Where does a life of prayer begin? It always begins with God—who he is, what he has done and will do. It is shaped by his plan to save the world. When I pray, I usually start with the Bible. I need to hear from God before I can speak to him. It’s hearing him that makes me want to speak to him.
Daniel was no different, Daniel 9:1-3:
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), 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. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. (NIV)
Daniel is taking his lead not from experience. He doesn’t trust his eyes. He is not listening to his feelings. If he did, he would be filled with fear as he watched one mighty empire being replaced by another. So what did Daniel do? He read his bible, and in particular, Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah 29:10, 12-14:
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. […] Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. […] and will bring you back from captivity […]” (NIV)
Jeremiah’s prophecy said that the exile would be over in seventy years. So Daniel’s response is to pray that God would bring them back. Daniel is praying the kingdom in. Note again the pattern here. God has spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. God’s word was written down. It is read, and trusted, and obeyed. And God’s word is turned into prayer, Daniel 9:3:
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. (NIV)
Why doesn’t Daniel just rejoice that the exile is soon going to be over? Why not have a party because that exile is coming to an end? Daniel lived most of his life in a foreign land because of the ugly sin of his people. It was time to confess.
But what is it about God that makes Daniel and us want to pray?
One thing that brings David to prayer is that Yahweh is one powerful God. Daniel 9:4:
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God […]” (NIV)
If God is great, we don’t play games with him. Christopher Hitchens wrote a very popular book a few years ago called “God is not great”. Well, Christopher Hitchens has sadly died, and he now realizes that he had made a very big mistake. But if God were only great, you may want to run away from God. But God is not only great: he is also just and righteous. Daniel 9:7:
Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame (NIV)
God can do no wrong! He is absolutely holy. This fact exposes our guilt and shame. But that alone will not make you want to confess. It’s only because God is merciful and loving that we run to him. Daniel 9:9:
The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him (NIV)
If there is no mercy and no promise of forgiveness, we will hide and blame others and make excuses. If grace and mercy are not waiting for you, then you will keep your distance. It was God’s covenant of love that warned Israel about the exile before it happened, and it’s his covenant of love that will bring the remnant back afterwards.
Daniel speaks of God as my God. He is in a personal relationship with this great God. He knows God is for him. He is a God who has plans to prosper his people.
How big is your God? Do you know this God? Do you make time to praise him? Do you stop and tell him how magnificent he is? He is great and awesome, just and merciful, faithful and personal. Praising God adds to our joy in God.
A friend of mine is no longer a pastor because he committed adultery. The good news is that he repented and his wife forgave him. I asked him one day, “What is it like hearing sermons from where you are now?” He said, “I need preachers to keep reminding me of how big God is.” That is why Daniel confesses the way he does.
There are some things to note about Daniel’s confession. It is so unqualified. Daniel 9:5-6:
“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. (NIV)
Daniel gives no excuses. He has full ownership of the sin. He gives no, “I’m sorry but”. The language is humbly strong. We have sinned. We have done wrong, rebelled, we have turned away, and not listened. There is no reframing the sin by blaming others or by saying we are not as bad as others.
What is confession? Confession is siding with God and saying that what I did was wrong. The opposite is siding with our sin and saying that God is wrong. Daniel is siding with God against himself and against his own people And this takes us to the heart of the issue:
We have not listened to your servants the prophets (NIV)
It was a privilege to have God speak to one nation. God has said so much and they have listened so little. Notice we don’t treat God in the way we want to be treated. We want apologies without a “but”. We want people to listen to us. We should not be surprised when our world silences God. That is what secularism is. We gag God in our public discussion. But we should be upset when the church silences God talk, preferring the words of men rather than word of God.
Some church leaders claim that they have the right to re-write the bible, and at the moment the issue is sex and gender. However, every generation finds another reason to tear out another page of God’s word, in search of a God who agrees with them. It is the folly of claiming that God needs to repent and not us. But we need to learn this lesson, that a truth is no less true because you don’t happen to like what you read. Remember that God’s ways are not our ways.
Notice also how inclusive is Daniel’s confession, Daniel 9:8:
We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. (NIV)
No one is left out: those in and out of Israel; those near and far from Jerusalem; those who lead and those who follow; those in the past and those in the present. Everyone was guilty. Daniel says that we have all reaped what we have sown. We have no excuse.
God’s word predicted the exile. Daniel does not exempt himself. As with any good leader he stands with his people failure. Daniel 9:8b says, “We have sinned against you.”
That’s right! The man who prayed three times a day, the man who refused to compromise for 65 years of his life, the man who was willing to be thrown to the lions, the man who would rather die than deny his God—that man, Daniel, stands with his people in their sin. We did it. It’s unlike Adam and Saul, who blamed others.
