Vol. X — No. 36 September 7, 1969
And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.
In Christ Jesus, to whom we open our hearts in prayer. Fellow Redeemed:
No one can peer into another’s heart to see whether or not he believes. Only the Lord can search and know the thoughts and intents of the heart. True it is also that man can give the appearance of being a Christian while his heart is in fact empty of faith and filled with unbelief. The first Christian congregation would have thought that Ananias and Sapphira were exemplary Christians whose faith overflowed in self-sacrificing love if the Spirit of God had not revealed to Peter that their hearts were occupied with the double lusts of desire for praise and love of mam mon. The hypocrite can exhibit the appearance of faith without actually believing. But the believer cannot conceal his faith. It will out! It will show itself.
In one area of faith-life especially the spoken word reveals the thoughts and intents, the attitudes and beliefs of the heart. That is when a child of God prays. Prayer is talking to God. When a child of God talks to his heavenly Father, he bares his soul, for he has nothing to hide, and he knows that nothing can be hid.
We have an example of this truth in this moving penitential prayer of Daniel. It was a private prayer in which Daniel poured out his soul unto the Lord. He reports: “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.” But the Spirit of God wanted this prayer recorded for all time, so that future generations of believers could learn both how to pray and what the innermost convictions of a child of God are. As Daniel prays, he reveals what a child of God should be believing. So it is that this prayer reveals to us centuries later what we should be believing—if we truly are what we profess to be: Christians, children of God. Let us study a portion of this prayer and observe carefully that—
Daniel lived during the time of the seventy year captivity of his people in the land of Babylon. Those seventy years were drawing to a close. Daniel knew from reading the words of the prophet Jeremiah that after seventy years the Lord promised to interpose in the history of the nations and cause the restoration of His people again and with that the re-building of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem. Daniel implored the Lord to do what He had promised to do, to remain faithful to His promises: “O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain.” And again: “O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name.” Jerusalem lay in ruins; the Jews in captivity. What did Daniel do? Begin to train guerrillas and sabateurs for a war of liberation? Begin a passive resistance movement? File an appeal with the emperor? No, none of these things. Why not? Why didn’t Daniel begin with these conventional military-political methods for achieving a political goal—that of liberating his people? Why did he resort to prayer? Because Daniel knew and believed that the Lord God controls the destiny of nations.
How necessary is not that faith today! We live in troubled times. Our nation is beset by enemies within and without. Many in high places in government seem unable even to recognize the enemies within and without that threaten our form of government and our liberties. What can we do? Surely as Christian citizens we are to keep ourselves informed, and we are to exercise our duty at the ballot box. But there is more that we can do. We can do what so many in our country no longer can do. We can commit the welfare of our nation to the Lord our God. The destiny of the United States is also in His hands. He raised our nation to the position of world power and leadership which it presently enjoys. He is using it to achieve and accomplish His purposes in regards to His Kingdom. Let us implore Him, as did Daniel for Jerusalem, not that our nation become greater and more glorious but rather that His Kingdom be served through the policies and political life of the nation.
In his prayer Daniel spoke of the “anger ahd fury” of the Lord. In so doing he teaches us that the prayer that is Christian presupposes—
Daniel prayed, “O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain.” Jerusalem had experienced the anger and fury of the Lord. The temple of Solomon had been destroyed, the sacred furnishings carried off to Babylon. The city had been laid waste, the people deported into captivity. Daniel doesn’t blame the Lord for this. He doesn’t accuse the Lord of injustice. No, he speaks rather of the “righteousness of the Lord.” He had prayed, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as it is this day.” Daniel confessed that his people and he had that national disaster coming, for they had sinned, committed iniquity, done wickedly, and rebelled against the Lord.
