…so I turned to YHWH God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. So I prayed to YHWH my God and confessed:
YHWH, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, - Daniel 9:3-4
Sometimes when we read the Old Testament, we don’t always pay attention to the dates and time stamps, so miss crucial details. Daniel has been reading Jeremiah (probably chapter 25) and realises that the seventy years of the nation of Israel being exiled in Babylon, as punishment for centuries of disobedience to God, are almost up! He will also have been aware of Deuteronomy 28—30 when Moses renews the covenant between God and the people of Israel as they are about to enter the Promised Land, especially the bit in Deuteronomy 30 where God promises forgiveness for repentant exiles. He then pours out a heart cry of confession and repentance, asking God to forgive Israel, and return his favour.
The first thing that is noteworthy is that Daniel is reading God’s word, and in a way that is meaningful, life-changing, and choice-changing. His prayer is a direct response to truths revealed, and prophecies, in God’s word. A healthy prayer life is inseparable from genuine connection with God in his revealed word. The bible has been described as both a window and a mirror – a mirror for seeing ourselves as we truly are, and a window for seeing things as they truly are, and God as he truly is. As we see things how God sees them, we are then inspired to pray, as the Spirit truly leads us – to worship God for who He is; to thank Him for things that He has done; to intercede for people and situations; and, to confess our sins individually or communally as in this prayer. Over these 40 days, and beyond (!) let us cultivate the habit of letting God’s word speak directly into our prayers.
The second thing to note is that Daniel is in a grieving posture – fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes. His praying goes beyond words. This inspires me to pray with more than words – with singing, with tears, with fasting, flat on my face, or on my knees, or flat on my back. If you have never tried a specific action / choice as part of your prayer life, then do so. A fast from food, technology, media – not so much about self-denial but leaning into God’s presence. Or choose a posture for your regular prayer times with God – arms up, face up for worship and thanksgiving; or on your knees, literally begging, during intercession; or flat on your face when confessing sin, and asking for repentance.
The third thing is that Daniel is totally rooted in God’s nature: “YHWH, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments”. His prayer in the chapter is all centred around God, God’s name, God’s promises, God’s nature, and God’s awesomeness. The reason he wants God to help Israel, is not so Israel can have their independence or autonomy again, but like he states in v19, because they bore God’s own name, they were meant to be God’s own people, so God’s own actual reputation was actually at stake – literally his prayer can be summarised as “Do it for yourself, God!!”. As we pray over these 40 days and beyond, let us learn to look beyond the superficial, to look further than ourselves, and our needs, to see what God gets out of our prayers… what is in it for God? …literally, as we ask every week at pre-service prayer: why should God answer your prayers?