Today is the last sermon in the series on the Book of Daniel. We’ve learned a lot from Daniel over the past eight weeks. Daniel has one more amazing lesson to teach us and that is: how to pray the kind of prayer God will answer. Toward the end of his life, Daniel was going through a major crisis. I hope no one here today is going through a major crisis, but if you are you’ll want to pay close attention to what Daniel teaches us when it comes to how to pray the kind of prayer God answers. If you aren’t going through a crisis right now, someday you will because life is full of ups and downs. So please take note of these SIX STEPS to THE KIND OF PRAYER GOD ANSWERS.
STEP ONE is to LET GOD SPEAK BEFORE YOU SPEAK TO HIM. This is the listening phase. Before you start to pray, listen to what God wants to say to you. Why? Because God is always the initiator of our conversations. God always makes the first move in our lives. He reaches out to us before we reach out to him. What we do is always in response to what God has already done. God never expects you to make the first move. The Bible is very clear about this. It says, “We love because He first loved us.” (1st John 4:19) If you love God, it’s because God first loved you. Long before you knew you had a problem with sin, God knew you had a problem with sin and he sent Jesus Christ into the world to die on the cross for your sins. Gad’s words are recorded for us in the Bible. It’s a book about God and what God wants us to know about him and about us. It contains literally thousands and thousands of promises. Those promises are written there for us to claim as we pray. Those promises teach us how to pray, what to pray for. Before we pray, we need to read God’s word and listen for a promise we can claim to help us get through our crisis. We have to first listen to God before we ask him to listen to us.
Before Daniel prays, he studies God’s Word. Listen to what he writes in the 9th chapter of the book of Daniel, “It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede who was made king of the Babylonians [by Cyrus the Great]. During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, was studying the Scriptures. I learned from the Word of the Lord, as recorded by Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years.” (Daniel 9:1-2) Circle the phrase on your outline that says, “…I, Daniel, was studying the Scriptures.” That’s the first step in learning how to pray the kind of prayer God answers. You will never pray effectively until you study the Bible. And the more you know God’s Word, the more effective your prayers are going to be. The more you study the Scriptures, the more answered prayers you’ll receive.
Jesus makes this same point when he says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) All the promises we find in the Bible, they’re like blank checks waiting to be claimed. We just need to stay connected to Jesus and we do that through His teachings. His teachings connect us to Him. If you break that connection by ignoring His teachings, you won’t know how to pray effectively. You have to stay connected to Him. The best thing you can do to increase the effectiveness of your prayers is to spend time in God’s word each day. Let him speak before you try to speak to him.
Here’s Daniel, he’s 85 years old, and he’s in a crisis over whether he will ever make it home to Jerusalem before he dies. He starts studying God’s word as recorded by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is one of Daniel’s contemporaries—both prophets living at the same time but not in the same place. When the Babylonians crushed Israel, Daniel was taken captive to Babylon and Jeremiah was left behind in a city stripped of all its wealth and strength, its young men captured and taken as prisoners of war, its walls completely broken down, its temple completely destroyed. God told Jeremiah it would remain that way for seventy years. No wonder Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet.” He had to look at all that every day.
Daniel studies Jeremiah’s book and in it he sees something that gives him hope. He sees a promise to claim. This is what he reads, “God says this to you: ‘You will be kept in Babylon for 70 years. But then I will keep my gracious promise to bring you back to your home again. For I know the plans I have for you’ says the Lord. ‘I have good plans for you, not plans for your disaster. My plans will give you hope and a future. In those days when you pray, I will listen.’” (Jeremiah 29:10-12) What in particular gives Daniel hope is the part that says, “In those days when you pray, I will listen.”
Daniel does the math, and he realizes he’s been captive for 70 years! For 70 years he’s been praying to go home and God hasn’t been listening to that prayer. Now he reads in Jeremiah’s book the promise of God that when 70 years have passed, He will be willing to listen to the prayers of his people and return them to Jerusalem. God’s timing must always be factored in when we seek answers to our prayers. He will do what he will do in his time. GOD’S TIMING PLUS OUR PRAYING EQUALS ANSWERED PRAYERS. Our part is to keep praying. The Bible says, “You do not have what you need, because you do not ask God for it!” (James 4:2) We can miss out on a lot of blessings simply because we don’t ask. Letting God speak to us before we speak to him is the first step.