We have just said that we can and ought to pray for our nation. But what if the Lord should withdraw the hand of His support from the nation? What if our scientific community should cease to perform wonders, our armies crumble before the enemy, our economy fail? What if we should become the victims of thermo-nuclear war? Would we dare to say that our God has dealt unjustly with us? Look at the national scene. Leaders in all walks of life pay lip service to God while conducting their lives as practical atheists. Church leaders and those that follow in the pew have rebelled against the Lord and His Word. Among those who should be witnesses of the truth, there arises the cry: “What is truth?” and even worse, “There is no truth.” Divine standards for man’s behavior have been systematically eroded. Whatever works, whatever solution seems best at the moment, whatever is expedient, what the crowd does is considered right and noble and beautiful. Who are we to tell the Lord how long He should be patient? If His hand should descend upon our nation in this hour, we should be ready to confess that we justly deserve His “anger and fury.”
Apply this truth to your personal life. If misfortune strikes us, we frequently cry out in dismay: “What have I done? Why is the Lord doing this to me?” We act as though the Lord is unjust and as though we are above criticism by Him. When His hand comes to rest upon us, it may not be because of some special sin, but it is always a reminder of the fact that we are sinners and deserve nothing but His wrath and punishment. We too must confess in the day of affliction: “O Lord, we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments.”
But this confession of sin did not prevent Daniel from coming to the Lord in prayer, and it did not prevent the Lord from helping. So then, a Christian prayer presupposes—
Daniel acknowledged the justice of the Lord’s anger and fury “because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.” He was sayings “We had it coming—all of it.” But their past sins did not create a barrier that could not be penetrated by prayer. Daniel continued: “Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.”
The Lord will hear the prayer of sinners! If that were not true, there could be no prayer, for we are all sinners. We begin our services as sinners assembled imploring our gracious God for the gift of forgiveness. Then we come with our “Kyrieleisons,” our “Lord, have mercy.” We lay all our spiritual and bodily problems before the Lord. We do that in brief liturgical prayers, in ex corde prayers, and in the words that our Lord taught us to pray. We do that Sunday after Sunday in public worship and day after day in private devotions, knowing and being assured that our God will hear our prayers.
We do that also in the confidence and assurance that the Lord our God can help us. Daniel was not just going through a religious exercise for the purpose of gaining emotional relief. He wasn’t just wringing his hands spiritually. No, he prayed with the confidence that the Lord God would and could help. He could do something about the “desolations, and the city which is called by thy name.” And Daniel’s faith was not put to shame. The Lord did move Cyrus to make a decree permitting any of the Jews who wished to return and rebuild their city and temple to do just that.
So also when we pray, we are to pray with the confidence that our Lord can help, whatever our need and whatever our situation may be. Today in our cultural environment the first reaction is to assume that science can provide an answer for any given problem. At the same time citizens are being conditioned more and more to appeal to the government for solutions to all problems. The help of the Lord is discounted. But it should not be so among us. We are to pray and to continue to pray with the confidence that our God can and will help.
There remains yet the matter of the basis for our appeal. There is a right and a wrong basis for prayer. Daniel shows us the right way, for the prayer that is Christian presupposes—
Listen to the words of Daniels “O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy names for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.”
The wrong way to pray is to approach the Lord on the basis of some supposed personal righteousness. Such prayer is always an abomination unto the Lord, for it is a rejection of His grace. The parable of the Pharisee and the publican is a stern rejection of that approach to the Lord. The Pharisee enumerated the vices that he had avoided and the good works that he wanted the Lord to take proper notice of. But we read that he did not go down to his house justified. No one who prays as did the Pharisee can be justified or heard by the Lord. The man who stands proudly before the Lord, confident in his own righteousness, is making God a liar, rejecting God’s gift of His Son, rejecting the perfect righteousness of Christ and His innocent suffering and death—insisting that he has need of none of that. He stands condemned by that which he believes and hopes he can stand!
The Lord our God can be approached only on the basis of His great mercy. “God, be merciful to me, the sinner,” So prayed the publican. “We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies.” So prayed Daniel. “Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.” So sings the child of God in prayer. Lord, I a sinner come. But I come in confidence, O Lord, because my appeal is to Thy mercies, which never fail and which never run short. Here is certainty and security, for the Lord our God is merciful and gracious.The Child in the manger, the Son of God hanging on the cross, the empty tomb are proof of that. Therefore, fear not, but come again and again to the throne of grace—appealing on the basis of His mercy. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.