Posts Tagged 'jeremiah the prophet'

Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 2

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We can learn a lot from Jeremiah and his writings. Sure he lived in ancient times, but his words are just as relevant today as they were then. The names have changed, the nations have changed, and the times have changed, but man hasn’t. Looking at the actions of the Israelites, we see distorted previews of ourselves. We who enjoy the blessings of the Lord through a relationship with Jesus Christ aren’t too far removed from the Hebrews of old, who enjoyed the blessings of God yet continuously strayed from Him. Their backsliding serves as a stark, blatant warning to Christians today who think they can serve God and themselves at the same time; live with one foot in the Kingdom and one foot in the world. We can’t, any more than Jeremiah’s could.

God’s people forsake Him, Jeremiah 2:4 – 13; 22:1 – 5

Scholars seem pretty sure that what Jeremiah wrote in chapters 2 – 6 was written during the reign of Josiah and during the great religious revival that took place during those years. All the prophecies and sermons Jeremiah delivered during this time showed that in spite of outward appearances, he saw a very deep-seated problem with his people. Some of his messages seem to be addressed to the northern kingdom of Israel, others to his own kingdom of Judah, but the theme is the same, and expressed best in verse two of chapter two –

This is what the Lord says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.’” (Jeremiah 2:2 NIV)

Ah yes, even God had His “good old days.” To Him, the “good old days” were the days when His people actually loved Him and depended on Him. It’s a little odd that God’s “good old days” were actually years of wandering and privation in the wilderness for Israel. The best years, in God’s estimation, were the years when Israel was so bad off they depended on Him for everything, even their daily bread, or manna. It was in the desert that they were, more or less, forced to rely on Him for everything, and He had no rivals for their affection and devotion.

It’s like that, more often than not for Christians. We are closest to God, not when our bank accounts and pantries are full to overflowing, but when we feel hard pressed from all sides because it is during those times that we, just like the Israelites before us, are forced to look to God and trust Him. How much easier would be for us is we just trusted Him all the time, not just during the hard times!

“’Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 2:3 NIV)

In those “good old days” under the leadership of Moses, Israel was holy. Israel was holy, not because they were a nation of Mother Theresa’s or of pious old people, but because she belonged completely and unreservedly to Him. That’s the definition of holiness, by the way. It’s not your actions that make you holy, it’s that you (like Israel before you) have been “separated” from the rest of the population to God for a sacred purpose. Because of that relationship, of course, your actions will necessarily change. But the separation comes first, not the other way around.

That idyllic relationship didn’t last long at all.

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. (Jeremiah 2:5 NIV)

Under the covenant relationship, Israel had it good; they enjoyed God’s richest blessings, including His divine, supernatural protection. But something happened to disrupt that relationship. It was a covenant relationship, which may not make a lot of sense to us, but we can understand a marriage covenant. It’s the same idea. Israel broke faith with God by running after other gods – they were committing spiritual adultery. The real stinging indictment in verse five points to the fault of Israel, not with God. God did nothing wrong. They did. Israel left Him; Israel strayed; Israel broke the covenant and because of that, Israel suffered: they became as worthless as the idols they worshipped.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Jeremiah was a prophet, but here he sounds more like a lawyer, summing up his charges: Judah’s sin was a two-pronged one: they rejected the truth and accepted error. The pagan nations surrounding them had committed only one sin – idolatry, but Judah had far exceeded them in disobedience as they actively rebelled against God and renounced His word in order to serve false, made up gods that didn’t even exist.

The metaphor of cisterns is all the more powerful when you take into consideration that Palestine is an arid, desert land. How rational would it be for people to stray from a source of water that provides free, flowing, fresh water to an area of the desert where there is no water? That’s what the Israelites had done by straying from God, and it was irrational, just like all sin is irrational.

Cruising ahead to chapter 22, the prophet makes a case about the leadership of Judah.

This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there…” (Jeremiah 22:1 NIV)

The book of Jeremiah isn’t always chronological, but thematic. Jeremiah’s sermons and prophecies aren’t necessarily grouped by dates but by themes. So, jumping ahead to chapter 22, we read some interesting things that concerned the prophet. Back in chapter 32 he railed against the nation as a whole. But you can’t separate a nation from those who lead it. A nation rises or sinks to the level of those who are leading it, be they kings, prime ministers, or presidents. Our prophet wrote these words during the reign of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. But who was he, and where did he come from?

When Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army invaded Judah in 597, they took King Jehoiachin captive along with some 10,000 of the land’s best and brightest. The youngest son of Josiah, a loser by the name of Mattaniah, was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, who changed the kid’s name to Zedekiah. Think about that for a minute. Why would Nebuchadnezzar do that? It’s because he had no interest in killing people. All he wanted was to build his empire by accumulating the property of other nations, and by putting kings of his choice on their thrones. That way he would be the global ruler over all manner of nations and kingdoms. Judah could have lived at peace with Neduchadnezzar, except Zedekiah was loyal to Nebuchadnezzar in word only and eventually joined in a revolt against Babylon. This was the political cause for the Babylonian invasion of Judah, which led to Jerusalem’s fall. But the spiritual cause of the fall of Judah is the subject of the whole book of Jeremiah: the rebelliousness of God’s people. Jeremiah’s people couldn’t be loyal to God, even though being loyal to Him would have meant eternal blessings, and they couldn’t even be loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, which would have meant temporal blessings! These people were rotten to the very core of their being. The root of rebellion ran so deep it was part of their national fabric.

Jeremiah’s word to Zedekiah was a simple one:

Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3 NIV)

Sure, he was a puppet king, but Zedekiah was still king of a kingdom, as shrinking as it was. And he had a responsibility to care for his people and treat his citizens rightly and justly. Obviously, the kings of Judah were notorious for taking advantage of their people. That displeased God. The very least the king should have treated his people with respect.

There were four groups of people that King Zedekiah needed to protect. First, “the one who has been robbed.” That’s a large group. People got robbed all the time, and justice needed to be exercised on their behalf. But people during this time had been robbed by the Babylonians, especially robbed of their sons, if they were talented and smart. The second group, “the fatherless,” were men of Judah who had been killed in battle or taken captive, who left families behind that needed to be looked after, not taken advantage of. Another group was “the widow.” Her property didn’t need to be taken by the government as tax payments or taken by other family members. Widows needed to treated fairly and justly. But who were these foreigners? Modern politicians want us to believe they were illegal aliens, migrant workers, or refugees. During Jeremiah’s time, there were many kinds of foreigners in Judah, including people from Babylon who had been relocated to Judah just as some people from Judah had been relocated to other nations within the greater Babylonian empire. Those strangers needed to be protected and not taken advantage of or persecuted. The leaders of Judah, especially King Zedekiah, would have been blessed and Judah would have prospered if they had done what Jeremiah had told them to do. But, even as Jeremiah told them what to do, he also indicated that the die had been cast –

“People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.’” (Jeremiah 22:8, 9 NIV)

God’s call to return

The end was in sight, but God was still interested in the souls of His people. Ultimately, the Israelites would be vindicated, but until then, only judgment was coming. In the midst of judgment, though, God was calling His people to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:14, 15 NIV)

God always wants “faithless” people to return to Him. The “faithless,” or “backsliders,” refer to both Israel and Judah. God has plans for His people. God is sure that His people will learn their lesson and in time they will be ready to follow Him and serve Him. He said as much in 29:10 – 11 –

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.”

But it’s not just the Israelites who God has plans for. He has plans for all His people, from all time, from any nation.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:6 – 10 NIV)

DELIVERANCE OF THE KING

The Nebuchadnezzar Tablet

The Nebuchadnezzar Tablet. It reads: “In the thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Egypt [Misr] to make war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad.”

THE KING’S DELIVERANCE

Jeremiah 52:31-34

We come to the final chapter of the book of Jeremiah. What started out as prophesy is now recorded for us as history. The events of this chapter are seen in 2 Kings 24 and 25 and this shows why the book of Jeremiah is so important. This one book of prophesy, more than any other book of prophesy in the Bible, shows us the dynamic nature of the prophetic ministry. If anybody has doubts about the veracity of Biblical prophecy, they need to be pointed to the book of Jeremiah.

