GETTING THE MESSAGE/Godly prayer
In this passage, Daniel 9:1-6, we are shown the elements of a godly prayer. Daniel knows the time for the fulfilment of the prophet Jeremiah’s words concerning the return of the Jews to Jerusalem is near (verses 1-2).
So Daniel “sets his face to the Lord God.” This means Daniel is wholehearted in prayer. Wholeheartedness in prayer is always accompanied with contrition and pleas for mercy (verse 3). The fact that God had promised to return the Jews to Jerusalem prompted godly Daniel to pray intensely. Daniel knew God was their only hope and that God was able to do it.
This also is connected to wholehearted prayer. You can test your spiritual life in this. We have learned that Daniel prayed regularly. Is this the case with you? The Puritans had a saying: “What a man is in secret on his knees before God is what he is, and no more.” Daniel had faith that God would give that which was according to His will. He was not casual entering into the presence of God. He went with a sense of purpose and the importance of this blessing.
Another element in Daniel’s prayer was his adoration of God (verse 4). Daniel “made confession,” meaning he affirmed truth about God. First he says, “the great and awesome” God. The word “awesome” in our current use can mean something as trivial as fixing a light switch. So awesome is not a helpful translation. This word means “fear.” The King James translates it “dreadful.”
There are two kinds of fear associated with this word. One is a great fear of imminent disaster or harm to your being. Isaiah’s words in the presence of God, “I am undone,” are an example of this fear. The other type of fear connected to the word is a trembling, but with awe and deep admiration of the living God. Isaiah had this kind of fear after God atoned for his sin. Daniel has this kind of fear when he approaches God in prayer.
Have you ever known these types of fear connected to God? It is important to consider these matters. All men are destined to experience this fear in one of the two ways. Many will experience this fear when they have to appear before Christ and are cast away in judgment. Others who know Christ live before God in fear, meaning a deep awe and admiration of God accompanied by thanksgiving.
Daniel pours out more adoration of God by confessing that God “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” Covenant and steadfast love are the two promises of God that are the consolation of the people of God. Covenant means the promise of God to have them as His people. Steadfast love means the mercy associated with God’s promise. It is wholly gratuitous, but its fruit is love to God and purpose to do His will.
So Daniel’s confession is that God is both fearful and faithful; both great and good. This, then, is how we come to God in spirit and truth. We are taught by the Lord Jesus to ask anything in His name, because Christ makes us acceptable to God through His atoning work on the cross. We come in Christ’s name to an expectant Father when we pray.
Another thing we see in Daniel’s prayer is heartfelt contrition and confession of sin (verse 5). Daniel includes himself in the sins of Israel against God. He does not make any excuses. He says, “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandment and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets.”
Have you ever prayed this way to the Lord about your own sins? Charles Hodge said, “Conviction of sin is the greatest conviction we can have.” We have to make a practice of openly admitting our sins to the Lord. The good news is implicit here. Daniel is open and truthful about his sin before the Lord because he knows how merciful the Lord is. The Lord pities a contrite heart.
There is much more in this prayer offered to God by godly Daniel. I encourage you to follow its example. Daniel confessed guilt before God, he knew God’s grace and praised God for it, and he was full of gratitude and zeal for God’s name. He cared about the people of God. If we pursue these same ends, the Lord will enable us to live according to our prayers.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.