Have you ever had someone—a boss, manager parent, friend, work colleague—who stood with you in your mistake? For a long time our leaders resisted apologizing for what was done to the Aboriginal people. The reason most people give was that “I was not there”. It reeks of that ugly western spoilt individualism. God doesn’t just judge individuals, he judges nations, and churches You weren’t there in garden, but God has you sharing in Adam’s guilt. You weren’t there at the cross, but Christ took your sins. Peter Jensen was right: if we benefit from the sins of the past, then we share in the guilt of the past. If I benefit from stolen goods then I share in the theft. And this is all the more important when it comes to the sins of the church.
The Royal commission has exposed repeated sexual abuse in the church. That some churches were worse than others is beside the point. When the topic comes up, your one come back should be, “We did it”, not “they”. “We” sinned. We failed! And you may find that they will hear you better on the gospel. Shame on us that it took the world to teach the church how run policy on child protection and domestic family violence. Part of our confession is that God is just in his judgement. Daniel 9:14:
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. (NIV)
We not only confess our failure but confess that God is right when he speaks. The exile was the right thing to do. Do you tell God that he is right. Do you tell God that he is right when he says that the wages of sin is death, or that Jesus is only one way to God, or that hell is forever. But God`s people are not left in their sin and guilt. Hear the plea for forgiveness, the pleading prayer of Daniel 9:19:
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. (NIV)
Don’t you find it humble of God that he allows us to speak with such boldness? “Lord listen, Lord hear, Lord act, Lord forgive.” It’s the joy of being in a personal relationship with God. There is no way that Allah would allow any muslim to speak to him with such directness. And why does Daniel ask God to forgive his people? Daniel 9:18:
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. Daniel asks God to forgive, not because he is a great guy but because God is a great God. The only way out of this judgment is God’s grace and glory. (NIV)
The city of Jerusalem carried the name of God and it lies desolate. The people dragged God`s name through the mud before a watching world. Daniel and his people are full of shame because they brought shame on God before a watching world. They want God to act for the sake of God’s name.
The answer to that prayer comes quick and fast. The angel Gabriel provides a strange prophecy. It comes with its own time frame of seventy lots of ‘sevens’, which are divided into three uneven sections: First is seven ‘sevens’, then 62 ‘sevens’, and then one ‘seven’. Together they add up to 70 ‘sevens’. Let me summarize what is predicted.
First, Daniel could pray for the end of the exile but he could not make it happen. But God could. The first sequence of sevens tells Daniel that his prayer is answered. God will forgive. The city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. The exile will soon be over. God’s people are going home. And that is exactly what happened when Cyrus gave the order. That promised was fulfilled. God don’t make promises that he don’t keep.
But there is more and there has to be more. Going back to Jerusalem will change nothing. They will sin again. So in the prophecy, the next sequence of 62 ‘sevens’ promises that the end to sin and transgression will come, and there will be atonement for wickedness and an everlasting righteousness. Daniel could stand with his people’s failure. What Daniel could not do is remove that sin, that shame and that guilt. Daniel could ask God to turn his anger from Jerusalem. But he didn’t know where that anger would land.
In the last sequence of one ‘seven’, we are told that a time is coming when the Christ, the anointed one, will be killed and cut off, because he would take the punishment that those sins deserve. On the first Good Friday in AD 33, that promise was fulfilled. God don’t make promises that he don’t keep. Then the city of Jerusalem and the holy temple will eventually be destroyed. In AD 70 the temple was destroyed by the Romans under the rule of Titus. That promised was fulfilled. God don’t make promises that he don’t keep. Then we are told that sacrifices will come to end. They are finished for two reasons: first, Christ died for sins once and for all. Once is enough. And second, in case anyone is tempted to try and make atonement for sin after Christ died for it, then God had the temple destroyed. God don’t make promises that he don’t keep.
Like Daniel, Christ stood with his people when he was baptized. But unlike Daniel, Christ had taken the sin, the shame, the blame, and the anger in our place. That is why I’m not a great fan of the phrase, “You need to learn to forgive yourself”. That phrase means that you are the saviour and judge. It makes your opinion of yourself more important than God’s.
If God is great, don’t play games with him. If God is just, he is right when he judges. If God is merciful, then confess your sin to him, and he will forgive you. For our sins and God’s anger has landed on Christ, the anointed one, when he died on the cross. It is why we don’t do pretend with God. I came to Christ at age twenty because I was convinced that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. I accepted that I was a sinner, but I didn’t feel it. My self-esteem was too healthy. I wanted my experience to reflect God’s words. So I kept asking God to show me more about my sin. And it wasn’t long before it became clear to me why I needed a saviour. I too am a great sinner and Christ is a great savior. I just fell more and more in love with our awesomely gracious God.