As you probably know, every year I invite a group of Redlanders to join me in reading through the Chronological Bible. This year is the largest group I’ve ever had. There are 28 of us. One of the things I enjoy about our group is the questions that are shared among group members. This year we’ve wrestled with some great ones. Here’s a few examples:
- Where did Cain get his wife?
- When did Lot realize his grandsons were actually his sons?
- What’s all this about Abraham having a second wife named Ketura?
- Did Rebekah tell Isaac what God told her with Jacob and Esau were born? Did she tell her husband that “the elder would serve the younger?”
I have to point out that it’s a good thing to ask questions like these. In fact, Jesus encourages us to do so. As I said last week, our Lord told us to “ask.” He told us to “seek” the answers to life’s dilemmas. So—questions can be a good thing. After all, we can’t find the answers—we can’t learn—unless we ask.
One area where people tend to have a lot of questions concerns our focus for these first six weeks of 2017—PRAYER. For example, some ask:
- Do I have to get on my knees or close my eyes to pray?
The answer to this one is “NO.” When we look to the Bible, we find that God’s people engage in a variety of positions when they pray. There is no Biblical REQUIRED position for prayer. But, certain postures—like kneeling—can be useful aids for prayer since they help us to express reverence and humility when we encounter God.
Here’s another common prayer question:
- Are we required to pray?— Yes, Scripture commands that we pray. (1st Samuel 12:23; 1st Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:1).
I like what Tim Keller says about this one. “To fail to pray is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God.”
A third question people ask is:
- Should we pray, to the Father, to the Son, or to the Holy Spirit?— The answer is—are you ready for it? YES!
All prayer should be directed to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that we can pray to ONE or ALL THREE, because all three ARE one. I mean, prayer to one member of the Trinity is prayer to all. My preference is to pray to our Heavenly Father—our ABBA—just saying. Now—to give a complete answer to this one I need to point out that in Scripture, we DO find examples of believers praying to the Father (Psalm 5:2) and to the Son (Acts 7:59). But we never see an instance in the Bible where anyone prays to the Holy Spirit. Why is that? Well, it’s because, according to John 15:26 the Holy Spirit does not bear witness of Himself, but to the Son. Nevertheless, because the Holy Spirit is God, we can pray to the Spirit directly.
Here’s another common prayer inquiry:
- Is it acceptable to repeatedly pray for the same thing?— Yes.
Here’s one more.
- What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?
This is a good one because in John 14:13-14 Jesus teaches us to pray in this way. Remember? He said: “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.” Now—to be clear—merely adding the words “in Jesus’ name” to our prayer has no special effect. I mean, Jesus is not giving us A MAGIC FORMULA that will force God to answer our prayers. No—praying in Jesus’s name means praying with the Son’s authority and asking God the Father to act upon our prayers because we come in the name of Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name means praying according to the will of God.
These are all great questions but the one I want to focus on today is—in my opinion—the most important question about prayer, namely:
- How disciplined should I be about prayer? Should I have a regular time and place to pray? Should I have a routine or is it better to be spontaneous?
And a great place to seek the answer to this one is in our text for today—Daniel chapter 6—the story of Daniel and the Lion’s den—or as Swindoll puts it, “The Lions in Daniel’s Den.” We don’t have time to read this chapter but open your Bibles there as we walk through it. This familiar story has all the elements of a popular movie: colorful characters, suspense, drama, tension, twist, a surprise ending. It’s got everything but sex. But hang with me anyway. And again, as I said last week, I’m relying on Bill Hybels’ comments on this series.
Daniel is about eighty-five in this 6th chapter and you of course remember when he was very young he was taken from Jerusalem to live in Babylon in service to the king. Daniel and some other college-age buddies were dragged off to a foreign land whose culture and customs were VERY different from those of his homeland. But Daniel refused to complain. He didn’t play the role of the victim. Instead he decided to lean deeply into his relationship with God. He decided to do what most of you attempt to do from Monday to Friday in the marketplace, which is to live out your faith in a wise, courageous, and winsome way—in a secular and often godless environment.
Daniel decided: “I’m not going to lay down; I’m going to stand up for my faith, I’m going to stand up for my God, I’m going to try to make the glory of my God known in this godless environment.” Many of you are like Daniel in that you go into the workplace—into this fallen world—with that mindset—and that’s wonderful! Well, Daniel willingly accepts every work assignment that comes his way. He does his absolute best at any assignment given to him because he wants to bring glory to his God. He works “as unto the Lord.” (Colossians 3:23)
Well, as time goes on, Daniel’s career takes a twist and he ends up in the political arena and the more governmental responsibility he’s given, the more he rises to the challenge. Working as unto the Lord WORKS because that’s the BEST work ethic to have—and when you work that way people notice. That happens for Daniel. He’s given promotion after promotion for decades. In terms of our governmental scale he has far exceeded GS-15!
