for the sake of Christ and the Lord’s Great Name than for Dad to be perfectly healthy?
As we pray, we need to pray the that Lord’s name would be magnified, that He would be praised over and above anything else.
Daniel teaches us that the Lord’s reputation should be the driving concern of our prayers.
What honor will it bring you, Lord, if our friend is converted!
What praise will come to Christ if this marriage is renewed!
What credit to Jesus’ name to see this Christian walk through this difficult time and grow stronger in faith!
The point of prayer is not getting what we want. The point of prayer is that God would be praised for what He does and who He is.
Prayer is pleading, but pleading with the Lord for His Namesake, for His renown, for His reputation, for His glory.
Daniel’s prayer teaches us that prayer is worship, confession, pleading.
>My prayer life isn’t what it should be, I must admit. I spend a good amount of time in focused prayer. But it’s pretty lopsided, really. I would say I spend the majority of my time praying for you. This is an honor and a privilege; this is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Please know that I am praying for you regularly and as often as the Lord calls to mind.
As I’ve studied Daniel’s prayer, I’ve realized that there are some areas of my prayer life that are lacking, namely adoration and confession.
I need to spend more focused time in prayer praising the Lord for who He is, extolling His virtues, worshipping Him for being Him. We could start praising Him for who He is and all He has done and we would never finish. I could very easily spend the rest of my life adoring Him, and it would not be a misspent life.
I need to spend more focused time adoring Him and confessing to Him. The more and more I think about it, I think we’re going to make Rich Hill Christian Church t-shirts that say “SCUMBAG” on the front with a Bible verse about God’s great grace on the back.
Maybe wearing that shirt and seeing you wear that shirt will help remind me that, like Daniel, I need to pray (we need to pray) to our Father in Heaven, confessing our great shame, our unfaithfulness, our rebellion, our disobedience, our general scumbaggery.
>What an incredible gift prayer is! Do you ever stop and think about the fact that God wants a relationship with you? He wants to converse with you? You and I get to speak with the God of the Universe?
If you know Him, don’t neglect the privilege of prayer: worship Him, confess your sins to Him and thank Him for Jesus who’s come to deal once and for all with your sins, and plead with Him that His Holy Name would be praised because of you and in spite of you.
If you don’t know Him, pray with me: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Ask Him to make you new, to rescue you, to set you free. Give your life to Him and enjoy the amazing, life-changing relationship He gives freely.
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