The Challenge of Here & Now

One of the main ways to gain more readers is to blog frequently and consistently. I’m where_noweak in both areas. I desire to improve in these areas, but January added a new dimension in daily life; that is, I’m back in grad school, this time in a doctorate program. Yes, it’s my own decision to pursue this next level of study, and I do enjoy it; but WOW, does it take a lot of time. My normal blog writing time is now commandeered by paper-writing. Alas, somehow, I’ll figure out how to return to consistency!

In the meantime, however, I’ve been pondering the future; more specifically, my future. I’m not pursuing a doctorate degree for laughs and giggles, but because I have a dream of a second career. And even though I’ve blogged before about being a dreamer; I’m also realizing some significant drawbacks in always looking toward the future.

A first drawback is future-looking makes living in the present difficult. A portion of my mind is focusing on something else. This means that I’m not giving 100% attention to the here-and-now, I’m not fully living in the moment. Instead, what ever is going on or whom ever I’m talking with, is only getting partial attention. This means I am not fully present in the discussion and I miss details or fail to grasp the significance or gravity the situation poses for the other person.

In recognizing this propensity, I’ve been able to adapt new thought-behaviors. I’m intentionally reigning in my thinking so that I can better zero in on the moment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of the discipline of living in the moment is stilling my inner voice. Much of my internal thinking is verbal, so I need to quiet that inner verbosity so that I can focus on the external stimuli coming in from the outside. If the external stimuli run into the wall of inner verbosity, then that stimuli becomes diffused, losing much of its impact. But stilling the inner voice opens this wall like a curtain of a stage and the stimuli can stand on the stage of my mind unhindered.

A second noticeable drawback about future-looking is that, since the desired future is not here yet, discontentment can move in, clouding the skies of joy that God is intending for us. Such discontentment filters the present into nothing but tasks to accomplish, hurdles to leap, or moments to hurry through. Such filtering leads to the development of unrealistic expectations which eventually lead to disappointment. If left unmitigated, such thinking will lead to attempts at overcoming the disappointment by setting even loftier goals, eventually leading to more profound disappointment. It is a doom cycle of thinking that the more I do the better life will be. It is dehumanizing and perpetually self-defeating; devoid of any sense of God’s peace or contentment (see Philippians 4:4-7 and 11-13).

The antidote? Prayer and balanced thinking. God encourages us to bring our concerns to Him so that He then can bring peace into our souls. Alongside this is also realizing that balanced thinking is important. It is important to have dreams and goals; these give us reasons to keep on keeping on. They breed a desire to not settle but to continue to explore improvement.

But they must be balanced. Or to put it another way, we need to be more grounded in the reality of our present situation. I only have so much time in a day; so I need to carefully make room to be present in whatever situations come my way. I still have task lists, but they need to be somewhat flexible. If everything doesn’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow’s list. If someone needs my help now, then I need to recognize that they deserve me to be fully present; this is right thing to do, and I can always return to the other thing I was doing at a later time.

So, here’s to being content in the present moment!

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A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

Hard Lessons

We’ve had a good week. It’s definitely been busy; but at least it’s been a good-busy. It’s weird, though, because sometimes I feel guilty for having a good week when I realize there’s much suffering in other areas of our country. Granted, we’ve encountered our tough challenges as well the past few months with health issues and a pretty significant set-back in the parenting arena. But this last week was a good one.

What I’m learning, and you’d think I’d have this figured out by now, is that attitude and Perceptionperception play a lot of importance in having a good week. I have typically paid more attention to what I think someone else’s perceptions are rather than more carefully examining my own.

For instance, I recognized that challenges I encountered earlier in the year seemed more serious than they really were. So, I asked myself, why? Sadly, I discovered it was because I was perceiving these challenges as a personal attack or some intentional disparagement foisted in my direction.

In discussing this with my Bride she gently recalled the attitude of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable. He was all bent out of shape because his world revolved around himself. His sphere of perception was barely beyond his own ego. Now I don’t think I was this far gone, but I was not properly examining the motives of others around me; I was, instead, being more protective and self-concerned and therefore misunderstanding other people’s words and actions. Neither my life nor employment were being challenged, no crimes were being committed, I was just uncomfortable with some of the challenges and expectations confronting me and a little jealous of someone else’s situation.

Shameful, I know. God has really blessed me. Yes, I struggle with health issues, but each one can be dealt with and even though my activity levels have been adjusted, I’m still as active as I want to be; I just need to do my activities differently than I used to.

