Prayer: The Most Joyful Resolution!

When you set out to make something new—build a picnic table, knit a scarf, cook a gourmet meal—do you like to follow a pattern or recipe? Or do you like to make it up as you go along? Most of us, unless your name is MacGyver, feel much more confident if we have an example to follow. In fact, even those who are experts in their field usually like to have a pattern to guide their work. Very few of us are creative enough to invent something out of thin air.

Picture14My wife Cheryl, for example, has been making and mending clothes since before we were married. In fact, that was our first big investment as newlyweds. At the time we had an old sewing machine that someone gave us – a White machine. I’m sure it’s an antique by now. So we decided to step out in faith and spend $300 on a new Bernini machine that came with a 30 year warranty. And 40 years later, we got our money out of it! And yet, even though Cheryl is great at sewing and making alterations, ask her and she’ll tell you, she always looks for a pattern before she sets out to make anything new.

Or here’s something you may not know about me. I took 10 years of piano lessons as a boy and played in 25 or 30 recitals. But unlike Cheryl, I was a technician, not a musician, because instead of playing by ear, I had to have the sheet music sitting in front of me. So when I saw how much talent she had and how the music just flowed out of her, I decided to invest my time and energy in other projects. And you may be like that too. When you employ a new skill, you want a model or mentor to follow.

Now, transitioning into our study, I can’t think of a place where that’s more important the area of prayer. You’ll remember the disciples asked Jesus at one point, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus then went on to teach them what we call the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus-Christ-Praying-Wallpapers-13But the example I want to focus on tonight is Daniel the prophet whose prayers were so life-changing that King Belshazzar of Babylon said of him, “I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.” (Daniel 5:14) But my question is: Where did Daniel get such unusual wisdom and winsomeness? He found it (And we can find it too! (in a regular quiet time alone with our Lord where we ask Him to fill us with His love, His wisdom, and His joy.

To see what’s involved in that, let’s look together at 3 lessons we can learn from Daniel’s pattern of prayer. The first lesson is: He had a fixed time for prayer.

1. He had a fixed time for prayer.

If you read our last study, you know that we finished Daniel chapter 9, which means we have just three chapters to go—chapters 10, 11, and 12. But before we move on, I want to backtrack and zero in on Daniel’s prayer in chapter 6. I do so because I don’t believe there’s any better way to invest our time and energy in the year ahead than by developing a daily habit of spending time with God.

Picture2You know the back story. Babylon has just been conquered by Persia, and Darius the new governor is in need of a few trusted advisers who can help him understand the language and culture of Babylon. So guess who rises to the top! Daniel who impresses him so much that he not only appoints him to his cabinet; he plans to set him over his entire staff. But that does not sit well with the other advisers who are jealous of Daniel and set out to find a way to destroy him. But try as they might, they are unable to find any fault in him. So they turn instead to the most predictable and vulnerable area of his life, and that’s his prayer life. It’s so consistent that it provides a way for them to trap him. They trick Darius into signing a law that bans prayer to anyone for 30 days but the governor himself. So Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den, and the Lord comes to his rescue.

That’s the back story. But what I want us to focus on now is verse 10, where Daniel describes his practice of prayer and how it gave him the courage, the wisdom, and the faith that set him apart from everyone else. It says: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God just as he had done before.” Daniel loved spending time with God, so much so that he was unwilling to give it up even in the face of death! Is it any wonder, then, that his prayers were so powerful? Imagine how powerful our prayers would be if we were willing to sacrifice everything else in our pursuit of God and His holiness.

By the way, do you know what Daniel’s habit of praying three times a day brought to my mind? The Muslim call to prayer! That’s how Cheryl and I were awakened every morning at 5 am on our trip to Cairo—the call to prayer going out from the top of minaret with faithful Muslims all over the city rolling out their prayer mat and kneeling in prayer – not just three, but five times a day – which is impressive until you realize why they do it. It isn’t out of love for their god. Allah is not a warm and loving deity who invites his followers to enjoy intimate fellowship with himself. Theirs are rote prayers that come not from a heart of love, but from a fear of punishment.

Picture16That is not what Daniel was doing! Daniel knelt before his Lord three times a day not to win His favor or earn salvation, but because he loved Him and didn’t want to miss the joy of spending time in His presence. And Jesus extends the same invitation to you and me: “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28)

But you say, “I’m not really a ‘structured person.’ I’m what you’d call a free spirit. I like to pray whenever the urge strikes me—riding in the car, washing the dishes, folding clothes.” And I do too! I like to pray about everything all day long. That’s what the Bible calls praying without ceasing. But I believe it’s also important to make a date and set aside a special time every day to meet with God in prayer and worship.