The Fall of Jerusalem vindicated Jeremiah. Every word he prophesied came to pass. But this was no cause for rejoicing. The Fall of Jerusalem was the worst thing that ever happened to God’s people. Jerusalem would again fall in 70 AD, but when it fell to the Babylonians, even though it was rebuilt and restored later, it would never be the kingdom that David and Solomon envisaged. And there is a real lesson here for all of God’s people. Had the ancient Israelites remained faithful to God and lived in obedience to His Law, who knows what the Middle East would look like today. Because of their constant disobedience and their obsession with idolatry, God caused the amazing kingdom built by David to fall. It would never look the same, even though God allowed the Jews to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. Sin has consequences. Try as they might to make Jerusalem the city it was generations ago, it was never the same, and today, Israel and Jerusalem are the palest images of the glorious jewels they were during the Davidic years.

The Fall of Jerusalem was God’s punishment for the disobedience of His people. Some people who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches think God went over the line; that His punishment was too extreme. Some ignorant people look at the Old Testament and don’t see a God of love. These people need to stop talking and read Leviticus 26. That whole chapter is summed up by two verses in the New Testament:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8)

Sin brings ruin to any individual and any nation that indulges in it. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, but he was also “God’s servant,” and that is how he is described three times in the book of Jeremiah (see chapters 25, 27, and 43). He was God’s servant in the sense that he was God’s sword of vengeance in the punishment of Judah for their rebellion against Him.

Jehoiachin, then-king of Judah, was taken captive and thrown into a Babylonian prison, where he stayed for 47 years. Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor with the unfortunate name of Evil-Merodach (Awel-Marduk in the TNIV), restored Jehoiachin’s freedom and changed his life. What happened to King Jehoiachin serves as an excellent picture of the grace of God.

1. Deliverance

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. (Jeremiah 52:31)

Here is an excellent picture of God’s grace in action: the new king of Babylon did something for Jehoiachin that Jehoiachin could not do for himself. Awel-Marduk didn’t have to release the king. There were other national leaders in prison that didn’t get released. What the king of Babylon did for the former king of Judah is exactly what God does for the repentant sinner:

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (PSALM 40:2)

What happened to Jehoiachin happened to us. By His royal authority, God released us from the prison of sin.

2. Comforted and exalted

He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. (Jeremiah 52:32)

Generally speaking, laws are not very comforting. But grace is! “Grace” means being treated better than you deserved to be treated.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… (Ephesians 2:8)

Salvation – being set free from bondage to sin – is completely a work of God from start to finish. Even the faith needed in salvation is given to us by God! When our sins are forgiven and we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes in and takes up residence in our hearts, and one of the many things He does for us, in us, and to us, is to communicate the assurance of salvation to us.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)

God’s grace in salvation is a topic that never ends. God’s grace is as wide and as deep as eternity itself. In the coming ages, God’s people – all of God’s people – will testify to the greatness of God’s grace:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6, 7)

Isn’t that exactly what Awel-Marduk did for Jehoiachin? He gave the former king of Judah a seat of honor in the court of Babylon. Jehoichin of Judah was not the only king in Babylon. As Babylon rolled over all the nations in its way, it absorbed their citizens, and took captive their royal families. But of all the captive kings, the one from Judah was exalted. What a picture of the spiritual uplifting enjoyed by Christians. Full of sin and prone to failure, believers are lifted up and strengthened and the sin that once hounded them is conquered once and for all by the blood of Jesus Christ! If man’s fall from grace through sin was great, how much greater is the grace that restores us to God’s favor? Like the words to that great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” we can all say,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor!

3. Clothed and honored

So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. (Jeremiah 52:33)

What an amazing verse! Do you remember another man in the Old Testament called Mephibosheth? He was a descendant of King Saul. After David became king of Israel, he wanted to make sure Saul’s family was taken care of.

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)

There was, and his name was Mephibosheth. David showed this cripple undeserved grace:

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) (2 Samuel 9:9, 10)

Oh, to grace how great a debtor! Jehoiachin was not only released from prison, but for the rest of his life was given the privilege to eating at the king’s table. From prison to pinnacle! From prison clothes to dinner jackets. From slop to caviar.

