DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER #5

HUMILITY

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Nowhere in the ancient literature or records of Babylon is it mentioned that a great Chaldean regent spent seven years on all fours grazing like a bovine. But that’s not surprising, really, is it? Royal records can be tidied up; inscripted tablets can be ground to dust. Classified information can stay hidden. A monarch’s memory may be preserved as he wishes it remembered.

Except that Daniel, respected advisor to the king, has kept his own records. And Daniel is determined to have us learn a pattern for prayer that is relevant to any life, to leaders of world empires and to everyday people like you and me.

So when any of us, like Nebuchadnezzar, refuse to deal with our issues of pride, the lines of communication between God and us are hindered. We might not be so overt as the Babylonian king, boasting, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” We are subtler than that.

We rate others based on their weaknesses compared to our strengths; we believe we are making an honest assessment.

We criticize the wayward; we believe those mistakes are beneath us.

We disparage those that resort to life on the streets; we believe those failures are impossible for us.

We take credit for our successes, ignoring God’s provisions that were intrinsic to our rise.

Pride is always comparative. It is by nature competitive. It does not tell us we are good, but better than others. It is not satisfied until it rises above someone else.  Pride uses leverage to lift us against the fulcrum of others’ backs. When we begin to believe that we are inherently better than others, we begin to distance ourselves from God. First, people become stepping-stones to our own plans for success. Then we use God.

Daniel had observed Nebuchadnezzar’s positive response to the miraculous fiery furnace event. The king had promoted the three God-followers, and issued an edict that all Babylonians must respect this God (or “be cut into pieces”!). Yet his personal response is shallow. His prayer is superficial; He avoids letting it change his lifestyle. Daniel perceives the king’s prosperity has come at the expense of oppression of others. He warns the regent that his most recent dream predicts the effects of pride. The great spreading tree of the king’s influence (see Daniel chapter four) would be leveled to nothing more than a stump should Nebuchadnezzar fail to control his pride. He ignores the warning, he continues to glory in himself, and he soon discovers he wants nothing more than to graze in the forest. Perhaps only with the mind of an animal can he learn to praise his Maker.

It’s unlikely I will ever suffer from boanthropy like Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-year delusion. But if I am resolved to develop the aspect of my character that best facilitates prayer, I’d better learn from the king’s experience. God wants humility to be foremost on my list of traits. I can learn the easy way, or I can learn the hard way.

Externals do not fool God.

Who does God hear? “This is the one I esteem (says the LORD): he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Let’s move from bellowing to trembling and see what happens to our prayers.

 

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DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER #4

TRUST

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Machiavelli was wrong. He asserted that a leader should choose to be followed out of fear rather than trust, the former being stronger than the latter. His Renaissance of thought could have benefitted him better by observing Daniel’s description of his three noteworthy young friends; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego reveal how trust, rather than fear, made them the finest examples of dependable followers.

Daniel has modeled how RESOLVE, AWE, AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT are integral parts of a pattern for prayer worth reproducing in our lives. Now, in chapter 3, he adds TRUST to the growing collection. Each is a precious stone to be applied to our ballast of prayer. Go ahead. Read the chapter. It’s gripping.

Trust must have a worthy object upon which to anchor. God is that trustworthy object. Daniel’s friends trust in three traits of God’s unchanging character to be relevant to their situation.

They trust in God’s ABILITY to answer any prayer: “the God we serve is able to save us”. (Note: I have borrowed some of these thoughts from Beth Moore’s study on the Book of Daniel). They understand He is able to rescue them from the flames. In that case the flames, or the king’s wrath, might miraculously cool and be extinguished.  The trial could be avoided. God is able to do it. God is also able to rescue them through the flames. He may use the trial to transform and perfect them as they experience the challenging situation. Or, He may rescue them in the flames. They might experience their mortal end and move on to meet their heavenly Maker as a result of the trial. God’s power is sufficient for any of these methods of intervention. We can trust Him to decide.

Secondly, they trust in God’s WILLINGNESS to answer their prayers: “and he will rescue us from you hand, O king”. God is intensely willing to be involved in their lives and in the lives of any who follow Him. He is highly motivated to be actively working through many means to bring about the end He desires for our lives. He is willing because He loves us so much. We can trust Him for that.

