Imagine if mental telepathy were a real thing for the average Joe and his mama. Why, she could simply think up a reminder to feed the dog or bring in grocery bags instead of having to nag.
For all of the technology of our day, there’s no iThink on the market as far as I know, a communication device that connects our minds, transcending words with a connection of mere thoughts. We also have no iFeels, a device that would connect hearts so that what one person feels, another feels, too. We’re still in the dark age when it come to these.
But both of these technologies are already available to us 24/7 in prayer. In fact, they’ve been available since time began and God made man. Prayer is talking to God with words, but it’s also thinking thoughts directed at God and having emotions that we share with him. There are lots of ways to connect with him. Prayer is a lot more than just words.
Sometimes what we feel is too deep for words and can only be expressed in groans. The Holy Spirit interprets them for us to the Father. These are prayers, too, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” Ro 8:26.
David himself had prayers of sighing and longing and groaning before God, “I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you, my sighing is not hidden from you.” David goes on to say, “But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God who will answer,” Ps 38:8-9, 15. David prays simply by directing his feelings to the God who feels him, and he waits for God to answer.
David says that his cry to God is a prayer, “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer,” Ps 61:1. He says praise is prayer, “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue…God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” Ps 66:17-20.
He even says weeping is prayer, “Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer,” Ps 6:8-9.
David also danced “before the Lord with all his might” when the ark was brought back to the temple. There was a big celebration that day, and he was stripped down to his linen undershirt, “while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” Praise, shouts, dancing–was this prayer? David said he had done it “before the Lord” as celebration, as a way to commune with God. Because it was done in public, his wife thought it beneath him, and she despised him for it. She didn’t have any children after that. Evidently judging another’s exuberant worship was a big deal, 2 Sa 6:14-23.
Any communication when done “before the Lord” is prayer, whether talking, sighing, moaning, groaning, weeping, singing, thinking, moving, dancing, or creating. When done for the purpose of communicating with God, all of these and more are ways for us to connect with him. I have a friend who laments that she doesn’t read her Bible enough. Praise music is her jam, and she sings like a soulful angel. God’s words feed her heart in music, and her music feeds mine. It’s a circle of blessing. Who can say what is true-and-only prayer and worship?
We pray to tell God what we need, to thank him, to praise him, to lament to him, to pour out our hearts to him, whether in joy or sorrow or thanks.
Asaph was famous for writing many of the psalms. He tells of a time when he was envious, “grieved” and “embittered,” and he brought it all to God. Was it prayer? It sure sounds like it. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel,” Ps 73:21-23.
He felt these feelings while in God’s presence. This is also what prayer is–bringing all our words and thoughts and feelings to God. All communication with God is prayer, and not just the polite kind. Connecting with God is what praying is all about, and it’s as easy as a thought or a movement in his direction, even when what we bring is raw and raging.
Thinking of God is as much a prayer as is kneeling and following a formula. God is as informal as he is formal. Daniel prayed formally and his answers are impressive. But God hears all prayers aimed at him from those who love him.
My friend Susie says when she’s tired, she just hollers out, “Donna!” or “Judy!” knowing that God hears, and he knows what she has in mind. It’s the intimacy of relationship that we have with him that gives us this privilege, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me,” Mi 7:7. God hears me because I am his and he is mine.
Those who don’t know God don’t have this iSay, iThink, iFeel life-device connection, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you; so that he will not hear,” Is 59:2. But later in the same chapter, God says that with “his own arm” he will achieve salvation for them, “‘The Redeemer will come…to those..who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord,” Is 59:16, 20.
God’s worldwide connection offer is bundled with all his life-devices for the price of repentance by anyone, and no hidden fees!
Daniel was a man of prayer. In today’s passage, we see two examples of his formalized, fervent prayers. They’re admirable and effective. God sends answers to both prayers as soon as he prays them. But I wanted to begin with a wider view of prayer than Daniel’s, because when I first read his, my heart sank. Who can pray like Daniel? I don’t even know where to find sackcloth.
I love the informality I have to speak to God anytime, anywhere, but there are things I can learn from Daniel’s formal prayers. With my iThought, I can direct my mind intentionally if I pray like Daniel. Maybe I’ll get faster answers, too. Daniel prayed all out, and his prayers were answered on the spot.