When God’s grace changes a life, it changes everything.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” (Zechariah 3:1-4)

This is what grace does for the redeemed. It cleans us up; it takes the filthy rags of our righteousness and replaces them with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are cleaned up and made ready eat at the king’s table.

4. Supplied

Day by day the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived, till the day of his death. (Jeremiah 52:34)

Notice what else the king of Babylon did for the former king of Judah:

Pension

For the rest of his life, Jehoiachin was given a pension! Who knew Babylon had Social Security? Jehoiachin did! Having needs met is another wonderful provision of grace. When God saves us, He doesn’t stop. His grace continues to work in us. He promises to meet all our needs.

Daily payments

This pension was daily. For every day, for the rest of his life, the king’s needs were met. He had no more worries. Jehoiachin could have written a verse like this one because he experienced it:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A pension from the king

Notice that Jehoiachin’s pension payments came from the king, probably from the palace.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Conclusion

And so the book of Jeremiah ends on an upbeat note, at least for one person. Why did Jehoiachin suddenly receive all these blessings? Certainly we are given a real-life illustration of grace. But the exiles in Babylon were given hope. If their captive king had been treated well by the Babylonians, maybe they would receive the same treatment. It took three more decades, but eventually the Jews were shown grace and allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Jehoiachin didn’t live long enough to go home. He died in Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that no king from this family like would ever sit on throne of David. The Davidic line through Solomon ended with Jehoiachin. But the Son of David who will come and sit on that throne through eternity was born through another line, the line of Nathan. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was from that line and it is in that line that Jesus Christ can lay claim to the throne of David.

JEREMIAH, Part 6

Times of Drought, Times of Intercession, Part 1

Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas

Jeremiah 14:1—9

A devastating drought in Judah gave the prophet Jeremiah an opportunity to teach his people some much-needed lessons of morality. Precisely when this drought happened is unknown to us, but it must have been absolutely horrible.

Times of drought are times of testing. Maybe you have had droughts in your life; maybe you are experiencing one right now. God has every right to withhold His blessings whenever He thinks He should. We are all familiar with the drought where crops wither up and the topsoil blows away because there’s no rain. But there are other kinds of droughts you may experience:  droughts…

of peace;
of joy;
of spiritual power and fruitfulness;
of God’s presence.

God may be behind these droughts for a single salutary purpose for the sufferers.  And what the purpose is may not always be evident!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)

This “drought chapter” is also the most intercessory character of Jeremiah. God allowed this terrible environmental event for a purpose, but He didn’t just leave His people high and dry. He had his man on the scene and on his knees praying for the people.

1. Evidence of the drought

We may not know from history when the drought seized the land, but it’s effects were obvious.

Mournful perplexity

Judah mourns, her cities languish; they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem. (verse 2)

From the richest to the poorest, from the highest to the lowest, this drought brought mourning and languish to all in the land. The lives of everybody had been disrupted. The whole nation was distressed, depressed, and in despair. What’s worse, the people “wailed for the land.” That’s a curious phrase; it means they remembered what it used to be like, when it rained, when the ground was green and could be tilled, the wells were full, animals roamed healthy and well-fed, and life was good because the land was blessed.

But that was then. Now there was nothing; no water, no food, and no hope. This is what happens when the Lord holds back His blessings, and we are the ones that make that happen when we stubbornly refuse to live in obedience and submission to Him. God will do whatever it takes to bring us back in line.

Empty water pots

The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. (verse 3)

They went everywhere looking for water, but none could be found. Again we see the word “cisterns.” This is highly suggestive of times of spiritual drought, when God’s refreshing and reviving Spirit is withheld from His people, when there is “languishing” in the pews and a longing for the moves of the Spirit as in years past.

It’s possible for God’s people to long for His presence, desperately cry out for Him yet remain disappointed. God’s doesn’t play games with His people; if it seems as though He is distant; if it seems like it’s been a long time since you were spiritually satisfied, there is something wrong with you, not Him. It’s possible for some believers to want more of God, but not at the expense of wanting more of the world. You can’t have both.

Dismay

…the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads. (verse 4b)

The land, the animals, and the farmers all reeled under the weight of this terrible drought. The farmers were “dismayed”; they were confused and ashamed. When the well of God’s Word becomes dry and personal experience with God chapt, empty wells and dismayed church members are in plentiful supply.

