Drawing the Attention of the Prayer-Answering God

Over the years and from various places, I have heard of a nineteenth century pastor, Alexander Whyte.  He is notorious for having a standing order with his bookseller for commentaries on the Book of Romans.  Whenever a new one would come in, the bookseller would set one aside for him. Once he received it, he would immediately turn to Romans 7:14–25 to see whether the author agreed with him on the interpretation of the passage.  If not, the commentary was rejected and sent back.  Think about that: an entire book—years of scholarship—dismissed because of a few verses.

For some, Daniel 9:20-27 is such a passage.  What one does with the Seventy Weeks can be a deciding point for a commentary, or even an entire ministry.  But this is wrong-headed for two reasons.  First, no one passage of Scripture can bear that kind of weight.  Secondly, to do that actually misses the amazing message of this chapter. For in the final verses of Daniel 9 we have a passage that sheds light into the way God would end the exile for his people Israel.  It comes in answer to Daniel’s prayer, but the answer is far more than he expected.

Moreover, we receive encouragement to pray. When we pray, someone is listening.  Our prayers aren’t vain words, bouncing off the ceiling as quick as we lift them up.  On the contrary, there is a God who hears our prayers and answers them. But the Bible makes clear that God is not always pleased with those praying. Sin can hinder our prayers. In contrast, Daniel recounts:

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.  At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

God was quick to answer Daniel’s prayer. Gabriel says that even at “the beginning of your pleas for mercy” an answer was prepared (9:23).  So, what kind of person was Daniel that God was so willing to answer him?  We have to begin answering this question by observing that when the angel Gabriel arrives he says that he comes with an answer to Daniel’s prayer because he is “greatly loved” (9:23).  What a thing to be told!  Can you imagine an angel coming to you, saying such a thing?  Daniel was loved because his life was so God-centered.

Consider when we’re told Daniel was praying. He says, “while I was speaking in prayer . . . at the time of the evening sacrifice” (9:21).  That may seem like a throwaway line.  But don’t pass over it too quickly.  If you’ve been reading Daniel up to this point, that should cause you to mentally hit the brakes. Remember that there are no evening sacrifices at this point.  There is no temple.  It’s all been long stopped with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, seventy years ago.   But notice how Daniel lives his life—he’s still living before God according to the spiritual rhythms given to Israel.  His heart is still set and his life is still lived by the sacrifices of the temple.  His thoughts and intentions are bound up with God’s covenant purposes for his people.  He is living a Godward life.  As Sinclair Ferguson says, “Daniel was loved in heaven because he lived for God.”[i]

It’s no surprise then to hear that Daniel is “greatly loved” in heaven (9:23).  But does that make you rejoice or does it make you squirm a little?  Do you feel joy for Daniel or a little worried that something like that may not be said of you?  You may think that God feels that way about everyone. And, on one level, you would be right.  There is a sense in which God loves all of his people, all of his elect—called according to his gracious purposes—in the same way.

In fact, he loved to such an extent that one can scarcely take it in.  Though in open rebellion against our Creator and King, God gives his people salvation instead of judgment.  Though our sin is abhorrent and offensive God in ways we will never understand because he, at the very core of his nature, transcendently holy and without sin; he shows us mercy.  Paul says it is a great love with which God loved us and sent his own Son—Jesus Christ—to die in our place (Eph 2:4; Rom 5:8).  God’s love extends towards us who deserve judgment so that Christ receive the stroke for us. He drinks down death like water, feeling the fullness of God’s wrath, so that we might taste the waters of everlasting life.  That is the level of love that God shows for his people.  In that way, God loves all of us the same.

But God is not monolithic in his love any more than we are.  And the Bible tells us that beyond our adoption as his children, experiencing his saving love equally, there are those in whom God takes special delight.  We see this all the way back in Genesis 5. There we see a man named Enoch who walked so closely with God, who lived on such intimate terms with God, that God simply took him home.  Unlike everyone else who lived for so many years then died, God simply says to Enoch, ‘Just come home with me.  Let’s not bother with the grave.  Just come and enjoy the glory of my presence.’  And he’s there.

Furthermore, we are told in the Bible, that though we are loved by God in Christ, that there are ways to hinder or damage the relationship we have with God because of our ongoing sin.  This doesn’t impede on the love he has for in Christ, but in the loving fellowship he has for us as he relates to us as Father and son.  So, in Ephesians 4, Paul can say, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30).  That is, as the child of God, do not cause God to be sorrowed by your open and ongoing life of sin.  Jude is even more direct as he closes his letter telling the Christians, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (21).

So, how are to cultivate the kind of life Daniel had before God?  How do we cultivate the love he had for God and therefore, God had for him?  A life of love that is built upon the foundational, saving love of God in Christ?  It’s actually Christ who tells us how.  In John 14, he says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. . . .  If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:21, 23).

It’s on this basis that Jesus can then promise the disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. . . . Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).  Why will give us whatever we ask for?  Because our love for God and obedience to commands will lead us to pray in Jesus’ name—that is, pray in a way that reflects a desire for his will to be done and for his glory to be magnified from our own lives to the ends of the earth.  When we pray that way, God will always answer our prayers.

So, when at the end of James’s letter, we read: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16), though Elijah is mentioned, we should also think of Daniel. He was a righteous person whose prayer had great power before God.  Yet, we should also remember that Daniel was man just like us.  There is nothing to prevent us from setting our face towards God, even today; and calling out to him for grace to love him more deeply and consistently, for mercy and a fresh filling of his Spirit so that we can believe and keep his commands, so that we might be mighty and prayer and have it said of us in heaven, “you are greatly loved.”

That is the person who draws the attention of a prayer-answering God.

________

[i] Sinclair Ferguson, Daniel, Communicator’s Commentary, vol. 21 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 184.

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