Daniel was known among his group as a man of prayer. When he tells the king he’ll interpret his dream, he asks his friends to pray that God would show it to him, and he praises God when he does, 2:18-23. Jealous coworkers set up a plan to have him killed using his regular prayer to God as bait. Praying three times daily was his habit with his window open toward Jerusalem, and they knew it, Da 6:5, 10-11.
In Daniel 9, he prays for the exiles in Babylon, God’s people. These are the pieces of Daniel’s prayer that stand out for me:
He prays God’s words back to God. Daniel says that he understood from Jeremiah’s prophecy that the “desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” His very next words are basically, You said 70 years, and it’s been 67 already. I’m not gonna let you forget. “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes,” Da 9:3. Daniel read what God said, and he prayed that God would do what he said.
Praying that God will do what he promises is a pretty sure way to get an answer. It’s holding God accountable to himself and to his own words. We can ask God to bring about what he’s said he wants; we can pray with his heart for peace in a home, for love between enemies, for help for the poor. This is praying after God’s will, reminding God what he’s said and admitting we can’t make it happen without him.
He fasts when he prays. Fasting isn’t only doing without food; it can also mean doing without a luxury or anything we consider a treat. In Daniel’s second prayer in this passage, he fasted from using lotion. He also said he consumed “no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips,” Da 10:2. He doesn’t say he fasted from all food, just choice food and wine.
He’s uncomfortable. Less familiar than fasting is praying in “sackcloth and ashes.” Sackcloth was a coarse and uncomfortable garment made of goat hair. Ashes were sat on and put on top of the head. Using both sackcloth and ashes like this was a sign of intense grief or sorrow for sin back then. But it was the genuinely grieving or repentant heart that was key, not so much the sackcloth and ashes, (http://gotquestions.org/sackcloth-and-ashes.html). Practically speaking, being uncomfortable in some way while praying might help us stay awake enough to actually do it.
He praises God for his love. Before Daniel gets to his point, which is asking God to bring the exiles back to their land, he praises God for who he is, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands.” It’s only because God is faithful to keep his love promise with his people that Daniel can come to him in prayer. His people have broken their side of this promise, but Daniel knows God hasn’t broken his side. It’s because of God’s love that he has the confidence to come, Da 9:4.
He confesses their collective sin. “…we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened…,” Da 9:5. This is extraordinary. Daniel uses “we,” though he’s obviously not guilty of the sins he confesses.
His praying three times a day didn’t just start in Babylon. As wise as he already was when he got there, I’m guessing that following God was already his daily habit. Though Daniel’s not perfect, he’s not to blame for the exile of God’s people, and yet he uses “we” when he prays for them. He doesn’t complain the way Moses did about “these people,” when Moses got angry with them in the desert, as if he’s better than they are, Ex 17:4. It’s because of the sin of “these exiles” that Daniel’s been shipped off to Babylon, yet he doesn’t detach from them or blame. He kindly connects, “we,” Da 9:5-6.
He’s humble. How can Daniel honestly identify with God’s people and include himself in his confession of “our” sin? It’s because he’s focused on God. Compared to God, he has no righteousness to speak of. It’s God who’s right, “for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him,” Da 9:14.
They’re covered with shame because of their sin; they’ve become an object of scorn from other nations; they’ve brought all God’s curses on them and despite of all the disaster, they still haven’t sought him. They deserve what’s happened, Daniel says, God was right, Da 9:7-14.
He asks God to forgive and help for two reasons: because it’s consistent with God’s character to do so and because his people bear God’s name, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name,” Da 9:16-19.
Daniel stands on the only ground anyone stands on when they come to God: God’s goodness, mercy, and honor. No one is good enough to stand on their own merit. It’s because we can count on God to be who he says he is that we can count on him to hear us and help.
He asks for God’s sake. Daniel asks God not to delay for God’s sake. It’s not only in our best interest that he help us, it’s in his, too. We’re a reflection on him. I have a friend who prayed for years for her marriage without much change, but when she started praying like this, things started happening, “God, our problems make us look bad, and they make you look bad because we’re yours. Please show up and help.” Da 9:19.
His prayer is answered ASAP and with more than he asks for. Before Daniel finished praying, an angel shows up,”While I was still in prayer, Gabriel…came to me in swift flight,” and tells him when he can expect Jerusalem to be restored, and he tells him even more: he tells him when “the Anointed One,” the Messiah, will come, Da 9:20-25.