Well in this 6th chapter of the book that bears his name—a new king has come into power. His name is Darius. Well, like Trump and Obama before him and Bush before HIM, Darius interviews all of the former administrative officials to see who he wants to bring onto his new team—his cabinet. Darius interviews Daniel and he is so impressed with the track record and his personnel file and his integrity—that he appoints him to one of the three most powerful positions in the entire national government. In fact, he secretly plans to put Daniel in charge of the entire government, as a sort of prime minister.
Now–at this point the story we see the first bit of TENSION because when Daniel is selected for one of these top three jobs—the other people he out-performed become jealous. And—understand—they weren’t just a little jealous. They were insanely so. Hybels says they were “Hate-the-ground-you-walk-on jealous.” I don’t know if any of you have ever gotten swept up into the whirlwinds of jealousy but if you have you know how powerful jealousy can be. People can do crazy things when they’re jealous. This week I read about a guy named Carl Ericsson. He’s a 73-year-old South Dakota man, who was sentenced to life in prison after admitting to the murder of a former high school classmate. Friends and family members were shocked that Ericsson, a successful insurance salesman seemed to snap. He had been happily married to his wife for over 44 years. But after the murder, Ericsson’s secret came out. You see, for over 50 years he had simmered with a belated grudge. He was still mad about a high school classmate who had once pulled a jock strap over his head during a locker room prank. Norman Johnson, the classmate and murder victim, was a star athlete on the track team. Ericsson was a student sports manager. According to Ericsson’s confession, when Johnson put that jock strap on his head, it humiliated him and planted the seed of resentment that would continue to grow for over half a century. Apparently, throughout their lives, Norman Johnson continued to outshine Ericsson. Prior to his murder, Johnson had competed in college football, earned a degree, and then taught and coached at his alma mater for more than three decades. Well, after holding the grudge for over 50 years, Carl Ericsson rang Johnson’s doorbell and shot him dead. Ericsson told a judge, “I guess it was from something that happened over 50 years ago. It was apparently in my subconscious.” During his sentencing, Ericsson turned to Johnson’s widow and apologized, saying, “I just wish I could turn the calendar back.” The words of Proverbs 27:4 come to mind where it warns: “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”
Jealousy can lead us to do terrible things—as it did for these former colleagues of Daniel. They decided they had to find a way to knock Daniel off his “high horse.” So—they tried to find charges against Daniel in how he has conducted his work in the government. They started digging—very confident they’ll find some payoff, some patronage scandal, some old-fashioned corruption. I mean, every government official has some dirty laundry somewhere, right? That’s the way it is in D.C.!
Well, the Bible says, “But they could find no corruption in DANIEL, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” (Daniel 6:4) I just love that. Wouldn’t that be awesome if that could be said about you! That’s what happens when you work as if God was your boss! Well, at this point, jealous officials got discouraged. In verse 5 they said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” So, an idea forms in their jealous depraved minds. They would look for a way to use Daniel’s faith against him. He had never kept his deep faith in God a secret. I’m reminded of a quote that comes in the form of a haunting question: “If you were indicted for being a Christ-follower would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That’s a good question for us each to consider—are we known for our faith as Daniel was? More about that later.
Well, Daniel’s colleagues had mountains of evidence that he was a person of faith—including his prayer practices. So, they presented a very strange proposal to the new king. As you can see, it’s recorded in verse 7. “We recommend, O King, that anyone who prays to any god or man other than you for the next thirty days shall be thrown into a den of lions.” Now, “Den of lions” is of course code for the death penalty. Of course they didn’t have electric chairs or gas chambers of lethal injections back then. So—every King kept a den full of hungry lions for exactly this purpose. Well, Darius thinks it over, and he loves the idea. He likes the idea of being seen as a god. So he signs it.
Do any of you remember the VERY old TV show called “Queen for a Day?” This was like that but Darius would be called, “God for a month.” Well, Daniel’s colleagues know the exact place and time of day when Daniel prays. He always prays three times a day, facing Jerusalem, on the second level of his home where there are plenty of open windows to create a breeze in the Middle Eastern heat. The whole city had seen Daniel do this. Year after year, decade after decade. Daniel is KNOWN as a man of prayer. He’s been living out his faith for 85 years now.