2. Cause of the drought

Although our sins testify against us, O Lord, do something for the sake of your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against you. (verse 7)

Notice the use of “our” in this verse. Like all the prophets of God, Jeremiah identified himself with his people. He himself was not guilty of his people’s sins, any more than Jesus was guilty of our sins, yet both identified themselves with the people they loved.

The people brought this drought on themselves by their reckless, sinful living. It wasn’t just their sins—we all sin—it was their backsliding. That is, it was their sinful state; these people literally never stopped sinning. They felt no remorse, or if they did, they didn’t do anything about it.

Shame and emptiness are the consequences of backsliding hearts. But there are other consequences to backsliding:

Even the doe in the field deserts her newborn fawn because there is no grass. Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals; their eyes fail for lack of food. (verses 5, 6)

Just like when Adam and Eve sinned and the earth was cursed as part of their punishment, so when God’s people backslide even irrational creatures have to suffer because God is displeased. The doe, that traditionally cares for her young, was no longer able to do so. The wild donkeys, known for their strength, hardiness, and uncanny ability to survive on so little, were dying.  Sin carries serious consequences! It’s not just the backslidden believer who incurs the Lord’s anger, but the world around him.

3. The remedy

Can this kind of drought ever end? There is a remedy. There is a cure for the backslidden heart. It lies in our attitude toward the Lord Himself:

O Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night? (verse 8)

This is the attitude God wants His people to have. He is our only hope in times of distress. Yet, it must be more than words. From the people of Judah, unfortunately, we have a here a great example of those who cry out to the Lord using all the right words, but without a hint of repentance. They rush through their confession, but it isn’t from their hearts.

Their attitude of the first half of the verse is good: God is the only hope and Savior of Israel. But that second phrase is just awful because it shows the tendency of all believers. Underneath their nice sounding words is the tendency to blame God for all their suffering. The words were right, but in reality, they were demanding that God get them out of where they were. There is no repentance here:

Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, O Lord, and we bear your name; do not forsake us! (verse 9)

Talk about arrogance! This was their perception of God. The statements of this verse couldn’t be more wrong. Is God ever taken by surprise? NO! Is God ever powerless to save? NO! Would God ever forsake His people? NO! Sin has this effect on believers; it causes them to see God in the wrong light. It’s already hard enough for the devoted Christian to keep his thoughts straight about God, imagine how difficult it would become if your mind was full of sin!

The people of Judah, some of them, at least, seemed to long for God. They could tell that He had become distant, but instead of taking responsibility for their spiritual drought, they blamed God. They could not see their role in their state.

Modern believers have the same problem. From time to time, we should all pause and take a step back and examine our spiritual lives. Do we seem to be moving closer to God or does it seem like He is afar off? Does His Word no longer interest us? Have other pursuits overtaken your desire to grow in the faith? It’s easy to become complacent and  to take our faith for granted. It’s easy to blame God for our spiritual failures. It takes guts to walk by faith. It takes guts to acknowledge when you’ve strayed off the straight and narrow. But it is part of being a child of God. Are you up to it?

DANIEL: A MAN WHO KNEW HOW TO PRAY

Daniel, praying as usual.

Prayer may well be the greatest need of the Church today. We often pine for revivals and great moves of the Holy Spirit where souls are saved and the sick healed, but those things won’t happen without prayer. Like never before, we need prayer.

The problem is, a lot of Christians engage in what they think is prayer, but their needs continue to go unmet, their spiritual lives are anaemic, and their testimony for Christ invisible. It’s not necessarily because they are bad Christians or unfaithful to the Lord in any way. If these folks understood what real prayer was, their experience would be completely different. To help us all grasp the essentials of prayer, we turn to Daniel because he was a man who knew how to pray.

When most of us think of Daniel, we think of his powerful and far-reaching prophecies of the end times. Daniel was undeniably a great prophet, but before he became that, he was a man of prayer.

Daniel 9 is one of the most significant chapters of the Bible, containing one of only a handful of prophecies that sheds light on the future of the God’s people in relation to the nations of this world. But, it is also a chapter of prayer; in fact, the first 17 verses of Daniel 9 contain his prayer.