Picture5But I realized I could be wrong, so I tried it on my wife. We’ve been busy lately and haven’t spent as much time together as we’d like. So I made a date with her this last week. I promised her that we’d spend time together during the halftime of the Seahawk game. And you know what? She wasn’t excited about it. Wasn’t that ungrateful of her? To tell you the truth, I didn’t actually do that. After 40 years of marriage, I know what draws us together and what doesn’t. And the same thing is true of God! You’ve heard of the five love languages through which people like to give and receive love? Well, time is God’s love language! That means if you want to get closer to Jesus, the only way to do it is by spending lots and lots of time with Him, not during the halftime of a football game, but when it costs something, early in the morning, just the two of you alone together.

If you don’t believe that, go down the list of those who have been especially close to Him: Martin Luther the great reformer, John Bunyan the Puritan preacher who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in prison, John Wesley who helped ignite the First Great Awakening, in America, William Carey the first Protestant missionary sent out into the world, David Brainerd the missionary to Indians, and George Mueller the lover of orphans and man of prayer. They all pursued the same persistent pattern. They spent two or three hours in prayer every day, which is how they also became the great saints that they were. And I urge you to do the same, even if it’s just five or ten minutes to begin with.

Picture6Like Daniel, set aside a fixed time to meet with God every day. That was his first habit of prayer. The second was this: He had a fixed place for prayer.

2. He had a fixed place for prayer.

Read verse 10 again. It says, “When Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home and in his upper room with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”

Picture7No fear, no shame, no hiding! Daniel simply did what he’d always done in the place where he’d always done it. He knelt down in his upper room with the windows open facing Jerusalem, praying and giving thanks to God. This is why we call it a spiritual discipline. It’s called that because it’s something we do again and again until it becomes such a natural part of our lives that we no longer have to strain to do it. Think about it! Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, tying your shoes—does it take a lot of mental energy to do those things? Not really! Why? Because they’re habits! That’s how God designed the human personality. He designed us so that what would normally be very difficult becomes easier the longer we do it. That’s also the difference between trying and training. Trying is putting out one big effort on one big day to get the job done, whereas training is something that becomes easier through regular exercise and practice.

Some of you may know that I started power walking a couple years ago. When I first started I could barely make it a mile, huffing and puffing if I had to climb a hill. But now that it’s a habit, I can do that very easily. And I always do it in the place that works best for me, especially during these rainy winter months. I do it on my treadmill in the comfort of my own home at 5:30 or 6:00 o’clock at night.

So let me encourage you, if you want to experience a spiritual breakthrough with God, set aside a regular time and place where you meet with Him—a chair in the living room, a place at the kitchen table, a little corner in your upper room with a Bible, a pen, and a notebook next to you, so you can write down what the Lord says to you. Again, the important thing is not where you do it but finding a place that works for you. The only caveat I offer is: Don’t do it in bed or you’ll find yourself falling back to sleep.

Picture8 John Wesley, the evangelist who helped spark the Great Awakening, prayed so consistently in the same spot every morning that if you visit his home today, you can see two worn spots in the wooden floor where he knelt in prayer three hours every morning. Where you do it isn’t the important thing because wherever you meet with God becomes a holy place. Remember what the Bible says about Jacob when fleeing from his brother Esau? It says that God spoke to him in a dream promising to bless him. So what did he do the next morning? He said to himself, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” Then he took the stone he used as a pillow, set it up as a pillar, poured oil on it, and called it Bethel, meaning “the house of God.” And the same thing can be true of the place you meet with God! You can literally make it the “house of God” by setting it apart as a special place where you spend time with God every day.

By the way, while I’m talking about the place of prayer, let me remind you what Jesus said about it. In the Old Testament, God’s people worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why Daniel prayed with his windows open facing Jerusalem.  He was praying towards the place where God’s Temple had once stood. But no longer is there a temple standing in that place. Instead, where does God’s Word say that God’s Temple is today? 1 Corinthians 3:16 says that we the church are His Temple and that the Spirit of God lives in us who love His Son. Therefore, wherever we meet for worship is holy because God is there. Furthermore, Jesus said our first priority when we meet together is to make it “a house of prayer.”

Picture9That’s why we open the room next-door to our worship center every Sunday at 4:00 o’clock inviting you to come and pray with us. And I hope even more of you will choose to join us in the months ahead, not because you ought to, but because God is with us when we pray. That’s why we also set aside time in our services for prayer. We do it, not because we ought to, but because we love God. Knowing Him is our passion and joy. So that’s what we want to be known for. We want to be known as a people of prayer.

Daniel had a fixed time for prayer. He had a fixed place for prayer, and most important of all, he had a fixed purpose for prayer.

3. He had a fixed purpose for prayer.

Read verse 10 one more time. It says, “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.” Have you ever felt so strongly about something that you’ve said to yourself, “I’m going to do this even if it kills me!”? That was Daniel’s attitude, except that it wasn’t an occasional feeling on his part; it was his daily resolution even in the face of death!