And thirdly, they trust God’s GOODNESS toward those who pray to Him. The youths had appealed to God’s mercy in an earlier episode, and they had seen God’s goodness toward them in His answer to that prayer. Goodness is often viewed better with hindsight as we begin to see how God’s ways work together for good to those that love Him. We can trust that He is good.

Deep trust is transformational. It does something to us that makes us completely different people from our natural bent. Trust makes us strong. We become people of conviction, focus and determination. Isaiah quotes God as revealing, “…in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isa. 30:15). We become people fearless of earthly consequences because we are convinced that worshiping God alone is our very best option.

As we enter into petitionary prayer it is essential to remind ourselves of God’s character. Do we believe He is able? Do we believe He is willing? Do we believe He is good? Are we convinced that God orchestrates the best ultimate outcome for us, regardless of the difficulties we may need to endure? That is trust.

Machiavelli missed out on the greatest truth available to humanity. Trust gives us the strength we need to follow the leadership of the Most High God. Are you ready for the experience?

 

DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER #3

 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

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ACKNOWLEDGE: The dictionary observes that ‘aknouen’ (to recognize) + ‘knouleche’ (knowledge)= to recognize knowledge. The English word was coined some 500 years ago. It happens all the time as language adapts to a changing world. This creating of new words is called neologism. For instance, “applepick”= to steal someone’s IPhone; “affluenza”= the negative effects of excessive consumerism; and “locavore”= a person who eats only food produced locally.

The word ‘acknowledge’ was built upon the idea that knowledge stands independent of human design. It is God’s domain. But when a person recognizes certain knowledge as relevant for his or her life, a connection occurs. The human psyche embraces truth.

It takes humility to acknowledge God. He displaces every other god-idea with the truth of His existence. Truth be known, we make ourselves god aside from acknowledging Him.

We left Daniel and his friends on their knees in serious, focused prayer. They had begun what would be an all-nighter. Fasting from sleep, they were pouring out their concerns before the Only One who could help them. Then sometime in the wee hours before dawn God answers. Daniel has a vision. He sees the dream the king had dreamt, and becomes privy to its God-impregnated meaning. In chapter two Daniel records for us the prayer of thanks and acknowledgement that bursts from his lips, “I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Knowing both the dream and its interpretation is the key to saving Daniel’s life from the king’s wrath. It also saves his friends’ lives and countless other advisors’ lives. It accomplishes God’s mysterious purpose of publishing a prophecy that will take centuries to fulfill. And it writes a segment of the Bible from which people like us, millennia later will learn.

But we will only learn from Daniel’s pattern for prayer if we too acknowledge God’s working, moving Spirit in our lives. Without acknowledgement we will remain blind to the relevance of God to our lives.

Much of our prayers take the shape of requests, whereas acknowledgement expresses itself as praise and thanksgiving. How often do we thank God for His presence in our lives? What percentage of our prayer time is thanks time? Do we become as passionate about thanksgiving as we are about asking God for things? We must begin to understand that acknowledgement of God’s working in our lives is intrinsic to a healthy prayer life.

The pattern for prayer that Daniel models for us teaches us that we need resolve, we need to express awe, and we need to acknowledge God’s working in our lives.

Daniel knew what it meant to have challenges in his life. That didn’t stop him from thanking God for the blessings he did observe. Today, right now is a good time for us to do the same. Thank God for that.

 

DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER

DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER

#2: AWE

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Sometimes life feels like a frappuccino in a blender. Nothing stays the same for long. Just when you think things can’t get any worse something outside of your control sends everything you know spinning. Sometimes you find yourself at the top and you can’t imagine how you got there.

Daniel knows the feeling. Captured by the strongest empire on earth, become an object of transculturation, Daniel now finds himself acting as one of the king’s top advisors. His annual review finds him “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in (the) whole kingdom”. Then, without warning, an edict is published: Daniel’s level of government is being cut. Heads are about to roll.

At times like these we all know our first impulse is to react to the situation. We revert to instinct and hear our inner voice’s advice, “Panic Now!” Some of us take on the role of problem-solvers, while others of us curl up into our versions of an emotional fetal position. We are using coping strategies to bring equilibrium back into our lives.

Daniel chooses a different option. Daniel’s outlook embraces awe. Awe is a deep intaking breath of appreciation for God’s magnificence; it immediately precedes prayer. Awe sees God’s attributes and character as preempting every other situation or concern. It puts life into perspective: Awe sees God’s relevance to our existence.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness and light dwells in him” (Daniel 2:20-22).