1. The scene of the prayer

Before we look at the content of Daniel’s prayer, we need to look at the circumstances surrounding it.

We learn some important details from the first two verses:

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.

First, we learn that Daniel wrote chapter nine sometime in 538 BC. Daniel’s people, the Jews, were nearing the end of their Babylonian captivity. Two years after Daniel wrote these words, in 536 BC, King Cyrus would issue a decree allowing the Jews to return home. Rarely in Scripture do we read one Biblical writer citing another, but Daniel did just that, citing something the prophet Jeremiah had written decades earlier. So, right away we know that Daniel was not just a prophet but he was also a student of the Word of God. What struck Daniel about Jeremiah’s prophecy were these verses:

This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (Jeremiah 25:11)

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10)

God had given Jeremiah details about the Babylonian Captivity before it occurred, and Daniel, reading what Jeremiah wrote, deduced the end of the Captivity was near. So, he went to God in prayer.

Daniel’s attitude about what Jeremiah had written stands a lesson to all believers. Daniel believed what Jeremiah had written; he took the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy literally. He did not do what so many Christians do today; he did not spiritualize Jeremiah’s words or twist them or give them strange, mystical meanings. Daniel read what Jeremiah had written and believed what he had written without thinking there were other meanings to it. As far as Daniel was concerned, when God, through Jeremiah, said the Jewish Babylonian Captivity would last 70 years, he believed the Captivity would last 70 years!

Not only did Daniel take the Word of God seriously and literally and at face value, it was the Word that moved Daniel to pray. Daniel studied the Word of God and it was while he was studying the Word of God that he felt the need to pray. How often does that happen to us? How do we treat the Word of God? Is it just an interesting book full of helpful stories? Do we discount it? Do we make fun of it? Do we ignore it? Far too many believers have such a low opinion of Scriptures that those Scriptures seldom influence how they live and never how they pray. But Daniel wasn’t like that. Daniel understood that God’s will was revealed in God’s Word. This is something a lot Christians don’t understand. If you study God’s Word, then pray about what you’ve studied, you will begin to see God’s will.

2. Elements of Daniel’s prayer

Prayer isn’t just talking to God; it’s more than that. Real prayer is not easy. Real prayer takes effort and endurance. Real prayer is a workout for your spiritual self!  It strengthens your spiritual muscles.  And Daniel shows us how to pray.

Planning

Daniel’s prayer didn’t just happen, he planned it. For many of us, prayer is a hit-and-miss thing; it’s a thing we do when we have time just before we eat or before we drift off to sleep. But real prayer should never be considered an optional activity of the spiritual life. Real prayer, is in fact, as vital to the believer as breathing is. Daniel took his prayer life seriously, and he planned before he prayed.

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

Daniel got down to business; he didn’t waste words. Here was a man who knew exactly what to pray for. Notice that he “turned to God.” This highly suggestive phrase tells us that he “turned away” from everything else. Daniel didn’t let things distract him when he got down to the business of prayer. Even the need—Jeremiah’s prophecy—was prayed for, but not concentrated on.

Content

Daniel’s prayer was chock full of content. He didn’t babble. Daniel had a burden on his heart, he knew what he wanted and he went to God. What was the burden? Daniel believed in God’s Word. Daniel was able to discern God’s will for His people and God’s will was Daniel’s burden. This leads us to the question: If Daniel knew God’s will, why did he have to pray about it? The Apostle John helps us understand why we have to pray about God’s will:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

The Bible makes the assumption that Christians will know God’s will before they pray. We make the exact opposite assumption; when we go to prayer we don’t expect to know God’s will—we hope that He will let us in on it before we finish. Knowing God’s will takes effort on our part, and most of us don’t want to expend that effort. The problem is that if we don’t know God’s will, then we have no confidence when we pray. How can pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven if we don’t know what that will is? Knowing God’s will does not usually happen in a moment. You shouldn’t wait until a need pops up and immediately expect to know God’s will about it.

Daniel was fully aware of God’s will for his people and that’s why he went to prayer. He knew God’s will because he knew God’s Word. Remember, before Daniel went to prayer, he went to God’s Word and studied it. When he discovered God’s will, he then went to prayer.

