For the past ten years or so, I have read through the Bible each year. There are many plans available, but for the last six years I have used the plan from our church. I read through the Bible every year because it helps me remember the whole story of God's redemptive work, rather than just bits and pieces. Further, it is remarkable how well you can get to know that story, and how it holds together, how you can get to know this Book, simply by reading it, again and again, year after year.
(side note: how about planning right now to make a run at reading the Bible through in 2014? Print out the plan, and you could even start today and get ahead! Ok, back to why I started this article....)
As we come to the end of November, I find myself in the prophetic books again. This morning I began the story of Daniel. And as I find myself in a season of some measure of dryness and difficulty in my prayer life, I was helped. Greatly helped. Because through prayer, Daniel was reminded of the goodness of God toward his people. Through prayer, Daniel was reminded that he will move his saving story forward. Through prayer, Daniel displays his absolute trust in the power of getting on your knees, crying out to God, with the very real belief that God saves.
A little context for you. At this time, there was a nasty old King on the throne named Nebuchadnezzar. Let's call him Neb.
Now, Neb was a dreamer. I don't mean that Neb was a visionary, standing with his hands on his hips looking dreamily off toward the horizon, ready to lead his people in grand adventures. Not that kind of dreamer. No, I mean the in-your-bed-nocturnal kind of dreamer.
But there was a problem. Neb's dreams weren't happy dreams. And his dreaming wasn't helpful. You see, Neb was spending all his time dreaming at night, rather than sleeping. Neb had troubling dreams, dreams that messed him up, and that he didn't understand (Daniel 2:1). So he told all the magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers in his realm to come before him, and tell him his dream, and to tell him what it meant.
Oh, and if they didn't...
The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. (Daniel 2:5)
Neb is not a nice guy.
We don't like Neb.
Well, since Neb was asking the impossible, those magicians, sorcerers, and enchanters couldn't tell him the dream, much less the interpretation. So Neb, "angry and very furious," orders all the wise men in his realm slaughtered. Here is where we get to Daniel.
You see, Daniel and his friends - Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - were considered wise men in Neb's realm. Thus, they will be torn limb from limb, their homes laid in ruins. So, Daniel's immediate response?
Figure out a ruse? Make up a dream and an interpretation?
Daniel calls his community group together...
17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. (Daniel 2:17-8)
Even though Daniel and his friends are in exile, under Neb's oppressive rule, he believes in God. He trusts in the God who has already delivered he and his friends, when they were faithful and would not defile themselves with Neb's food (Daniel 1).
His thoughts of God and knowledge of God and faith in God move him to run to God.
This man, in this situation, faced with this kind of threat, in a foreign land, under a horrible despot, calmly calls together his band of brothers, looks to the heavens, and speaks. He cries out for mercy.
And what does God do? How does our God, who sits in the heavens, and does all that he pleases (Ps. 115:3), act?
Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. (Daniel 2:19)
While the text isn't clear, it seems the rest of the events were daytime affairs. We don't know if this is the night following the day of the decree by our boy Neb, but what seems clear is there are at least a few hours while they wait for an answer from God. Hours, where at any moment, soldiers could barge their way into this prayer meeting to tear these men limb from limb.
And as day moves into night, while they are praying, the mystery of the dream, and its interpretation, are revealed to Daniel in a vision. So, what does Daniel do now?
Run to the palace?
Cry through the halls, "I know the dream! I know the interpretation! Call off the slaughter!"?
Daniel prays some more!
Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
23 To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:19-23)
I love this!
Have you ever prayed and prayed and prayed for something, and then, when God provides, forget to stop and thank him for what he has done?
Yeah, me too.
Daniel reminds us all the best way to respond. Pray some more. Talk some more with our Father. Give thanks, whatever the answer.
One other thing, before I let you go. The wonderful thing about Daniel's prayer is how much we can learn from it. One of the best ways to shake up your prayer life, to grow in your talking with our Father, is to pray with others in order to listen to others pray. And one of the great things reading through the Bible accomplishes is give you looks into the prayer life of men and women of God, men and women just like you and me.
And often, when you listen to them, you learn so much about God, because when they pray they often reflect on who he is. Which makes it amazing how much can be going on in just a single moment of prayer: reflection, remembrance, rejoicing, worship, instruction, thanksgiving, and blessing.
It would be a great reason to memorize this prayer, for use in your own life.
And now, as we part, know that I have prayed for you, and for me. That we would have learned from this account of something that really happened. That we would be encouraged, deeply encouraged, that Daniel's God is our God. And that he is there, just waiting to hear from us.
Let us pray.