There’s a lot of “sevens” and “times” here, and I don’t understand it all, but some folks have done some compelling calculations if you’re interested, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/daniel-9/). Basically, Gabriel tells Daniel to get out his planner; he’s got some firm dates to give him for what’s coming up next for God’s people in the big picture, a bigger one than Daniel’s asked for, Da 9:24-27.
There are things I’ve prayed for for years that still haven’t happened. Why does Daniel get an answer–better than he dreamed–with such speedy delivery? Gabriel tells why, “As soon as you began to pray an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed,” 9:23. Daniel’s prayer was answered as soon as he prayed because he was a favorite in heaven. He’s not just esteemed; he’s highly esteemed.
When I think back over Daniel’s life, the thing that stands out most is his regular prayer, three times a day, day in and day out He’s known for it among his cronies in the kingdom as well as in heaven. It’s only because of God’s mercy that he can pray, but he takes advantage of that mercy everyday.
How different the culture of heaven is compared to earth’s. The reason for being well known and esteemed in heaven is for prayer? Not for feeding the poor or for saving babies or for being popular? This is great news, because anybody can pray. It’s free. It’s portable. It brings angels on the run. Prayer gets top billing for a well esteemed life? I had no idea.
Spiritual warfare is also mentioned in this passage. The next time Daniel prays, he “mourns” for three weeks (this was when he fasts from choice food, wine, and lotion). It doesn’t say how often he prays, but the three weeks mourning period is clear, Da 10:2.
This time, the angel is dispatched immediately to answer him as before, but it takes him three weeks to get to Daniel because of some trouble he has with the “prince of the Persian kingdom,” who he struggles with for twenty-one days. He says he was helped by Michael, another angel, so he’s finally come to give Daniel more details about the future of God’s people, Da 10:12-14
I’m intrigued with the idea that Daniel’s three week’s of prayer exactly coincides with the length of time his angel struggled with the “prince,” who’s thought to be a demon that rules Persia. What if Daniel had quit praying on day 20? I don’t know if there’s a prayer lesson to draw here other than to say that frequent, fervent praying matters, but it sounds like Daniel’s answer to prayer depended on Daniel’s commitment to pray everyday of the three weeks that he prayed, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/daniel-10/).
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we can’t see. It’s a reality hard to believe, and it’s only accessible with the eyes of faith. The privilege of getting to enter into that spiritual realm whenever we please and talk at length with The God Who Runs the Universe will never cease to amaze me.
Why does he give us this kind of access to his throne room? Why does he take our call every time we ring? Why does he not only listen, but give real help? Why does he bend down to hear our moans and groans, collect our tears in a bottle, send his Son to die in our place so we can bother him all day?
I really don’t know.
I only know that he does.
1 John 2:18-3:6
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!” 3:1
I love the word lavish. It conjures up down pillows and shearling slippers and lots of presents and delicious desserts and diamonds and mansions and limos and lots and lots of time to read (Nerd alert. You can substitute your thing for “read”).
John says God’s love for us is so great, it’s lavished on us, so abundantly full, it’s poured out, heaped up, piled high. We aren’t just the neighbor kids he puts up with or the stepkids that come for Christmas break.
We have the best seat at his table, the most expensive gifts, the first waffles on Sunday mornings, the cozy spot next to his. We get to be called his kids. Is there any relationship closer than father and child?
Even if you haven’t enjoyed a close father-child relationship, you can have one with him. His favorite way to describe himself is as Father and us as his child. When I think about all that that means having raised our kids, I’m overwhelmed by him.
The easiest way I know for connecting with how God feels about me is connecting with my love for my kids. They’re first in my thoughts; their happiness is what I’m most concerned about.
That much love, God?
The psalmist agrees. He’s got more to say about God’s love, and I can’t say it one bit better. Here it is…
“I lift up my eyes to the hills–
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He won’t let your foot slip–
he who watches over you won’t slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you–
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun won’t harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm–
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”
If God pays close enough attention to see me going and coming, dashing out for an errand and coming back home again, then I can be pretty sure he has his loving eye on me always.
My take away today is the attentive eye and ear of God, always watching, always listening and available, always able to hear and help me, no matter if I’m in a car wreck or have a hang nail. In every way that I want to hear from my kids, God wants to hear from me. Because of his “great love,” whatever I care about, God cares about, and he invites me to share it with him in prayer.
What a lavish privilege prayer is.