So what am I learning? Well, to have a realistic view of my own perceptions. Oddly, I don’t think this leads to being self-centered, I think it actually leads away from it; that is, if I’m honest. Under the scrutiny of brutal honesty, I am better able to detect where my perception is skewed toward self-centeredness or self-protectionism.

ThankfulAnother key feature I’m learning more about is thankfulness. Scripture encourages us to be thankful. Philippians 4:6-7 encourage us to bring our concerns to God in prayer but to do so with a thankful heart. We’re thankful because the God of the universe cares enough for us to listen and respond to our cares. He may not change circumstances, but He can deepen or sense of peace and joy while also enlightening our wisdom (James 1:5).

Another lesson is being more intentional about keeping Jesus the focus of my life. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, not on ourselves (Hebrews 12:2).

So, the next time I’m feeling stressed or somehow minimized, I need to stop and examine first what’s going on between my ears. Is my mental state appropriate? Is my perception of what’s going on what’s really going on—or am I fabricating a false perception because I’ve moved back into being the center of my universe? I’ll be able to more successfully navigate through this life once my mental state is on the right course and my perception is based on reality and not on fabrication.

What’s With all the Swirl?

Lots of swirl going on in the world: the seemingly quickened pace of natural disasters, heightened tensions in the US both inside and outside of our borders, the Revelation 12 sign; and even more personal issues like injuries, surgeries and now a raging cold! What’s it all mean?

All this stuff going on can fuel confusion or even fear. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light

Shellburg sun peaking

Shellburg Falls Trail near Mehama, OR

through all the jumble. But one thing I do know is that I belong to the Lord. Whenever the Lord calls me home, whether individually or in the Rapture, my ultimate destiny is with Jesus forevermore, amen! So, the challenge before me is do I live my life like I belong to Jesus? Am I doing the right things in my life? Do I need to do more stuff or less stuff or different stuff? Honestly, at this moment I just don’t know.

 

But this swirl has gotten me thinking more deeply about how my life reflects the Lord. Am I fully answering the call God has on my life or am I only partially answering the call; like I let it go into voicemail first so I can listen to it on my timing? Do I understand the urgency of the times as I should? Obviously, current events have me asking a lot of questions. These events also raise my awareness of how quickly it can all end.

It reminds of the time when Caleb and I were running a quick errand to a large hardware store. I was planning to be gone only 15 to 20 minutes—only we didn’t come home at all. And it happened so fast.

One moment I’m holding a bag of fertilizer and the next moment I wake up in the back of an ambulance, bloodied and confused. I’ve blogged about this before and eventually everything worked out; but the time lapse between my conscious thoughts was 40 to 45 minutes. Completely “out of blue” I was struck down, most likely from noxious fume inhalation, leaving my then 5½ year-old son yelling for someone to come “help my Daddy!” Thankfully, someone did come and help me, only I don’t remember it so I have no idea who the off-duty nurse was that kept me from swallowing my tongue. May God bless she and her family!

My point for bringing this up? I obviously didn’t plan this sort of departure. I planned to arrive at the store in my car, purchase three items as quickly as possible, then depart the store in my car and head back home to finish my chores before going on a date-night. But circumstances beyond me changed the course of my day, and to a degree, my life. Instantaneously I was out, totally unconscious and completely helpless; you know the song, “boom-boom, out go the lights!”

Who knows, maybe someday a similar event could be how I come into the presence of Jesus. If so, I have no idea when it will happen, therefore, how do I make my life count now before it happens?

That’s the question I’m wrestling with; perhaps you are too. It’s not like I’m not living for the Lord, but can I improve? What changes do I need to make? I just don’t know at this point, but I continue to lay the question before the Lord in prayer; in His timing, I will know.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
—Proverbs 3:5-6

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
—Jesus, Matthew 7:7

Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Lessons from a Fourth Grader

Just last week I was one of several parent chaperones on an over-night field trip to the Oregon 4th_grd_3Coast for third and fourth graders. I was also invited to share the devotional after dinner and before s’mores. I chose to teach Psalm 139:13-16. Verse 16 reads:

Your eyes saw my substance; being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

According to my research, the phrase “my substance” refers to an embryo; and “in Your book” connotes the idea that the life in the embryo is established, or purposed, by God. Therefore, I shared with the children that each life is intentionally purposed by God. And since each one of them was purposed by God while still unborn, they, each one of them, is significantly important to God.

How important? Important enough that when God came in the flesh in Jesus Christ, He sacrificed for them. But not only that, He then rose from the grave and ascended on high. And it doesn’t even stop there; ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit that all who place their faith in Jesus will receive salvation, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteeing them to be with Jesus for evermore, amen!

