“O my God, incline Your ear and hear. Open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by Your name. For we do not present our pleas before You because of our righteousness, but because of Your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for Your own sake, O my God, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
Prayer is everywhere. It is universal, even in Hollywood. Perhaps you have seen the movie Talladega Nights starring actor Will Ferrell playing the ridiculous NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby. In this heavily comedic movie, there is an interesting and irreverent prayer scene. Ricky prays to “baby Jesus, tiny Jesus in His golden fleece diaper.” And his wife Carly responds by saying, “I want you to do this grace good so that God will let us win tomorrow!” In like manner, perhaps you have seen Meet the Parents, where Ben Stiller, playing the role of Greg, is forced to pray in front of his new family. His prayer includes this gem: “And we thank You, O sweet Lord of Hosts, for the smorgasbord You have so aptly lain at our table this day and each day, by day, day by day, by day.” Maybe you are a fan of older movies, like the 1965 Jimmy Stewart classic Shenandoah. Jimmy prays, “Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvest it. We cook the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank You Lord just the same for the food we’re about to eat, amen.” Interestingly, these three prayers have something in common: a lack of honest vulnerability and blatant inauthenticity.
It is clear that as humans, we are fixated on the idea of prayer—the idea of calling out our thoughts, desires, and praises to something or someone that is not us. In today’s passage, we find ourselves in the midst of another prayer—Daniel’s prayer to God.
Daniel was a person like you and me—someone trying to follow God in a society, country, and culture that either had long forgotten Him or had never known Him. Sure, they had known the idea of God. Babylon would have been considered a religious culture, a culture full of many co-existing gods. But they were powerless because they did not know the one true God. This covenant-keeping Lord is the Lord of Daniel’s people, the God of Israel. The problem is that Israel had forgotten their God. They had transgressed His covenant time and time again, forsaking their relationship with their Lord and Maker, forsaking protection, forsaking life. And so God justly poured out His anger on His people and let the mighty nation of Babylon rule over Israel. However, God was also pouring out His mercy on at least one Israelite—Daniel. God would use Daniel to be a prophet, one who would speak God’s words in this time of exile and judgment. Left in a circumstance of utter desperation, seeking for Jerusalem to be spared, Daniel cried out to the one and only true recipient of prayer. The prayer is only fifteen verses, but Daniel referenced God an astonishing 56 times. Praying to God is Daniel’s foundation and should be ours as well, but like Daniel, we also need to be honest with Him, “for we do not present our pleas before (God) because of our righteousness, but because of (God’s) great mercy” (Dan 9:18b).
This brings us to our main point: Are we praying vulnerably? Daniel's prayer is not only God-directed, but also honest, petitioning the raw reality of his heart. He is specific: crying out that God would show mercy to Jerusalem, that He would cut short her desolation. If we know God like Daniel, we know that God cares. We know that God especially cares for His people, and because God cares we can be honest. God is not manipulative. He can be trusted. He does not have a religious formula for our prayers, but instead He wants us to be relationally sincere. Like a little kid eagerly running to Santa's lap, we too can run to our heavenly Father and sit on His lap, praying our lives. Daniel knew one way in which God would answer his prayer (in regard to Jerusalem), but he may not have realized how God would ultimately answer his prayer.
You see, several hundred years later another Jewish man, Jesus Christ, was in a time of exile and judgment. Just before His death, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane and cried out to God with the raw reality of His heart, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39). Jesus is the greater Daniel, whereas Daniel prayed that Israel would be spared, Jesus is submitting to be crushed. Just a few days after the garden, we read of Jesus in the greatest moment of exile and judgment this side of hell—the cross at Calvary. And He prayed to God, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That prayer was from God to God, and for you and me. You may have never thought about it before, but Jesus was praying for you. You and I are the ones who know not what we do. You and I are the ones who pray imperfectly and selfishly. God used Daniel to spare His people from destruction, but God used Jesus to be destroyed so that you and I could be spared. This is the Gospel and this is the good news indeed. You see, we are in deep trouble if our relationship with God is founded on our prayers to God, on our ability to talk to God. Jesus is telling us that because our sin is so great, in order to know God we must accept His prayers for us. His perfect life, His death, all of it is a prayer for us. Jesus became vulnerable for us. Jesus prays for us, so let us receive His prayers, and present our pleas vulnerably and humbly before our God of great mercy.