So these guys wait outside Daniel’s window. I think of it as sort of a “prayer stake out.” Perhaps his enemies were crammed into a hotel room across the street from Daniel’s townhouse—with binoculars focused on his window/balcony. They had walkie-talkies so they could communicate with agents they had stationed outside Daniel’s door. When he begins to pray they let the agents know and they break the door down shouting, “Freeze! Drop your prayer book and keep your hands where we can see them!” I know that’s a stretch—but not too much of one.
In any case, another thing we need to know is that someone apparently tipped Daniel off about this new law and its intent, so they take Daniel off to the side and they go: “Daniel, whatever you do, don’t pray at your house the usual times and the usual way. You’ve been set up. The king is going to have to enforce this stupid law because they put it in writing and he signed it just a few hours ago. So Daniel, don’t pray like you usually pray. Please.” Well, Daniel, thinks through his options.
- He could skip prayer time for the next thirty days.
God will surely understand, because God would want him to live a long life and have greater influence, right? Why not just skip praying for thirty days—until the legislation runs out. You and I both know Daniel could pray as he walks around the streets. As I said earlier, there is no REQUIRED prayer position. So he could pray to himself. I mean, who’s going to know if he’s praying? We do this kind of thing all the time, right? I do it in meetings. I’m listening with one ear, and I’m praying to God and listening for his guidance in the other ear. We CAN all pray on the fly. Daniel could have made that decision.
- Or Daniel could have decided to lay downstairs on a couch and pretend he’s napping and do his prayer from there.
After all, he’s 85. No one will think it odd for an old man like him to take three naps a day. The point I’m making is that Daniel had options. Well, you can see he didn’t take them. Look at verse 10: “Daniel went home to his upstairs room where the windows were open toward Jerusalem—again, no doubt so the breeze could blow through—and he got down on his knees and he prayed just as he had always done before.” Daniel knew they were watching. He knew about the legislation. He knew the consequences. But he continued with his regular routine—as if to say to all of these insanely jealous sinister colleagues of his: “You’re going to have to feed me to the lions. That’s what you’re going to have to do.”
And you don’t have to look at your Bibles because we all know what happens next. These guys run to the king. They tell him what Daniel had done. And verse 14 says that when the king learned he had been tricked and duped by these jealous colleagues of Daniel he was, “…greatly distressed; he determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.”
I have to point out that this shows the silly “God for a month” title wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on because being a “god” is not worth much unless you can do what you want to do. And the king can’t so he felt terrible. He feels trapped. He loved Daniel. He admired his integrity. I mean, Daniel is the guy Darius wanted to promote to the prime minister role just a few days into the future. Darius knows that Daniel is not like anyone he has ever met in his government. H’s the highest-integrity, hardest working, smartest, most trustworthy leader he had ever known—and he’s going to wind up being fed to the lions because of this stupid law and his outsized ego. The king is filled with self-reproach. So, he meets with Daniel just before he’s going to be thrown into the lion pit and he says these remarkable words to Daniel: “May your God, Whom you serve continually…” We’ve seen it your whole life, Daniel. “May your God, Whom you serve continually, rescue you (Daniel 6:16).” Isn’t that an amazing statement! Darius is saying, “Daniel, we have seen your faith. We know you worship your God even though you are in the vast minority when you do so. You’ve had no support from anybody. You stood up for your faith and for your God against all this resistance and ridicule, decade after decade after decade. We respect you, Daniel. We respect you far more than you know. And we’re pulling for you, and we’re hoping that your God will rescue you.”
And once again, we all know what happens next. Daniel is lowered into the den of dozens of starving lions. And the Scripture says that God heard his prayer in verse 11 and sent an angel. This angel’s job description was to keep the mouths of the lions shut.
Well, King Darius doesn’t sleep all night. He gets up very early in the morning and he runs to the lions’ den to see if there’s anything left of Daniel—to see if Daniel’s God rescued him. And lo and behold, not only is Daniel still alive, but as verse 23 says: “When Daniel was lifted out of the pit, there was no wound found on him.” I love that detail: there wasn’t a scratch. There wasn’t a rash. There were no bruises. Nothing—because God had answered Daniel’s prayer. This is proof that as James 5:16 says, “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much!” Now—don’t look at your Bibles. How many of you remember what happens right Daniel gets pulled out of the lions’ den?
