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Pleading in Prayer
11/13/05 and 08/13/95
01/16/02 Bible Study
Please turn in your bibles to the book of Daniel, chapter 9 and follow along as I read verses 3 and 4.
3 Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments.”
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
John Owen, a Puritan Minister, said, “What a man is in secret on his knees before God, that is who he really is, and no more.” This is a great principle: What we are in prayer is what we really are. This is a different way of thinking. If we accept John Owen’s insight, then we must altogether change our way of evaluating greatness. For example, if prayer is our measure, then the prophet Daniel was one of the greatest men of all time.
In the first chapter of the book of Daniel, we read how Daniel gathered his friends for prayer. In Chapter 6, when Daniel was trapped by his enemies, it was because they knew he engaged in a regular discipline of prayer. What a thing for people to know about you, that the only way to trap you is because you are a person who consistently prays. People should know that about us.
In chapter 9, Daniel's prays for the deliverance of his people. This is intercessory prayer. Though Daniel includes himself in this prayer, this is not a prayer for “me;” This is a prayer for “us.”
There are four principles in this passage that will lead us to the very heart of what it means to plead in prayer.
1. The first principle is this: Prayer is grounded in Scripture. When people have enough spiritual discernment to want to plead with God, they turn to the Bible. They read the scriptures closely and carefully, searching for the truth of God, even as a woman in the desert searches for water.
That is what Daniel was doing in chapter 9. He was studying the Bible. We read in verse 2: “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.”
He is studying the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the seventy years of exile in Babylon. In Jeremiah 25, Daniel read that God promised that the exile of Judah would not be forever. God acting upon events will make an opportunity for his people to return home.
In Daniel chapter 9, the prophet is an old man. He has been an exile almost all his life, but he finds in scripture a promise that he can depend upon. He recognizes that a strong foundation for prayer lies in what God has promised to do.
God is faithful. Daniel observes that God has been faithful in judgment. When God made the covenant with the people at Mt. Sinai, God promised that if the people turned away from him, he would come upon them in such judgment that they would be cast out of the land. Daniel rehearses the sins of his people, the unfaithfulness of his people, and says to God, "Lord, you have been faithful in your promise. You have judged us and destroyed us.” Now that is important to Daniel, and to us, because the God who keeps his word, even when that word means judgment, will also keep his word even when that word means forgiveness.
In I Kings 17-18, the prayer of Elijah stopped the rain for three years and then started the rain again. What is the secret of that kind of effectual prayer? It is simply that Elijah said, God you promised to do this, and I will not let go until you fulfill your promise.
That is why whenever people are spiritually awakened, they begin to look carefully through the Bible to see what God has promised. Around 1859-60, in Glasgow Scotland, a remarkable revival occurred among the poorest people in the city. In the records of that revival, you can put your finger on the place where it all began. It began with these words, "We reflected anew on the divine promises and were oftener at the throne of grace, pleading with God that for Christ's sake he would pour out his spirit upon us." They were "Oftener at the throne of grace." They were "Reflecting anew on the divine promises."
Consider a family with young children. The child may plead all kinds of reasons for getting something, and the parent can say, "No," but when the child says to the parent, "You promised," the child wins because then it is no longer a matter of the child’s little pleasures, whims, and fancies; It is now a matter of a parent’s personal honor. Thus, a child can show us a principle for effective prayer. Daniel pleads with God to bless his people, not for Daniel's sake, but because God promised.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says that Scripture is “the rule of faith and life” (I, 2). It is also the rule of our prayer life. We pray with confidence because God has promised.
2. A second principle for effective prayer is love of God. That is the real reason Daniel is able to plead with God. Daniel can pray with power because Daniel is not praying for Daniel. He is not praying about Daniel's wants and Daniel's ambitions. He is praying to the beloved for the beloved.
That is why Daniel prays with emotion and intensity. Daniel wants to uplift and proclaim God’s glory, God’s honor, everything about God, because Daniel loves God.
If we loved God, we would be jealous for the name and glory of God, but because we are so concerned with ourselves, we don’t dwell much on God, and so our prayers are weak, pathetic things. We are concerned about trifles, and we pray trifling prayers. We need to learn a lesson: Prayer is not primarily about us; Prayer is primarily about God.
God is the motivation of our lives and the goal of our lives. This is a spiritual principle that we need to understand: The extent to which we love the things of God is the extent to which we can plead with God in prayer.
In the seventeenth century, a great revival began in Scotland and many of the ministers bonded together to confess their sins to one another. Here are some of the things that they confessed, "Ignorance of God, want of newness with God, taking up little of God in reading , speaking, meditating of him, exceeding great selfishness in all that we do, Acting from ourselves, for ourselves, and to ourselves."