Humbly, Daniel acknowledges that both his own rise to fame and his imminent fall are under the dominion of God’s control. Daniel’s wisdom comes from God’s wisdom; the power of the edict-making king of Babylon comes from God’s power and can equally be removed by God.

Acting from within this sense of awe, Daniel responds to the governmental crisis with decisive purpose. He obtains confirmation that the rumours are true. He informs the king of a plan, appealing for a delay in the injunction. Then, he surrounds himself with his accountability group of like-minded God-followers, and asks them to pray with him.

This is likely not a brief prayer session. The crisis is real and Daniel’s awe is deep. Daniel and his friends withdraw to a private chamber where they spend the ensuing hours on their knees, or prostrate on their faces petitioning God. They are not vague in their request. They are soliciting a specific allowance. They want God to put Daniel’s gifting into overdrive. They want divine interference not so they can avoid their tasks, but to enable them to discharge their duties to the utmost of their abilities.

I think Daniel teaches us something here that we must not let slip away. Our prayers must be preceded by awe, and serious prayer must ensue from awe. Every moment of anxiety must be put tenfold under the influence of awe and prayer. There is no place in our lives where worry is an appropriate substitute for awe and prayer. God is our source and resource for every challenge that comes our way. Do we believe it? Let’s save the word ‘awesome’ for God alone, and then use that word lavishly on Him.

 

DANIEL: A PATTERN FOR PRAYER

DANIEL: PATTERN FOR PRAYER

#1: RESOLVE

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It’s never too late to become a person of conviction. Or too early. When the dust had settled and the teenaged Daniel took stock of his situation, it probably didn’t look too hopeful. His hometown had been destroyed, his family decimated, his dreams crushed. Even his identity was to be swallowed up in a new name. How many of us are as keenly aware of being absorbed into an ethics-compromising worldview by the events of our lives?

I want to look at the Biblical record of Daniel’s life. I want to glean from God’s Spirit some practical wisdom useful for my life. I sense there is a pattern of prayer to be observed from Daniel’s life. I think it starts here.

In one sense I think it starts here in Daniel’s youth at the apex of upheaval in what had been a normal life. But it also starts here in our present situation. Our lives are at an apex of change too. We are on the cusp today of something new. Something big. This is a moment in time in which we may become people of conviction. It’s neither too late nor too early.

Look for yourself at the book of Daniel. Read Chapter One. Daniel finds himself in a situation that calls for conviction of principles or absorption into a culture of compromise.

His name, Daniel, means ‘God is my judge’ in Hebrew. A Babylonian official in charge of re-civilizing the young captives changes it to ‘Belteshazzar’, ‘Prince of Bel’ (Babylonian for ‘Lord’). Take comfort, Daniel. Your new name is a Babylonian translation of your old one. Almost.

The king also assigns Daniel and his friends food and wine from the king’s table. Sounds good on the surface. Your sustenance will be a Babylonian version of your Jewish diet. Almost.

But Daniel is alert. He is intimately aware of what is happening. He knows the Law of his God and he can see the implications of compromise. The gods of this world often masquerade as replicas of the Almighty One.

Daniel resolves “not to defile himself”: he comes up with a plan to avoid eating the royal food, and in his autobiography (the book of Daniel) he avoids referring to himself as Belteshazzar. He remains loyal to his convictions regardless of the consequences. His resolution is to remain obedient to the God of his fathers. It is not an easy resolution. He is at the mercy of his captors. But more importantly he sees he is at the mercy of the Almighty One, and he chooses to remain true to Him.

This prologue to Daniel’s story reveals to us a pattern for prayer worth considering. Later we will see how Daniel’s prayer life is integral to his unique experience as a captive-for-life in Babylon. Something must be in place as a foundation for a Daniel-like life of prayer. There must be resolve.

We must resolve to be true to the authority of God in our lives. We must choose to live lives that are undefiled by compromise. We must see the places where we must draw a line in the sand and not cross it. We must open our eyes to see God’s direction for us as unique from our culture’s expectations of us. This is the foundation for prayer. Are we ready to resolve?