Two things happen. The first isn’t very pretty—kids should not look; the second is beautiful. Kids can look. Here’s the first thing. The king is angry at the jealous colleagues who hatched this whole vindictive plan, and he throws all of them and their families into the same lions’ den. Verse 24 says, “before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.” Not a pretty picture—but the consequences of sin never are! Then the king does this beautiful—WONDERFUL—thing. He drafts a letter and has it circulated throughout the entire kingdom, commending Daniel—and, more importantly, commending Daniel’s God to the whole nation. Look at verses 26 and 27 where it says: “Daniel’s God is the living God. He endures forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and saves; he performs signs and wonders. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Understand. What the king is saying is, “We’ve never seen a power like this. Everyone we throw into a lions’ den gets eaten. Here’s someone standing up for his faith and his God rescues him. We’ve never seen anything like this before. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
The king says, “Everyone should worship Daniel’s God. All this stuff about you saying prayers to me—bad idea. Stop it. Don’t bother praying to me. Pray to Daniel’s God. Serve Daniel’s God. Give your life to Daniel’s God.” Okay—two quick observations. What can this story about a prayer warrior named Daniel teach us about?
(1) We should have a regular routine of prayer—a time and place.
I mean the answer to that last prayer question I cited seven pages ago is “YES.” We need to have a regular time and place to talk with God. I’m not saying we can’t pray on the fly—of course not. We can and should pray without ceasing. Our days should be a non-stop conversation with our Heavenly Father. This on the fly kind of prayer is great because it enables us to literally walk through our days with God. But I think it is ALSO important to have a time and a place to talk alone—undistracted with God. I think this is what Jesus was referring to when he said in Matthew 6:6, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door. Pray to your Father, Who is in Heaven.” The idea here is that certain kinds of prayer are best prayed in private in a specific room where you can focus and not be rushed or be susceptible to outside distractions. Certain kinds of prayer require focused concentration, meaningful adoration of God, sensitive confession of sin. I mean, if you don’t have a regular time and place where you pray each day, then when you commit some form of wrongdoing, you’ll probably pray something like this. “Whoops! How out of character for me. Sorry about that.” And then you’ll keep going.
Do you get my point? Confessing on the fly makes it hard for our sin to register as a true disappointment. It’s more of an “oops” than an “Oh No! What have I done!” So—we need to stop and sit down and think: “Wait a minute. Why? Why did I say that? How could I have hurt that person the way I did? How could I have told that exaggeration or lie? What’s happening to me? Forgive me God. Help me to change. Help me to turn from this kind of behavior.” To TRULLY benefit from confession of sin, we need to stop and process what we’ve done.
The same is true when it comes to making serious decisions. I can’t talk to God about that while I’m running through my day hurriedly trying to complete my to do list. No—I need to get alone with God so I can hear His still, small voice. You know, every Sunday morning I do the exact same thing. I set the alarm for about 6:15. I stumble to the coffee pot and pour myself a large bubble mug full of Joe—no cream or sugar. Then I take my mug in one hand and laptop in the other and I head for the leather chair in our living room. Then for the next 90 minutes I talk to God about the sermon I’m about to deliver. We go through it together. It’s a precious time for me. Sue is still asleep. It’s just me and God in the living room. I couldn’t preach without that regular time alone with God. I need it. I would go so far as to say I’m desperate for it. The same is true of my Chronological Bible Reading. I REQUIRE that for my day to go right. I NEED God’s Word—I need His guidance or I’m a mess.
And—I think it is VERY important for every believer to have a daily routine—a place—a time when we talk to God. We need this because we are SO easily distracted. Hybels says that he needs more than to be alone—he has to WRITE OUT his prayers to keep from being distracted.
By the way recent study of 2,000 consumers conducted by Microsoft discovered some interesting things. The first is that the average human attention span has gone down. In 2000 it was 12 seconds, but now people generally lose concentration after eight seconds. This is no doubt due to our constant bombardment of stimuli—digital—high-definition—fast moving. As a comparison, scientists say a goldfish has a 9-second attention span—humbling isn’t it! Now—this sermon illustration just took 29 seconds. Who stayed with me the entire time? GOOD FOR YOU! You beat the goldfish for once!
In any case, Daniel realized early on in his life of captivity that if he was going to live out his faith in that secular environment—he was going to have to get connected with God in a powerful way. He saw that if he was going to excel in his work—he would need supernatural strength, supernatural wisdom and guidance and courage. He saw that the only way he’s going to glorify God in a godless land was to commune with God in a way that really works. Maybe Daniel started his prayer routine with a once-a-day deal and he realized that wasn’t enough. He tried that but began running out of gas by noon. So, then he went to twice a day but with all his required nightly meetings he learned he needed to go to three times a day. Who knows, maybe he went up to five times a day and found out that that was overkill or unsustainable because of his schedule.