Daniel’s prayer was full of content. He did not pray about everything hoping he’d say something God would hear or that he would stumble on God’s will by sheer chance!  Daniel prayed in confidence about something he was already convinced of: God’s will.

Not only did Daniel have confidence in the will of God, when he prayed he prayed from his heart:

...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 fathers, and to all the people of the land. (Daniel 9:5, 6)

Daniel called a spade a spade! He was candid as he prayed, and so should we. We need to learn how to pray simple, straightforward, focused prayers, holding nothing back. We should be honest and up front with God as we pray because He certainly is that way with us. Notice what James said in regards to prayer:

You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2, 3)

As Daniel prayed and confessed his sins and those of his people, he was being completely candid. It reminds us of what the psalmist said in Psalm 66:18—

If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened...

It’s a good idea to get sin out of the way before you pray, by the way! God won’t pay attention to anything you have to say if you harbor unconfessed sin in your heart.

Pain

Looking at verse 3 again, we see that Daniel’s prayer included: fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. When Daniel went to prayer, he prayed in pain. No, Daniel didn’t engage in flagellation; he didn’t scar his body to show God how serious he was. But he did deprive himself of comfort as he prayed. This kind of thing has no merit before God, but it does do the believer good: it reveals to us the sincerity of our prayers.

This is why prayer should never be easy. Paul understood this aspect of prayer and tried to get his friends in Rome to understand it, too:

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Romans 15:30)

Notice the word Paul used: struggle. The Greek word means “agony.” Paul was struggling or agonizing in his ministry and he asked his friends to join in the struggle through prayer. Paul wanted them to agonize just as much as he was, but in prayer! When was the last time we did that? Have we ever agonized in prayer? Real prayer is work; it’s a labor, sometimes it’s a pain! Lazy or indifferent Christians don’t know how to pray.

It’s painful to approach God in complete humility and honesty. Earlier we discovered that we must confess our sins before we pray so God will hear us. This is painful! It can be embarrassing. Joshua found this out the hard way. After he and his army were defeated at Ai, Joshua went before God and prayed, but he prayed with the completely wrong attitude. Look at how God responded to him:

The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.” (Joshua 7:10, 11)

Joshua would have wise to just be honest and humble before God. There is no need to fear what God thinks of you; He knows you better than you know yourself. God is a loving heavenly Father who knows you are an imperfect sinner HE saved by HIS grace. So don’t pray like Joshua did! Just be open, be honest, be candid and be relaxed in His presence. And never, ever forget this most important verse:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1)

Personal

Considering what was at stake, it’s remarkable that Daniel hold a great big prayer meeting and invite all of his Jewish friends to join him! Daniel’s prayer was personal and it was private. Even though it was an intensely private, personal prayer, Daniel prayed on behalf of all his people.

Daniel wasn’t the only character in the Bible who loved to pray personally and privately. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to pray by Himself. Jesus often prayed with small groups, like His disciples, but we never see Him leading in a corporate prayer. Not that there is anything wrong with public, corporate prayer. Preachers do it all the time. But public prayer is nothing like private prayer. Public prayers tend to more formal and short. Praying in private should be very personal and seldom brief.

Powerful

Lastly, Daniel’s prayer was powerful. His prayer reached into the highest heavens. Today, astronomers can see into the depths of the solar system and beyond thanks to technology. We have taken pictures of other planets and other galaxies that are so far away that even if it were possible to travel at the speed of light, it would take centuries to reach the closest one! And yet prayer is so powerful it can penetrate into heaven.

The power of prayer is beyond man’s ability to understand it because the real power of prayer does not reside in man himself. The Holy Spirit is who empowers every word of properly prayed prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who enables you to pray according to God’s will:

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

In order for prayer to be 100% effective 100% of the time, it has to be prayed in the Spirit; it has to be supernatural. True prayer occurs when the believer yields himself to the Holy Spirit and allows the Spirit to talk to God the Father through him.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

We must learn to pray like that!  It takes work and it takes effort.  But that investment of time and energy pays incredible dividends!  If we can pray as Daniel prayed, our prayers will get results; we will witness God’s will coming to pass.  In fact, we will be participants in the fulfilment of God’s will!

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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