The Best Exercise
(07/17/94) (01/03/02) (02/11/07)
"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime."
When we encounter Daniel in chapter 6, he is the first counselor of king Darius. Because of this position, Daniel had enemies, and V4 says that they "sought to find occasion against Daniel." They wanted to dig up some dirt, smear Daniel with a scandal, and drive him from office. Notice how little politics has changed over the centuries. Mud-throwing was good old-fashioned politics in the sixth century B.C., and mostly it still is. But Daniel's enemies soon realized that this tactic was not going to work against Daniel, because there was no scandal. Daniel was absolutely incorruptible. He would have been a real astonishment in the halls of Congress. Anyway, Daniel's enemies thought that he did have one weakness that they could exploit. The weakness was religion.
It says volumes about these enemies of Daniel that they thought religion was a weakness, but worldly people always perceive religion that way. Because they are blind and deaf to God, they assume that there is no God; therefore, anyone who believes in God is weak-brained and exploitable. Of course, the truth is that worldly people are weak-brained. Part of their brain is dead, the spiritual part.
But these men laid their plan. They went to Darius the king and asked him to make a law that for thirty days all prayers would be addressed only to the king. This sort of thing was not unusual in oriental monarchies. Since the king was absolute ruler, with the life and death of all of his subjects hanging upon his smallest whim, everyone constantly flattered him. He was the magnificent one, the fount of all wisdom, the all-conqueror. He was king of kings, shah of shahs. He was, in a word, God. Almost all oriental monarchs outside of Israel were addressed in God terms. The courtiers of Darius turned this court flattery into a trap for Daniel, saying, "Now, 0 King, not only will you be a god, but for thirty days you will be the only god."
Darius should have recognized all this as so much servile bootlicking, but he had an ego like all of us, and he liked this proposal, so he made it a law: No prayers for thirty days except to the great god Darius.
Daniel knew that this was a set-up, that he was being maneuvered into an intolerable position. He must choose between government and God. This has been a choice that God's people have faced sometimes throughout history. Should we obey the state, or should we obey God? Usually there is no conflict between the two. Daniel had worked for the state for many years. His belief in God made him an honest and efficient employee. But when the state made a law that contradicted the law of God, Daniel chose God--So should we.
The law of Darius was a bad law that ought to have been broken, but we might think that Daniel could have been more circumspect. He did not have to throw his windows open so that everyone who walked down the street could see him praying. But that was his usual procedure. Any departure from his usual procedure would have been noticed and regarded as cowardice and as a betrayal of his god. The courtiers would have said to Darius, "See, he will betray his god, perhaps he will betray you also." That was the nature of the trap. No matter what Daniel did, he was going to lose, or so his enemies thought.
No privacy existed in an oriental court. Slaves were everywhere, and slaves gossiped, and some slaves were also spies. So, it was unlikely that Daniel could successfully violate this law for any length of time. Knowing this, Daniel did not practice any subterfuge at all. He simply continued to do his prayer exercises every day.
This should appeal to us because we live in a culture that is sold on the benefit of exercise. Right here in York, we have a YMCA; and we have Curves for Women located behind McDonalds. Also, we have all sorts of exercise machines that you can buy and use in your home. We have books on exercising. We have daily programs on TV on exercising. We have videotapes on exercising. Go to your doctor, and he will tell you to exercise.
All this leads us to the question: What is the best exercise? Some people would say running, some would say walking, some would say a full nautilus workout that uses a dozen or so machines, some would say bicycling. Now I have nothing against those or any other exercise. I suspect that they are all good. But none of them are the best exercise, because they are all exercises of the body. The best exercise is an exercise of the soul. The best exercise is prayer.
The lesson of Daniel 6 is that prayer is the most important factor in the life of a believer. Prayer is not secondary. Prayer is the very core of our existence. We read that Jesus "went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6:12).
Even so, we should pray. Set aside a time and place for prayer and let that time and place be your mountain, your solitary place, your ladder to heaven. Many people seem to think that we do everything else first, and then, in the time we have left over, we pray. Not so, God comes first. Prayer comes first.
