Having spent the Summer preparing a Bible Study on the book of Daniel—which by the way explains where I have been to my fellow contributors—the book has weighed heavily on my mind for a while. The passage that was really brought home to me was Daniel 9, a passage of which I’m sure our readers are familiar. The prayer of Daniel 9 is one of the truly convicting sections of the book, as the reader is challenged by Daniel’s sincerity and eloquence. The prayer stands as a fitting example for believers of all times.
While tempted to jump in and talk about the OT use of the OT (this is not a typo), a topic I would like to post more about in the future, I thought I would share some general thoughts about an implication I believe comes home to we who share in leading congregations in corporate worship.
Daniel 9:2 makes an interesting shift in the book. Daniel had previously received revelation through visions and dreams. Here, the text shifts to the interpretation of Scripture. Instead of receiving a new divine vision, Daniel reads, tries to understand Jeremiah 25, and prays as a response to this text. The particular verse that mentions the 70 years is Jer 25:11 (see also 29:10), but it is pretty clear based on his prayer that he was reading the whole text. Moreover, it is also clear that Daniel had a mastery of the Scripture that was available to him.
As a result of his understanding the text of Jeremiah, Daniel responded in the following manner: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (v. 3). Daniel literally “turned his face toward the Lord God,” which is a fitting description of prayer. In prayer, believers turn their face from the world, its allurements, and their preoccupation with themselves to the Lord their God. The focus of their mind turns to God Himself and His will for their lives. Daniel’s manner in prayer revealed a determined, fervent heart; not an in-passing, flippant approach to prayer. He was desperate, and he lingered long before the Lord in order to understand God’s will. This was not simply a quick request before reading Scripture to ask for God’s blessing; this was a prolonged time of fasting and sitting before the Lord in a humble state. We learn much from Daniel’s countenance, but…
If you are like me, prayer sometimes is difficult because we do not know what to pray. What is it about the prayers of those we think of as good pray-ers? I am pretty certain that good praying is not marked by its use of King James English. I think what sticks out in my mind about such individuals is that their prayers are well versed in Scripture. I think this is the reason that their prayers seem to be an expression of the heart of God. They know Him well, because they have spent time in His Word. This reflects itself in their praying as they view life through His lens, not their own.
For those of us who struggle with this, praying in light of Scripture, I believe, is an important principle for modern believers. If God speaks to us in His word—and He does—and if we desire to pray according to His will—as we should—then we will consistently pray in light of the text. When we read Scripture, in other words, we learn what God’s heart truly loves and what He desires. Therefore, when we pray with the words of Scripture, we are assured that our requests are not self-centered or outside of His will. Our requests will be focused upon Him and His glory and in line with His larger plans. When we read the Bible for our devotions or when reflecting upon Sunday’s sermon, it would be helpful for us to rephrase what we have learned in a prayer. This will help us develop not only a better vocabulary for prayer but also train our hearts to respond to God in a way that pleases Him. In many ways, this is why the book of Psalms has been so well loved by believers. In it we find the writer dealing with the highs and lows of life, and we learn how he responds to those situations with his words. The same is true of Daniel in this passage. His mind was filled with the Word of God. Much of the language he uses in his prayer is not new to him; it is taken from what he was reading in Jeremiah. This prayer may leave you saying, “If I could only pray like Daniel!” Well, the good news is that you can, because he was simply a faithful student of God’s words, and he recognized their continued validity in his life.
In my opinion, praying in light of the significance of the text, particularly during corporate worship, is extremely valuable. We practice this at our church in order to ensure that the prayers we pray reflect our belief that Scripture, where God speaks and clearly articulates His will, should inform the way we approach our Lord.