But the point I’m making is this: Daniel apparently experimented with the appropriate times and places and rhythms of prayer—and he found this time and this place and this rhythm that really worked for him. It gave him the deep connection with God that he wanted and needed. It gave him the power and the courage to do what he needed to do at work. And when he found this practice that worked for him, he put it into his schedule. It was on the ancient version of a google calendar. He stuck to this practice to the point that the whole town knew his routine. They could set their clocks by it. “Let’s see, Daniel’s praying—must be lunchtime!”
More importantly, these routines became so precious and so pivotal to Daniel that when he was threatened by death—he just looked his detractors in the eye and said: “You’re going to have to feed me to the lions. I’m not changing these practices. These practices made me who I am. So, if you think I’m just going to break them willy-nilly–No. No. Feed me to the lions. My time alone with God IS my life.”
You know, the great champions of the faith—the Christians who have truly soared—always pray like Daniel did. They have this regular time and place to commune with God. And—don’t misunderstand. They don’t do this out of LEGALISM. They do it out of DESPERATION. They rely on these practices for the communion they need with God and for the power they need from God. They know how quickly they lose their connection with God if they stop doing these practices. They know when they lose that connection their lives “deflate” like a moonbounce when you pull the plug. So, they practice their prayer routines with passionate regularity. No one has a gun to their heads; they just do it.
Now—I know some of you right now are wondering if you have the discipline to do that. And I gotta say—I think that’s the wrong question. The question is not can you work up the discipline; the better question is, “Do you have the desperation that Daniel had? Are your spiritual sights high enough? Are you desperate enough to experiment with whatever prayer routines are necessary—so that you commune with God and derive strength from Him that you need to live for Christ in your little realm of influence? Do you pray enough to do what God calls you to do?
Hybels writes, “Desperation drives discipline. When you’re hungry to see God work in your life,when you’re hungry to see God work through your life—and achieve His purposes in a godless society, that hunger will provide more than ample incentive for you to stick with a prayer practice. You’ll stick with it because you want to, because you need to, because your whole source of power relies on those practices.” So—-how hungry are you these days for God to use your life? How high are your spiritual sights set these days? How hungry are you for a time with God?
Here’s one more observation.
(2) God uses our regular routines of prayer to mold us into the kind of people who draw lost people to Him.
Think of it. Darius knew Daniel followed God. He knew he prayed three times a day. He knew he lived out his faith. So, when Daniel was pulled out of the lions’ den without a scratch—the king knew it was because of God. That had never happened before. This is why he uttered his proclamation calling for everyone to pray to the God of Daniel. Prayer made Daniel into the kind of person that pointed this pagan king to God. It will do the same for us. Don’t you want to be that kind of person? The kind of person who points people to God? You know, sadly, too many Christians are minimalists. They think, “What’s the minimum amount I can be devoted to God and still live my life the way I want? What’s the minimum amount of time I can devote to His church? What’s the minimum amount I can tithe?” Wouldn’t it be better if all of us were asking: “What is the maximum amount of glory I can bring to God between this day and my final day? What is the maximum amount of service I can render in His name? What is the maximum number of people I can touch and bless in my one and only life? What is the maximum I can do so that when I get to my final day, I can look back and be thankful for the God-sized things I did?”
Well, if you want to be able to make the change from minimum to maximum, then you’re going to pray differently. Like Daniel no doubt did, you’re going have to start experimenting. You’re going to have to figure out where and when and how often you need to be alone with God. Eventually you’ll find the pattern that fits—the prayer routine that allows you to connect closely with God. And when you feel that regular connection and you feel God’s power in your life on a consistent basis and you see the ways God is working in and through you, if someone comes up and says: “Hey, chill. You’re too serious about your faith. You don’t have to pray like that.” Well, you will say, “Feed me to the lions. I’m not giving up my prayer life. It’s what keeps me on course. It’s what keeps me empowered to do the amazing things God asks me to do.”
Think about this with me. What if all of us decided we were no longer going to ask the minimum questions. What would happen if our whole church would start saying: “What’s the maximum way I can give God glory between now and my final day? How do I need to change my prayer life so I can stay connected with God such that I can live for Him FULL-OUT until the day He calls me home?” What would happen if all of us prayed and lived like Daniel did?
Bow your heads with me.