A Study of Daniel 9
Who prays the most—young people or older people? I don’t know about the United States, but a new survey in the United Kingdom found that 51 percent of young adults pray at least once a month, compared with 24 percent of older people. The same was true for church attendance. Young adults were more likely than older adults to attend church. Of course, praying once a month is a pretty low objective, but the poll was widely reported in the British media, because it was so unexpected.
But I’m just not surprised. Look around this church! Look at the young people, and many of them really know how to pray—and they don’t just do it once a month.
It reminds me of Daniel.
Today we’re coming to chapter 9 of the book of Daniel and to one of the most intense prayers of all the Bible.
Let’s begin with verse 1: In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent) [a title for King Cyrus], who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel….
I hope during these weeks of our Sunday morning studies through Daniel you’ve come to know this man. Think of his remarkable life. He grew up in the city of Jerusalem under the ministry of Jeremiah the Prophet. When he was twelve or thirteen, he went to the temple with his parents for his bar mitzvah, and after that he was able to fully participate in temple worship, going onto the temple mount with his parents, hearing the music, seeing the smoke of the sweet incense wafting into the sky, joining with the worshippers.
He was part of a very prominent family, and he undoubtedly lived in an affluent part of the city. Daniel 1 says his family was among the nobility. Daniel was extremely bright. Even as a teenager he was a born leader. And we can also surmise that he had godly parents who instilled within him from infancy a love for the Lord and for the Scriptures and for prayer. There’s really no other way to explain his life.
When he was about fifteen, his nation and city were invaded by the most brutal enemy imaginable—the Babylonians. They overran the affluent section of town, perhaps the elite school where Daniel was a student. I suspect Daniel and his buddies tried to evade the Babylonians but they were trapped like animals, bound, and marched 600 miles to the city of Babylon.
What happened to him and to his friends is similar to what periodically happens in northern Nigeria when schools are stormed by Boko Haram and the teenagers are kidnapped and marched off to some kind of horrible confinement.
Daniel and his friends were enrolled in a re-education camp, stripped of their Hebrew names, given names reflecting the titles of the Babylonian gods, and they apparently never saw their parents again. But Daniel was a young man who knew how to pray—and I feel certain he had parents who, though they apparently never saw him again, prayed for him night and day.
In his first existential crisis in Daniel, chapter 2, he and his friends went to the Lord in prayer together and God gave them a miraculous answer. In time, God promoted Daniel to a place of high political office and made him a world-renowned statesman—one of the greatest leaders in history.
It is from Daniel we learn there are two types of prayer.
Two Types of Prayer
1. Regular Prayer
First, there is regular prayer, as we saw a few weeks ago in Daniel 6. I want to revisit that just a moment and remind you of Daniel 6:10: Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
In other words, that was his lifelong habit. He had regular times of prayer built into his daily schedule.
Every one of us can find a way of doing that. Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts Magazine. His regular time of prayer is on the subway. He has a long commute every morning in New York City. He gets on the A-train, takes his seat, and pulls out his old Gideon Bible that’s all taped up and repaired. He reads the Scripture and then closes his eyes. He knows all the stops and how long it is between each stop. That guides the sections of his prayers. He said, “The rumble of the train on the tracks is the perfect background for my prayers. It’s my call to worship.”
I’m not sure that plan would work for me, but it works for him. He can pray for the entire world between his home and his office as the subway cars jostle beneath the Big Apple.
I read about another man who wrote a letter to his sons, explaining to them how he learned to pray. He said, in essence, I’ve never known how to use fancy language, but every morning after I’ve showered and dressed, I kneel down and talk to the Lord out loud. First, I tell Him things I’m thankful for, and then I pray for things I’m concerned about. It’s not very fancy, but it’s very habitual and it helps me start the day in God’s presence and with His blessings.
I read about another woman who has a comfortable chair in the corner of her bedroom beside a small table. In the drawer she keeps all her prayer supplies—a Bible, a fountain pen, a devotional book of Scripture reading, and a short list of prayer items. She rises early every morning and meets the Lord in that spot.
One missionary said that he has a patch of woods near his home. Every day he takes a prayer walk, and as he walks he prays out loud, as if the Lord were walking beside him, which He is.
So you can do this. You need it. Find a way to establish regular prayer in your life.
Regular prayer brings habitual strength.
2. Rigorous Prayer
But sometimes we need more than regular prayer. We need rigorous prayer, and that brings us to Daniel 9 and to one of the most rigorous, most intense prayers in the Bible. Let’s begin reading in verse 1:
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent) [a title for King Cyrus], who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.