STEP TWO in praying the kind of prayer God answers is to GIVE GOD YOUR FOCUSED ATTENTION. Daniel says, “So I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him….” (Daniel 9:3a ESV) That’s how God knows you’re serious about praying, when you give him your focused attention. The New American Standard version says, “So I gave my attention to the Lord to seek him by prayer….” (Daniel 9:3a NAS) God wants us to seek him. He promises that if we seek him with our whole heart we will find him. He wants our full attention, our focused attention.
When my children were little, it wasn’t always easy for them to get my focused attention. They would try to say something to me but they knew that if I wasn’t looking at them, I wasn’t completely listening to them. They would take my face in their little hands and turn it so I was looking into their eyes whenever they needed to tell me something important. Now I watch my grandson do a similar thing. He says to his mother, “Mommy, talk to my eyes.” Only then does he trust that she is really listening to him.
There is no greater thing you can give someone than your focused attention. Your attention is your time and your time is your life. You can always make more money but you can’t make more time. You are allotted only so much time in this world, so when you give someone your time—your focused attention, you are giving them yourself and there is no greater way to say I love you. Not flowers. Not chocolates. Not money. Nothing comes close to the gift of your full attention. Through the prophet Amos, God says, “Seek me and you will live!” (Amos 5:4) That’s a promise from God that when you seek after him, when you focus on him, you will truly find life. You won’t just exist. You’ll be fully alive. You will find such fulfillment and meaning. Ravi Zacharias says, “Jesus doesn’t make bad people better. He makes dead people alive!” The Bible is very clear: we are dead in our sins and trespasses. God told Adam and Eve, “If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die.” We have all inherited that death. But when we seek God, we are made alive!
In Proverbs, God says, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me will find me!” (Proverbs 8:27) That’s a promise from God. Here’s another one. “God rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) That’s talking about giving God your focused attention. Jesus talks about the importance of seeking Him when he says, “Seek first God’s kingdom, before everything else, and all the other things you need will be given to you.” (Luke 12:31)
Seeking God is something you have to decide to do. God will not force you to seek him. He will not impose himself on you. When God’s people refuse to seek him, this is what he says, “I will return to my place on high and wait until they acknowledge their offenses, and feel their guilt, and seek my face; then in their troubles and distress they will earnestly seek me, saying, ‘Let us return to the Lord so that he may heal us.’” (Hosea 5:15-6:1) God will distance himself from us. He will wait us out. He will wait until we seek him, until we acknowledging our sins and feel our guilt. He will wait until we cry out to him for healing.
STEP THREE in praying the kind of prayer God answers is to POUR OUT YOUR HEART TO GOD. That’s the crying out to God for healing. Let God know how you feel. Let God know what you’re going through, how much you hurt. Let him know what you want him to do for you. Don’t hold back your emotions. You have emotions because God has emotions. He created you in his image with emotions. Pour them out to God. He already knows what’s in your heart so there’s no need to hide your true feelings from him. He’s not going to get upset. You’re not going to hurt his feelings. He can handle it. Be genuine with God. Let him know how you really feel. Daniel says, “I began pleading with God earnestly in prayer….” (Daniel 9:3b) Then he says, “I poured out my heart, baring my soul to God….” (Daniel 9:4a) Have you ever prayed like that? Baring your soul to God. That’s how authentic Christians pray when their hearts are broken and they need God to hear them. That’s what Daniel was experiencing when he cried out to God, pleading with God to let the captives go home to Jerusalem so they could begin to restore their sacred city.
Jeremiah wrote about what would happen once the seventy years was up. He said, “Then my people will join together in tears to seek the Lord. And they will ask the way to Jerusalem and they will start back home again.” (Jeremiah 50:4b-5a) Daniel saw the promise in this verse. He saw the promise to a people who would join together in tears to seek the Lord, a people who are willing to ask the way back home and start walking, working their way back to their homeland, to where they belong. Some of us need to pray like that because we’re not where we should be in our faith. We’ve been taken captive by people who serve a foreign god. Maybe you need to pray like that for someone in your family who has been taken captive by affluence, greed, idolatry, drugs, alcohol. Any of those things can take a person away from where God wants them to be and the plan God has for their life. We need to pray like that for our nation for we have been taken away fromWhen people join together in tears to pray, that gets God’s attention. We all need to be praying for our nation for we have strayed from our spiritual and moral foundation.