So, the main theme I wanted them to understand is that they are purposed by God and therefore vastly important to Him. No matter what anyone ever says about them or to them, they are a daughter or son of the Most High God and loved dearly by Him.

After teaching this I asked them how they felt about being so important to God. Many hands went up with many different and wonderful answers. But one little girl’s answer arrested my attention so much that I just stood looking at her.

“How do you feel about being so important to God,” I asked.

“Speechless.”  

I was left speechless; so was everyone else. What an apt description from someone so young.

I get so busy trying to understand what I can of God and then preparing to explain it so others can share in that understanding, that I often forget just how awesome God really is. What wonder God presents to us. What wonder His creation presents to us. And what wonder our very bodies present to us.

Speechless.

Perhaps speechlessness is the essence of worship. We are in such awe of God we can’t even find words.  Speechless, or silence, may be one of the main postures to assume as we desperately desire to hear from God. Could it be that our hearts are more open to God and His work in our lives if we are in a speechless state; when we are quiet and in a posture of reverent awe? Such a posture quiets our minds, preparing our souls for God to do His deepest work in the darkest parts of our souls.

Yes, fourth graders have a lot to teach us if we just listen to what they have to say. I’m speechless!

“Anxious for nothing…,” Seriously?!

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say either from the pulpit or in conversation that worrying is a sin. The word ‘sin’ in and of itself, simply means missing the mark; as in an archer missing the bullseye with the arrow shot from his bow. Theologically, it can be rendered as intentional behavior that is outside the will of God (that’s my definition, anyway). Worrying, or anxiety, the word used in Philippians 4:6, is defined as “anxious care” (Wuest), or “disquieting perplexing care … and distracting thought in the wants and difficulties of life” (Henry), or to have “anxious or distracting care” (Bullinger).

Any of these definitions work for me, especially the distracting part. In fact, for professional worriers, distracting could also be obsessing.  Descartes is credited with saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Somewhere in the long line of my lineage, some wannabe philosopher changed this a bit to say, “I think, therefore I worry.” Worrying is one of the primary threads sewn throughout the tapestry of my heritage. I’ve successfully taken distracting care into obsessing care; so much so that I’ve nearly suffered from panic attacks involving hyperventilating with a strong sense of paralysis. Maybe you can relate.

Worrying has taken a toll on my health and on my relationships. And now I’m being told that it’s a sin to boot. Now I’m worried about that.

But how do I stop? Well, let’s read Philippians 4:6-7 and then I’ll explain what I’m discovering works for me.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

As McGee points out, this passage starts with anxiety and ends with peace. But notice what’s in the middle—prayer. It’s interesting to note that the mood of the passage is present, active, imperative; this means that it is akin to a command and that it is an ever-present command. It’s not just a command to stop worrying, but it is also an ever-present antidote to the worrying. In other words, anxiety is always crouching and waiting to pounce on us; whether at work, or home or school or with the doctor, anxiety is an ever-present reality in this life of ours. But so is the antidote, prayer.

 

Hands

Yeah, they’re my hands, but you get the point!

When we feel anxious, Scripture encourages us to specifically pray about our anxiety and ask for God’s help with it (this is basically the essence of the word ‘supplication’). And we do so with thanksgiving; we’re thankful that God not only willingly listens to our prayer, He actually invites us to pray about it; He welcomes it into His presence. Think of it as an always open invitation from God to lift our cares, concerns, and worries up to Him.  I often think of placing the anxiety, whatever form it’s in, into His hands; then I pray that God will empower me to leave it there; to leave this anxiety in His hands and thereby lift it off of my shoulders and out of my guts and into His always open hands.

 

But just how is this operationalized; how is this put into action in everyday situations? It’s taken me years to figure this out, and I am not 100% anxiety-free by any stretch of the imagination; but here’s what I’ve been learning lately.

As we just explored, this passage of Scripture is active, present, imperative. Yeah, yeah, techy-speak, but what it means is that I can recite this section of Scripture as a prayer as often as I need to. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. When the anxiousness begins threatening me again, I lift the anxious thinking and the specific situation with a specific request to God. Rarely does the situation change, but my internal well-being changes. Slowly, and somewhat strangely, I start sensing God’s peace. I can’t really explain it, and perhaps that’s part of why God’s peace “surpasses understanding;” but the sense of peace is very real and has staying power. My thoughts become freer, I’m able to focus on the present more clearly and my heart slows its palpitations. This calmer state then enables the guarding of my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. This means that when I’m not distracted or filled with anxious thoughts, I am more capable through the indwelling Holy Spirit to keep more anxiety out of my thinking. The stronghold of worry in my life is slowly being uprooted as I spend more time in God’s peace through the ongoing prayer of supplication with thanksgiving.