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM HEBREWS ELEVEN

ALIENS AND STRANGERS

Hebrews 11:13,14

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“…they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute believes they are ‘conducting the most profound search in human history’. They are searching for aliens. They are convinced these strangers hold the key to our earth’s beginnings and to our future. They are right. But the aliens and strangers are not as far away as they might imagine.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of men and women of faith as being “aliens and strangers on earth”; of people who are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one”; of people who have so fixed their minds and hearts and eyes on Jesus that His home is their home and earth-living is a visit. These aliens seem to be characterized by five peculiar qualities:

1. Their primary loyalty is to heaven rather than earth’s civilizations; while they participate in various sub-cultures’ activities and responsibilities, their connection with the family of God takes precedence.

2. Their roots go into spiritual soil rather than into material attachments; the development of spiritual character has more significance than does temporal gain. They are often characterized more by giving than by taking.

3. Their visit is purpose-driven; their objective is to ascertain and fulfill the will of God in their lives. Their own desires become secondary. Loving God and others takes precedence.

4. Their return home is assured; the Father has put into their hearts a longing for heaven. It is the ‘eternity in their hearts’ that strengthens them with hope. Death is merely the vehicle by which they will be brought to their eternal heavenly abode.

5. Their mother tongue is prayer; while on earth they call home regularly. Prayer is the means by which they keep in intimate connection with the Father. The deeper their commitment to prayer, the richer their vocabulary develops. This language of love then spills over into the earthly languages they have acquired.

As aliens and strangers here on earth, we of the Faith have a high calling. We hold in trembling hands the key to our earth’s beginnings and future. We are ambassadors of the Lord of the Universe, the Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.  We have a message of a bright future for those who will accept the Son, the greatest otherworldly Being. As the words of a seventies tune once said, “He’s an unidentified flying object coming back to take you home. He’s an unidentified flying object, he will roll away your stone.” (‘UFO’ by Larry Norman). Let’s arise and reveal our true identity as aliens and strangers. Then this world’s search will not be in vain.

 

 

MORE THOUGHTS FROM HEBREWS ELEVEN

THE POWER OF WORDS

Hebrews 11:3

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“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Do you remember using ‘invisible ink’ as a child? Your mother may have shown you how to squeeze a lemon, then carefully paint a message with its juice onto course absorbent paper. You could barely see what you were writing, and the brush strokes were always thicker than you hoped they would be, but it was exciting. You imagined intrigue and mystery. Your friend, or brother, or sister was to read the invisible message by placing it in the oven or over a hot element briefly, when, surprise! The message began to be revealed as the juice-letters browned.

Words coming from the mouth of God are a bit like that. They have the power to make the invisible visible. They make what was not become what is. This is the concept of God’s creativity: He makes out of nothing. He speaks and creates.

His object-making comes from word-speaking. It is important to understand this concept because it describes God’s unique position within what we might call the realm of reality. He is the source of all resources. Everything visible has its source in Him. People may reassemble, replicate, and redesign, only God can speak to create.

The 21st millennium invention of ‘3D printing’ is more replicative than creative. 3D solid objects are made by digitally scanning what is to be replicated. Layers of plastic resin are built up until a functional object is created. It’s new. It’s improved. But it’s not creative. Something is not actually made from nothing.

This aptitude of God to speak and thus make is far more relevant to our lives than lemon juice messages or 3D printers. Committing ourselves to read His written Word, the Bible, creates spiritual life in us, where before there was chaos. In addition, we are called to become people who pray.

Prayer seems, in some astonishing way, to be endowed with a vestige of similar creative power. God living, breathing, speaking into our lives, speaks through us as we return prayer to Him. His creative power flows through us like rushing water through an unbarred conduit to effect creative change.

In prayers of worship, we begin to see the unseen. The invisible character of God is revealed to our inner being and we are changed.

In prayers of confession, we begin to understand our own appalling condition apart from God. Light shines on our darkness revealing what was hidden.

In prayers of thanksgiving, we are enabled to observe blessing. Our eyes are opened to see God’s loving-kindness where before we only, selfishly, saw inconvenience.

And in prayers of petition we speak God’s power into the lives of loved ones. We do not control the creative process. We submit to God’s hand, but our prayers enable us to participate with Him in the making of something out of nothing.

As we go forward on our journey with Him who is invisible, let us submit ourselves to His creative processes. He speaks, we pray. Imagine what might become visible!