Picture3So I say to you with all love and seriousness, if you make any resolution in the year ahead, make it this one. Determine, with all the grace God gives you, that you’re going to spend time with Him every day, even if it kills you! It won’t, of course. It’ll be difficult at first, like most new habits are. But it won’t kill you to do it. It will bless you beyond anything you can imagine, just as it did Daniel.

You know the rest of the story. Daniel is caught in the act of praying, as his enemies plotted, and sentenced to didin the lion’s den. But what’s amazing is that it was Darius, not Daniel, who was racked with anxiety. Verse 18 says that once Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, Darius returned to his palace, refused all entertainment, and spent the night in fasting and prayer, unable to get a wink of sleep. Whereas Daniel? He was at perfect peace. Isaiah 26:3 promises, “You will keep him perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You.”

That takes us to Daniel’s purpose for prayer. Sometimes we get the mistaken notion that the reason we pray is for God’s benefit, as if He’s dependent on us for His happiness. Nothing could be farther from the truth! God is by His very nature an infinitely happy God who has from eternity past enjoyed perfect fellowship with His Son, making Him dependent on us for nothing! God has no unfulfilled needs. But we do. And that’s why we pray! We pray not because He needs us, but because we need Him.

To illustrate this, let me finish with the example of another great man of prayer, George Mueller pastor of the Baptist church in Bristol, England for 64 years -from age 28 in 1834 till the day he died at age 92 in 1898. (Credit goes to Pastor John Piper for his biographical message on the life of George Mueller from which I learned much about this great man and his passion for prayer.)

Picture13But what he’s best known for is his work with orphans. Before Mueller, there were 3600 orphans being cared for in all of England with twice that many under the age of 8 in debtor’s prison with their parents, whereas 50 years later, because of Mueller’s work, there were over 100,000 orphans being cared for in England. Mueller himself built five orphanages where he cared for over 10,000 orphans, even though he was penniless. In fact, he said that’s why he did it. He wanted to find a way to prove to the people of England, who had lost their faith in God, how good God is to meet His children’s needs. So he took on a project that could only be explained by the power of God. He also did it without asking for donations, for he wanted it to be clear that it was God who did it through prayer alone.

Mueller also happened to be one of the biggest givers to missions in his day, even though he took no salary from his church, nor did he have any money of his own. For example, he was by far the biggest supporter of Hudson Taylor, giving more than $3 million to his ministry in China all by kneeling in prayer and asking God for money that he could give away.

Imagine having thousands of orphans depending on you for their daily bread with no means to provide it! Would that make you anxious? Not Mueller! He said he welcomed every problem as a chance to prove the sovereign goodness of God. In fact, he talked about that a lot: God’s sovereign goodness electing him to be saved, preparing good works for him to walk in, and providentially ordering every detail of his life.

Picture15For example, when Mary his wife died, whom he loved with all his heart, he could say with perfect peace, “I am fully satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father and seek by perfect submission to His holy will to glorify Him. I continually kiss the hand that has afflicted me for whilst He smites with the one hand, He supports with the other.” And when he was about to lose a piece of property he wanted for an orphanage, he said, “If the Lord were to take this piece of land from me, it would be only for the purpose of giving me a still better one; for our Heavenly Father never takes any earthly thing from His children except He means to give them something better instead.”

Picture11Where did he get such great faith in God? From hours and hours enjoying the presence of God. He said in a message to his students, “In my judgment, the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you and the Lord’s work may make urgent claims on your attention, but I deliberately repeat: It is of supreme and paramount importance to keep your souls happy in the Lord Himself. Seek to make this day by day the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled condition for the last five and thirty years! The first few years after my conversion, I knew not its importance but now after much experience, I specially commend this to my younger brothers and sisters in Christ—the secret of all true and effective service is joy in Christ.”

Why is that important? He explained, “I have stated he deep importance of being satisfied with the will of God not only for the sake of glorifying Him, but also as the best way in the end of satisfying the desires of our own hearts. Whatever we do must be the result of joy in God.” And again, the way he did that was by spending daily time reading God’s Word and talking to Him in prayer.

Here’s how he finished his message, so that’s how I’ll finish mine. He said, “My dear Christian friend, will you not try it this way? Will you not learn for yourself the preciousness and the happiness of casting all your cares and necessities on the Lord? This way is as open to you as to me. Everyone is invited to trust in the Lord, to trust in Him with all your heart and cast all your burdens upon Him and call upon Him in the day of trouble. Will you not do this, my dear brother and sister? I long for you to do so, to taste the sweetness of that state of heart in which, though surrounded by difficulties and necessities, you are yet at peace, because you know that the living God, your Father in heaven, cares for you.”

Do you believe that? Then begin to put it into practice right now in prayer.

prayer-challenge2

To listen to the audio message, click the “Play” button below.

(To download the audio message, click Audio. To read the written message, click Written. To download the written message, right click on it once it has opened and then left click on “Save As.” You can then save it as a file on your computer.)

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