But now back to the sin part. I don’t think my propensity toward worry or anxiety is sinful; what I think is sinful is refusing to acknowledge it as contrary to God’s will for my life and the subsequent refusal to partake of God’s antidote for it, prayer. But as I become more adept at recognizing the anxiety and quicker to lift it up to God in prayer, the less likely my propensity will turn to sin, and the happier and healthier my life will become.

Part 2: Daniel and Prayer

daniel_2Last week we explored several biblical characteristics just by exploring Daniel’s prayer life. These characteristics include deep knowledge of Scripture, avoidance of compromise, faithfulness that is expressed in the “sub-characteristics” of courage (heroism), commitment through perseverance in spite of cultural threats, thankfulness and obedience to live a life honorable to God.

We also see that, “[B]urdened for his countrymen, Daniel began to pray.”[1] His prayers were not self-centric but instead he prayed for his countrymen. I imagine that at times he prayed for himself, such as when he was placed in the lions’ den, but the focus of Daniel Chapter 9 is his prayer for the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Only in Chapter 9 does Daniel refer to the Lord as Yahweh, which occurs seven times.[2] Wood states that this is significant because Yahweh “depicts God as the gracious, covenant-keeping God of Israel, who is willing to reveal to man and hear man when he prays.”[3] Daniel is therefore indicating that he is expecting that God hears him and will indeed answer him. In other words, he is not praying a half-hearted prayer to a god that he sees as aloof or impotent but instead, he’s praying to the God of universe. He understands that “God bound Himself to us, and we are to obey Him. Our obedience brings a blessing, and our disobedience brings a curse.”[4] However, Daniel also clearly understands that his people have definitely sinned against God and have strayed far from the blessing of God and are in the midst of a curse by way of the exile.

Therefore, his burden for his people is so great that before he prays he fasts with sackcloth and ashes (verse 3). “In the Old Testament, fasting, sackcloth, and ashes are indications of grief and self-abasement in the context of calamity or loss experienced or threatened, or of wrongdoing committed.”[5] What we see is a very serious Daniel suffering a genuine burden for the sins of his people. He engages in the activities of verse three to not just acknowledge the greatness of the burden, but to also prepare his heart to come before Yahweh on behalf of his people.

When he finally approaches Yahweh, he doesn’t begin by just diving into his requests or supplications. Instead, he approaches Yahweh by first clearly acknowledging the Lord is a “great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments” (verse 4). Then he moves into confession that his people have “sinned and committed iniquity” and that they “have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants and prophets” (verses 5-6a). Daniel is not mincing words; he is intercessing for his people by honestly confessing the truth of their sin of abandoning God through abject disobedience and rejection of God’s precepts and the messages of his prophets. He eventually humbly asks God to forgive his people and spare the city of Jerusalem in verses 16-19.

While Nelson suggests he is inclined “to view that the prayer is a later interpolation”[6] I am inclined to agree with many other commentaries that it was part of the original rendering. This prayer is from the very heart of Daniel and it so moved God’s heart that Daniel is met presumably face to face with the Archangel Gabriel; in fact, “Daniel had not even finished his time of prayer (verse 20) before the angel made his appearance.”[7]

There is much more to be said about the prayer itself, but I want to summarize the additional characteristics that were not discussed above.

We have seen that Daniel had a genuine burden for others; he was others-centric and prayed with a fervent heart for their deliverance. We also see serious acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and that he desires to bless his people. A sub-characteristic of this is the expectation that God is good and merciful and does want to bless his people. In other words, it is not just acknowledging that God can bless his people, but that he will bless his people in their obedience and faithfulness.

Additionally we see Daniel preparing himself via fasting, sackcloth and ashes. He did not enter into this prayer “just off the cuff” but genuinely prepared his heart and mind to approach the true God. And, finally, we see Daniel boldly expressing the sins of his people; he is not watering down the seriousness but is instead starkly stating the sins of his people and asking God to pour mercy and forgiveness onto the people and to spare Jerusalem.

A final word is that Daniel exhibited all of these characteristics while in exile. He was not in the comfort of his birthplace or frequenting his beloved temple, but he was in exile far away from his homeland. This speaks very clearly that godly character is not dependent on the environment but blooms from the fertile soil of faith held deep in Daniel’s soul.  May we be inspired by the depth of Daniel’s faith, the breadth of his godly character and the richness of his prayer life so that we, to, can become people that move the heart of God toward mercy and forgiveness for the lost and seeking souls.