In brief, they said, our problem is that we do not care about God. We only act “from ourselves, to ourselves, for ourselves.”
It is good that they recognized that, and that they confessed their sinfulness, but we might add that what they recognized was a universal human failure. Most people only act “from ourselves, to ourselves, for ourselves”—even in religious matters, even in preaching the word.
A question that I need to ask myself today is: Am I preaching this sermon because I want you to think well of me, and I want you to think this is a good sermon and I did I good job. Those are selfish motives for preaching. It is all about me. But it’s not. I don’t matter. God matters. We see this in Daniel's prayer. Daniel is a man consumed with a passion for God. That is the way we should be.
3. That leads to a third principle: Intercessory prayer, prayer for others, is rooted in a genuine love for others. In 9:3, Daniel speaks of turning to God with "prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes." Daniel is so overcome with a sense of burden that he is no longer content with ordinary prayer. He is desperate on behalf of his people.
In Vs 5 and 6, he confesses the sins of the people. In vs 7 and 8 he confesses the shame of the people. In v11 he confesses that the people are rightly under the judgment of God. In V16 he speaks of the humiliation of the people.
And notice this: Daniel is not talking about them. He is talking about us. He identifies himself entirely with his people. Daniel does not say, “God, save those rotten people.” He says, “God, save us.” In this, he is like Jesus who identified himself with the sinners that he came to save. This shows us a characteristic of a follower of Christ: We identify ourselves with people and with their failures and with their sins and with the judgment under which they stand, and we plead in prayer not for those people, but for us.
In Acts chapter 6, we find the church in the midst of the first great church argument. As usual, it was an argument over money. It was an argument over the proper distribution of money to the Greek-speaking widows and the Aramaic-speaking widows. The apostles responded to this crisis by creating the office of deacon to take care of that kind of thing because, they said, in Acts 6:4, "We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." They said that we need some deacons to take care of the money not so that we can preach the word, but first of all so that we can pray, and only secondly so that we can preach the word. This tells us the secret of ministry. The secret of ministry is not an ability to preach. The secret of ministry is an ability to pray.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones was born in Wales in1899. He was a medical doctor by training but he became one of the most successful British ministers of that day. Working men and women loved him because he preached clear, analytical messages that they found easy to comprehend.
He died in 1981. After his death, his wife said, that no one would ever be able to understand her husband unless they realized two things about him: First of all, he was a man of prayer; Only secondly, he was a minister. Lloyd-Jones identified with God's people. He saw their sins; he saw their needs, and appealed to God for them. In that, he was like Daniel. And that is the way we should be.
4. Then there is the fourth principle. All intercessory prayer is founded on God’s mercy. Daniel sees the situation. The people are in exile. God's curse is upon them. Devastation and disaster have come upon them. But as he thinks about how faithful God has been to judge his people, he is inspired to hope that God will be just as faithful in his mercy to his people. In V18, he says, "O my God, we do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of thy great mercy."
The problem is sin; it is our problem. Our problem is not that we do not understand the horror of sin. Our problem is that we do not grasp the sweet mercy of God. It is easy for preachers to rail against sin and to preach the judgment of God. We find it easy to preach that we are all damned sinners, but we fall short on preaching the mercy and love and forgiveness of God. The power of Daniel's prayer is that he did not fall short on praying for the mercy and love and forgiveness of God.
Let us talk then about the results of Daniel's prayer. We see the results in verses 20-23. God heard his prayer. God answered Daniel's prayer by expanding his horizons. Daniel was concerned about the seventy years prophesied by Jeremiah for the term of the exile of Judah. God takes him up out of the seventy years and reveals to Daniel his whole grand purpose to send the messiah to save not just the Jews from their sins, but to save all people from their sins.
In the midst of all this revelation, the sweetest thing of all about God's answer to Daniel's prayer is found in V23. The angel Gabriel said to Daniel that God is answering his prayers because "you are greatly beloved." God answered Daniel's prayer because God loved him.
Perhaps God loves Daniel in part because of the way Daniel keeps time. In V21, we read, "While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice." Notice how Daniel keeps time. He keeps time by events in the temple in Jerusalem. The evening sacrifice was done in the temple in the middle of the afternoon. But remember this, Daniel had not seen an evening sacrifice for seventy years. For seventy years, he had lived in exile in Babylon. He might have said, I am in Babylon now, so I will do as Babylonians do. He did not say that. He lived in Babylon but he lived on temple time. No matter where he might be, he gave up nothing of the things of God.
How does this apply to us? Our problem is we set our watches to the wrong time. We set our watches by Babylon time, but we need to set our watches by temple time. We need to focus our lives on God's word. We need to love God more, and be more concerned about people. Above all, we need to trust God’s mercy. Then we will be a people greatly beloved of God. We will be people who can plead in prayer. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06