Do this best exercise, and there will be about you the scent of heaven, because God will be with you. The alternative is unthinkable. Without prayer, we have no spiritual life, and no power of God in our lives. As the steam engine never moves until the fire is kindled, so our spiritual life never moves without the steam of prayer. All the strength and fineness of our soul is rubbish unless the mighty impulse of prayer is in it, through it, and behind it. We must go to the mountain and to the solitary place and put God in our lives by prayer.
With little or no praying, we may be popular, pleasant, and smart people. We may even, with little or no prayer, do some amount of good in the world. But whatever we can do without prayer, we can do far more with prayer. It is the same as with any exercise. It may be that we can lift a book without much exercise, but with exercise, we can lift a couple of dozen big, thick books. Even so, we can do a few things for God without much praying, but a life that really achieves God's purpose is a life energized by prayer.
The saddest thing today is that so many people live in spiritual poverty. They may have material wealth, they have no spiritual wealth. The reason for their lack is they have not been doing the best exercise They do not pray real prayers. By real prayers, I mean, they do not pray with a powerful need for the presence of God Because they do not have this need, they do not pray much and because they do not pray much, they have little from God.
Prayer is an ascending spiral. Prayer is to God and from God. Prayer springs from a connection with the overflowing fountain of God power. We pray because God's spirit in us urges us to pray, and the more we pray, the more of the Spirit of God we have to urge and encourage us in prayer.
Thus, people who gain mighty results for God are the people who do their spiritual exercises. Now I recognize that doing any kind of exercise is not easy, and spiritual exercises are the hardest of all. We do not do spiritual exercises for the same reason that we do not do other types of exercise. We allow ourselves to be distracted by other things. We have just got to do this or that or whatever. Whether it be push-ups or prayers, it is amazing how many other things we can discover that we just have to do first. Thus, we put off our exercises with a lick and a promise. We walk a block instead of a mile. We pray for ten seconds instead of ten minutes.
Another reason why we do not like to do much of the best exercise is that it is not only work, it is humbling work. Prayer recognizes a need for a higher spiritual power. It recognizes that I am not God, I cannot do it on my own. I need help.
Here we contrast Daniel and Darius. Darius stands for the way of the flesh and the world. He thinks he does not need prayer. He thinks he is God. But Daniel represents all spiritual people. Spiritual people know the reality of spiritual power and know the need we all have for this power in our lives. Daniel knows that. That is why he does the best exercise. We should know that. We should exercise, we should pray.
The real problem with the world and the church is that the people of the church are not praying very much. The time that the average believer spends in prayer is less that he/she spends doing almost anything else. A quick thirty second prayer right before we drop off to sleep at night, and that will do it for most people. How feeble, how vain, how little, that seems compared with the time and energy devoted to praying by holy men and women of God throughout the ages.
We must reverse this trend. Remember this: God commits the keys of his kingdom to people who think that praying is the main business. It is by these people that God works spiritual wonders in the world. Great praying engages and sets on fire every element of our being. Great praying is a source of spiritual power that enables God's people to overcome every difficulty and temptation.
We are told in Daniel 6:10 that Daniel had the habit of prayer. Prayer was his constant, everyday practice. During the the Civil War, an officer came to the Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson, and complained about the noise Jackson’s soldiers had made during the night. The soldiers had been having a prayer meeting the night before and had been singing and praying. The officer reminded General Jackson that army regulations forbade unusual noise at night. Jackson's reply was, "God forbid that praying should be an unusual noise among my soldiers." God forbid that praying should be an unusual noise among us.
Daniel prayed three times a day. Perhaps he got his prayer schedule from Psalm 55:17, "Even, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." The Psalmist said that his prayer habit was three times a day, and Daniel adopted that same habit, and we should do the same. Find time everyday for three times of prayer. Now I know that someone will say that they cannot do that, that they do not have time to pray three times a day. But I have noticed that most people are able to find time every day to eat three times, at least three times. If we count snacks, some folks eat five or six, or seven or eight, times a day. Finding time to eat never seems to be a problem, and if we really get serious about it, finding time to eat spiritual food will not be a problem either, finding time to pray will not be a problem either.
You may know the conclusion of Daniel chapter six. He was thrown into the lion's den because he broke the law against prayer. But the God of his prayers preserved him and brought him out of that trouble. Daniel had been doing his exercises, so he had spiritual power when he needed it. Do your exercises. Do the best exercise three times a day, and you will have that same power. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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