[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 234.

[2] Wood, pp. 234-5.

[3] Wood, p. 235.

[4] Donovan L. Graham, Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2009), Kindle loc. 1623.

[5] John E. Goldingay, Daniel: Word Biblical Commentary, Gen. Eds. David A. Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Books Publisher, 1989), p. 253.

[6] William B. Nelson, Daniel: Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, Gen. Eds. W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. & Robert K. Johnson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), p. 222.

[7] Gaebelein, p. 111.

Daniel: An Example of Prayer

We discussed prayer in our small group the other night. That got me thinking about danielbiblical examples of those that prayed mightily. There are many examples, of course; Jesus being the preeminent example. But a somewhat obscure example is what I was drawn to. That example is Daniel.

One of my professors stated that “his [Daniel’s] prayer should inform how we pray.”[1] This phrase caught my attention because I spend much time in prayer myself. I do not profess to be any sort of mighty intercessor, but I am called and drawn to pray not just for myself or my family, but also for my specific church and our members and “attenders.” I also pray for the advancing of the gospel of Christ and for the forgiveness of our nation. I often feel a burden to pray, but at times I fight against a sense of futility in prayer because I am not seeing the answers I am expecting to see. Thus, the above quote inspired me to delve into this prayer in more detail, and in so doing I discovered key characteristics that built Daniel into a mighty man of prayer that moved the heart of God.

Daniel was “prompted to pray because he was reading Scripture.”[2] Archer states that Daniel was “a diligent student of Scripture who built his prayer life on the Word of God.”[3] Berrigan states that “Amid great darkness, Daniel opens the scroll. Thus once more an important principle is illustrated. This: while time lasts, scripture is never to be thought, or dealt with, as lying inert on a page. No, it is … a prodigious energy. It flares up in our face; it brings to bear upon our sorry human scene the very truth of God.”[4] Daniel held God’s Word in the highest regard, clearly displaying that he understood that, “You [God] have magnified Your word above all Your name” (Psa. 138:2b, NKJV).

Because he knew Scripture so well he was able to pray along the lines of the truth he had learned from the Word of God. In other words, Daniel’s prayers aligned with the truth he knew from Scripture which meant that his prayers were in alignment with the very heart of God from which Scripture originally flowed out of.

What is also interesting is Daniel’s praying is visible throughout the Book of Daniel. A significant precursor to the great prayer of Chapter 9 is the events of Chapter 6.

In Chapter 6 we see Daniel excelling above all the other satraps and governors (cf. vv. 2-3). This angered these men so they sought a way to tarnish his reputation in the eyes of King Darius. However, “these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God’” (v. 5).  The charge they built to trap Daniel was his evidently well-known habit toward prayer. So King Darius was cajoled into signing a decree that his subjects should only pray to him and any violators would be thrown into the den of lions (vv. 6-9). Daniel was aware of this decree, so now not only was he in exile he was now facing a capital crime by continuing to engage in prayer. “Under such catastrophe, existence itself is shaken”[5] but still Daniel responds by continuing his practice of praying three times a day “as was his custom since early days” (v. 10b) knowing very well that if he is caught he will suffer dire, if not fatal, consequences.

This is stunning because it is likely he could have continued to pray minus the outward expression of prayer, but apparently Daniel found that compromising because instead he continues his outward expression of prayer by opening his windows, facing Jerusalem and kneeling three times a day. Scripture also informs us that Daniel, even under the threat of committing a capital offense, still gives thanks to God (v. 10).  “Such heroism does not develop overnight, nor is it created in a vacuum. It is the mature fruit of lives and characters that have been forged by experience, … and by faithfulness and obedience.”[6]

We know that by the grace of God Daniel survived the lions’ den while those that plotted against Daniel met their demise by the very means they intended for Daniel (not unlike Haman in the Book of Esther, about another heroic character and another somewhat humorous expression of God’s poetic justice). Daniel’s survival entices King Darius to honor the God of Daniel and then we see Daniel move into more visions and more prominence in the Persian culture, which, of course, leads us to the prayer of Chapter 9. But we’ll look at that next week.

 

[1] Quote from Professor Mark Jacobson, Corban University.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gleason Archer, “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Gen. Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), p. 107.

[4] Daniel Berrigan, Daniel: Under Siege of the Divine (Farmington: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), pp. 155-6.

[5] Berrigan, p. 4.

[6] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel: The Communicator’s Commentary, Gen. Ed. Lloyd Ogilvie (Wasco: Word Books Publisher, 1988), p. 27.