The Bible is so different in describing God’s ways than we have come to think of Him. If you have a healthy view of God’s sovereignty in all things, then you may have struggled with the purpose of prayer. After all, if God is ultimately ruling over everything from sparrows falling to tsunami’s crashing and killing, why should we pray? I often get similar questions in response to evangelism and missions as well when talking to people who have yet to see this God who decrees ALL things that come to pass (1 Chronicles 29:11-15).
I believe that the Bible upholds the sovereignty of God in all things alongside the responsibility of man. There are many texts to illustrate this beautiful tension that was described by Spurgeon as a train (the sovereignty of God) running on its tracks (the responsibility of man). Daniel chapter 9 not only sets this truth forth most plainly, but it also models for us how to pray in light of God’s ruling and decreeing all things from the foundations of the world (Acts 4:27-28).
Jeremiah had prophesied desolations to reek havoc upon Jerusalem (Jer. 25:11, 12, 29:10) for seventy years. Daniel was reading in “the books” and discovered this truth. Apparently he realized that the seventy years was coming to an end (interpreters differ on the date of the 70 years). The reaction of Daniel seems to point to a realization of the imminent fulfillment of God’s promise.
Daniel’s response is absolutely AMAZING! I imagine my own response after seeing a human hand (without arm or body) write on a wall (chapter 5) and being delivered from the mouth of hungry lions (chapter 6). “Hey, God is in control; He has made a promise; He will fulfill it; I’m just going to watch Sportscenter.” Daniel’s reaction was somewhat different. Verse 3: “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”
Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 shows many of us our faults in our own prayers. He confesses his sins and the sins of his people (“we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules; we have not listened to your servants and prophets, open shame belongs to us because of the treachery we have committed towards you; we have sinned against you.”)
Notice that Daniel does not question God’s providence or become angry with this calamity and suffering brought upon his people. He boldly proclaims that they are being justly punished (verse 11) and the reason for the punishment is their own rebellion. And in the midst of the calamity, the people did not entreat the Lord (verse 13). Because of this lack of faith, the Lord has “kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us. (verse 14)” Who does Daniel attribute this calamity to? He does not say that this is a normal part of life. He directly attributes credit to God. He is not corrected or rebuked in any way for this (nor was Job) bold statement. Perhaps you read that and say “well, that was in the Old Testament, or God had a good reason.” We must stop trying to rescue God from bad decision making! He is infinitely wise in all that He does. Daniel understood this…”According to all your righteous acts.” He has just finished talking about severe calamity brought about by God and now He calls that calamity a righteous act!
So, it is safe to say that Daniel is praying in a God-Centered way. However, he does not simply proclaim the promises of God, he now prays that those promises would come to pass! “O Lord…let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem…Now therefore, O God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord. (verse16,17)” This is an amazing statement for many reasons. Daniel knows that God’s promises are decreed to be fulfilled and yet he still prays for them to come to pass. Daniel also, like Moses appeals to God’s name as a huge motivation for the answering of these prayers.
Daniel is pleading with the Lord for mercy, not on account of his righteousness (verse 18) but because of the MERCY of God! Daniel realized that God was not obligated to answer prayers, so he centered His prayers around God’s passion for His own Name! “O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (verse 19, emphasis mine). In other words the real power in Daniel’s prayer was rooted in God’s power!
Thus, God answers Daniel through a visit from the angel Gabriel. Gabriel says that “at the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell you that you are greatly loved”(verse 22). It seems that God’s pre-ordained providences for Jerusalem were set into motion by Daniels prayers! We must never think that prayer is insignificant. We must pray as if people’s eternal souls hung in the balance (they do!). God is sovereign, we are responsible to pray.
Much more could be said about why we should pray. In the coming blogs, I will be discussing some of these reasons.
May God give us the faith to pray in such a powerful way.
*This blog was inspired by a message preached by Ligon Duncan at the 2005 Ligonier National Conference. You can purchase all the conference messages at www.ligonier.org