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November 6th, 2011

Prayer was Daniel’s fall back because prayer was Daniel’s habit.

Daniel 6:6-11

November 6, 2011

Pillars crumble

Sometimes everything you’ve counted on is pulled from underneath you. One of those times for Linda and me was in January 1988.  The summer before we believed God had called us to leave a church position in Reidsville, NC, go to seminary in Columbia, SC, and start a church while there. We had been promised financial support – not enough to live on, but enough to give us hope. 

Four months later we didn’t have an income, had only one or two individuals interested in our “church,” didn’t have any money for school, and were expecting our second child.  The cupboards were literally bare, and our finances were such that we would argue whether it was cheaper to wash dishes in the sink or run the dishwasher.  I took a job working three 12-hour night shifts a week at a gas station, and cut my academic schedule to one class.  At that rate it would take ten years to get the degree.

Some of you are living that same scenario right now.  On Thursday, after writing the paragraphs above, I did a quick e-mail check.  A single Mom in our church family had written to her Sunday School class, asking prayer because her husband had not paid child support and she had no income to count on until a possible court date in January. 

When what you have counted on is gone, what do you have to fall back on?

Daniel must have asked the same question.  Having survived multiple political earthquakes, Daniel has climbed the ladder from captive to intern to revered scholar to provincial administrator to third-in-command to prime minister.  Every crisis so far has left both him and his God in even higher regard.  His is story of survival and of triumph.

As far as he knows, as chapter six opens his health is good, his position is secure, and his calling in life is working out pretty well.  All of that is about to change….again.

Do you ever feel like that last crisis was supposed to be the final one?  You’ve been battered, but you got up again.  Then another crisis came, but you made it.  You didn’t see the next blow coming, but you’re on your feet, if a little dazed and dizzy.    Then…déjà vu.  Can’t something break my way?  Haven’t I learned enough “lessons”?

In Daniel 6, the king is new but the story line is familiar. Daniel thought he had gained respect and connections, but the conspirators have been working behind his back and have “all agreed” on a plan to destroy him (6).  On the verge of being named prime minister, his enemies have gone over Daniel’s head and behind his back.  They appealed to the king’s ego or insecurity or both, persuading him that he’s not only king but a god. Everyone should pray to him or at least through him (7).  Daniel’s life could end in a pit of lions kept around for the king’s safaris (7).  And there’s an air of inevitability around what’s to happen, since a written law by a Persian king can’t be revoked (8-9). 

Everything Daniel has come to count on for his identity, his security, and his future has now been threatened.  What would he fall back on?

Why prayer

One word: prayer. It’s not a bad thing when all you have to fall back on is prayer.

Daniel goes back home and does what he always did.  He retreats to his upstairs room, faces Jerusalem, kneels down, gives thanks, and asks God for help.  When you have nothing else and no one else, pray.  But there’s more to this lesson.

The reason Daniel prayed in this situation is that he prayed even before it came up.  Prayer was his fall back in a crisis because prayer was his habit before the crisis.

You are not alone in developing a prayer life.  Our church library has a number of great books on prayer, including Philip Yancey’s Prayer, Richard Foster’s Prayer Treasury, and Paul Miller’s A Praying Life.  I’m reading another terrific book now – and Alex B. Aronis’ Developing Intimacy with God.  Stop by the library after church.

Here’s why prayer is such a great fall back for Daniel – and you.

Prayer redirects emotion.  I was tempted to speak about envy.  But this text is about Daniel’s response to envy – malicious envy that sought to destroy him.  The response to envy is prayer.  When I pray, I take all that negative energy aimed and me, and rather than reflecting it back on those who hate me, I redirect it to the Lord, and find his peace.

Prayer relinquishes control.  When calamity strikes – let’s be honest – your first instinct is damage control and crisis management.  You protect, you act, and, if necessary, you manipulate.  You want to get back on track.  What prayer does for you that’s really healthy is admit you’re not in control.  Daniel fell to his knees to say, “God, this one’s out of my hands.  There’s nothing I can do about it, and not much hope of a good outcome.  I’m letting go.”  That’s a good place to be.

Prayer is high on both risk and reward.  In life, the greatest rewards come with the greatest risks.  Great men and women are those who have been willing to fail but unwilling to play it safe.  There’s great risk in investing time and trust in talking to a God who rarely “talks back.”  Shouldn’t you be doing something more visibly productive?  But when you take the risk of prayer like Daniel did, only then do you have any chance at all of seeing what God will do if you’ll let go.

Prayer opens the door for a miracle.  I offer no guarantee that God will always rescue you from the mouths of the lions.  In fact, I remind you that back in chapter 2 Daniel’s friends demonstrated what faith is – trust and obedience whether or not you die in the fiery furnace.  But Daniel 6 is in the Bible as one more reminder that God does change things in response to our prayers.  Paul Miller’s A Praying Life is a wonderful resource to show how God weaves both the answered prayers and unsolved problems into the story of his action in our lives.

Prayer drives you to Scripture.  Turn to Daniel 9, you’ll find a time marker that identifies the rather lengthy prayer Daniel records in that chapter as being prayed in the same time period as Daniel 6 – early in the reign of Darius.  As Daniel prays, his thoughts go to Scripture – to the Law of Moses, to the prophecy of Jeremiah.  When you pray over the Bible, the future comes clearer.

Prayer leads to confession.  The other response Daniel makes in chapter 9 in prayer is a response of confessing sin.  Daniel is one of only a handful of biblical characters – maybe the only one – of whom no overt sin is recorded.  He’s a pretty good guy.  His confession of sin is corporate – he owns the sins of his people. The important thing about confession is that it’s about humility.  Stop defending yourself and blaming God and start taking responsibility for your failures – spiritual and otherwise.

Prayer is witness.  I don’t know if the flannelgraph version of this story is accurate – basically having Daniel praying beside a great big open window.  It wasn’t about in-your-face flamboyancy.  Eastern windows were probably small so they didn’t let in too much heat, and were often covered with lattice work.  Still, Daniel was in a place that the administrators could see he was praying.  He certainly wasn’t hiding his faith.  When you pray – and let people know you are praying – you are helping them see that their ways of handling crisis (malice, conspiracy, deceit) is not the only option.

Prayer re-establishes your calling.  It’s so easy to get diverted, isn’t it?  I’m not suggesting Daniel’s promotion to prime minister was wrong.  He is a model of calling into government service.  But he had a higher calling as well – as court prophet to keep reminding these kings who’s really in charge.  Prayer kept him focused on that calling. When you pray about a problem God will often tap you on the shoulder to act as an answer to your own prayer.

This morning for “Adoption Sunday” we’re going to hear from a ministry team that wants to keep their ministry before us.  They believe prayer must guide and empower what they do, so they’ve invited you to a prayer time tomorrow night.  But whatever your calling is, how God has invited you to partner with him in the church and in the community, it’s prayer that will keep driving you back to it. 

Whatever your crisis, your fall back is prayer.  Amen.

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