Not only was Daniel a prayer warrior; he was a student of the Scriptures, including the writings of his childhood preacher, the prophet Jeremiah. In two different places—in Jeremiah 25 and 29—the Lord had promised to restore the city of Jerusalem 70 years after the Babylonian invasion. In fact, one of those chapters—Jeremiah 29—was actually a letter Jeremiah wrote to Daniel and his other exiles, and in verses 10 and 11 he said: This is what the Lord says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
When Daniel read those words, they turned into neon lights in his heart. And listen while I read his incredible prayer, starting in Daniel 9:2:
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants, the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
Lord, you are righteous but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through His servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.
Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.
This is so intense and heartfelt, I hardly know how to exegete it. It just speaks for itself, and the point I want to make is that sometimes regular prayer isn’t enough. Sometimes there is a need, a crisis, an opportunity, a burden that calls for rigorous prayer, wrestling in prayer, prevailing in prayer.
I’m not going to go through this prayer line-by-line, but notice these three things:
First, he knows what God is like. He calls Him great, awesome, righteous, merciful, forgiving.
Second, he knows how to confess his sins and those of his nation.
Third, he knows how to claim the promises of God in Scripture.
I’ve been personally very convicted by this. It’s been a little while since I’ve prayed with this kind of intensity, but every biblical hero had such moments in their lives.
- Hannah prayed this way in 1 Samuel 1, overwhelmed with her family and personal distress.
- Hezekiah prayed like this when the Assyrians were surrounding his city.
- Jonah prayed like this when he was swallowed by the whale.
- Jesus prayed like this in the Garden of Gethsemane.
As I prepared this message, I read a book by Anne Graham Lotz called The Daniel Prayer. She told of some times in her own life when she was driven to what she called The Daniel Prayer type of intense, earnest, fervent prayer:
- When she struggled with infertility…
- When she sat in a hospital chapel as a dear friend was about to be taken off life support
- When she heard her son and his wife in a heated argument that signaled the beginning of the end of their marriage.
- When she returned home and found the door broken down and the entire house ransacked.
- When she discovered her husband unresponsive in the swimming pool.
I thought back to times in my own life when I had to pray like my life depended on it—earnest, agonizing, insistent prayers.
Well, Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 certainly got God’s attention, and I want to show you two kinds of answers.
There are two kinds of prayers—regular prayers and rigorous prayers. And there are two kinds of answers—immediate answers and ultimate answers.
Two Kinds of Answers
1. Immediate Answers
Let me show you God’s immediate answer. Verse 20 says:
While I was still speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for His holy hill—while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision.
As soon as we begin to pray, a word goes out. I wish we could visualize this. Here you have a terrific burden, you have an overwhelming need, you have a sudden crisis. You cry out to God and you pray with great earnestness and intensity. If only you could see into Heaven, you would see Almighty God speaking a word—and the word goes out.
2. Ultimate Answers
But notice something else. The answer is given immediately but it unfolds ultimately. Gabriel comes with a message, which is a prediction, a prophecy about the future. What follows is the most crucial and critical paragraph of prophetic information in the Bible. Pastor Tommy will look at next week, but in its essence it contains the embryo of the rest of human history. Gabriel’s message takes us all the way to Calvary; and all the way to the Tribulation; and all the way to the Second Coming; and all the way to the Millennium; and all the way to Eternity.
Sometimes the answer to our prayers is given immediately, but it unfolds on its own schedule.
This week I was with my friend, Reese Kauffman, who is the president of Child Evangelism Fellowship. He’s a dear friend, and he’s a man of prayer. Whenever we’re together, he wants to talk about the power of prayer. This week at supper he told me of something that happened many years ago. Reese had a friend who was not a Christian believer. Reese had shared the Gospel with him without any success, but he continued praying for him. One evening he drove home, and as he drove into his driveway he was overwhelmed with a burden for his friend. He sat there in the car and prayed for him. He began to weep and cry. Reese said, “I’m not someone who cries very often, and I can’t explain what was happening to me, but I sat there and wept and prayed for this man. Then I went inside and had a normal evening.
Twenty years later, this man told me he was coming through town and we decided to get together. I thought I’d have at least one more chance to bring up the Gospel. But when I did so, he said, “Reese, don’t you know? I became a Christian, let’s see, it’s been about twenty years ago.”
Reese was stunned, but his mind went back to that evening in the front seat of his car when he had felt such an intense burden.
There’s one final thing I want you to notice. Look at verse 21: …while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.
This was at 3 p.m. And look at verse 26: …After the sixty two “sevens,” the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.
As we’ll see next week, this is a remarkable prediction of the death of the Lord Jesus which took place at 3 p.m. at the time of the evening sacrifice. And it is His death that ripped the veil of the temple, giving us access to the power of prayer.
If we’re going to change the circumstances of our lives and of our world, we must learn how to pray regular prayers and we must learn how to pray rigorous prayers. We must do so in Jesus’ name. And as we do so, the Lord knows how to give immediate answers and He knows how to give ultimate answers.
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.