STEP FOUR in praying the kind of prayer God answers is to SHOW GOD THAT YOU ARE SERIOUS. Demonstrate to him that you are serious about what you’re asking. How do we do that? For Daniel, that meant doing three things. Listen to what he did next after pouring out his heart to God, “And I started fasting and went without food. To show my sadness I put on sack cloth and sat in ashes.” (Daniel 9:3c) Abstaining from food for a time is a spiritual discipline we can use to let God know we are serious about what we’ve asked. Dressing in sack cloth, which was something like burlap, and sitting in a pit of ashes was something done all throughout the Middle East and the Orient in Old Testament times, but not something we do in our modern culture. It was a sign of intense grief and sadness. We don’t do that anymore, but we do fast. When you think about it, most of us don’t feel like eating when we’re really upset. Our bodies are telling us that we need to abstain from eating and begin praying. Fasting signals to God that we are serious and need his help. Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments. The Israelites fasted before they went into battle. Daniel fasted when he sought guidance from God and answered prayer. Nehemiah fasted before he began the major rebuilding of Jerusalem. Jesus fasted before squaring off with Satan. The early Christians fasted during times of decision making. Fasting is a way of showing God we are serious about what we are asking him to do. We can also show God we’re serious by continuing to pray, being persistent in prayer, not letting up until God answers us.
STEP FIVE in praying the kind of prayer God answers is to ACKNOWLEDGE GOD’S GREATNESS AND LOVE. Daniel says, “Then I said, ‘Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your promises of constant love to those who love you and keep your commands.’” (Daniel 9:4) Daniel was worshiping God and he was remembering that God is all powerful and his love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on those who love God. Daniel says, “Even though we have rebelled against you, you Lord are merciful and forgiving.” (Daniel 9:9) Daniel knew his people were no less rebellious toward God than the day they were first brought to Babylon, but he also knew his God was merciful and forgiving God. That leads to the last step.
STEP SIX is to HUMBLY CONFESS YOUR SIN; both PERSONAL AND COMMUNAL. We see this with the prophet Isaiah when he came face to face with God in the holy of holies, and he cried out, “Woe is me for I am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) Isaiah humbled himself before the Lord and cried out in confession of his own guilt and the guilt of all the people around him. It’s not just me, Lord, it’s all of us, every last one of us that needs your mercy and forgiveness. He humbled himself before the Lord. So did Daniel and so must we. The Bible says, “God resists the proud but he gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
So Daniel humbly confesses, “We have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and ignored your commands and rejected your laws! We have refused to listen to your servants, the prophets….” (Daniel 9:5-6) “We have brought disgrace and shame on ourselves… because we have been unfaithful to you. This is true of all of us, including our kings, leaders, and parents.” (Daniel 9:7-8) “We paid no attention to you when you told us how to live, the clear teaching that came through your prophets.” (Daniel 9:10 MES) “We kept on sinning, never giving you a second thought, oblivious to your clear warnings. So you had no choice but to let disaster loose on us since we persistently and defiantly ignored you.” (Daniel 9:13-14) Daniel pleads, “O God, listen to me and hear my request… We do not ask because we deserve help, but because you are so merciful.” (Daniel 9:18) Then he tells us, “While I kept on praying and confessing my sin and the sins of my people, and pleading with the Lord, suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared in my vision and said, ‘Daniel, I have been sent to help you understand God’s plan. The moment you began praying, an answer was given, and I am here to tell it to you, for God loves you very much.’” (Daniel 9:20-23a)
Friends, please know that God loves you very much. He wants to answer your prayers. You may think you are waiting on God for an answer to your prayer, but God is waiting on you to humble yourself before him and turn away from sin, before he can answer your prayer. The Bible says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2nd Chronical 7:14)