The delights of faith
It is the year 537 BC and Daniel, who was taken captive by the Babylonians when he was only fourteen, is now eighty-two. But even though he himself is old, Daniel’s faith is new.
Stuart Olyott writes: ‘Many years have passed since he last saw Jerusalem, but the old man’s faith is as fresh as ever. Trials have not broken it. Promotion has not eroded it or seduced him to love other things more than his God’.
How do we know that Daniel’s faith had not grown old and tired? Daniel 9:1-19 give us the answer. Even at his advanced age, Daniel was still doing the things in which faith delights itself.
Do you want to know the condition of your faith? Do you want to know whether your faith is still new and fresh or whether it is stagnant and stale? Here is the test: Are you still doing those things in which faith delights?
What are these delights of faith? Our passage leaves no doubt about the answer. Faith delights in reading and studying the Word of God and in approaching the throne of God in prayer.
Faith delighting in the Bible
As the chapter opens (Daniel 9:1-2) we find Daniel studying the Word of God as it had been delivered through Jeremiah the prophet. He is reading the scroll of Jeremiah. We should never minimise the significance of Daniel reading the Word of God. As Olyott explains, ‘Daniel was a great prophet and had had many remarkable visions and revelations, but he never outgrew the need to read his Bible’.
Christian, it doesn’t matter how long you live and how far advanced you become in spiritual things. You will never outgrow your Bible! The Bible is not only milk for the new Christian, it is also meat for the most advanced Christian. It is not only the kindergarten for the saints, it is also the graduate school!
David also was a saintly and godly man, but he never outgrew his Bible. He says to the Lord, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105) and adds: ‘I rejoice at your word as one who finds great treasure’ (Psalm 119:162).
Have you outgrown your Bible? If you have, you can be sure that your faith will shrivel up. It simply won’t be there to sustain you when you need it. Faith needs food, and the food for faith is the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
As Daniel studied the prophecy of Jeremiah, he found something that took his breath away. Jeremiah had declared that the Jews’ captivity in Babylon would last for only seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8-11; 29:10-14).
Here is what startled him – sixty-eight years had already passed! The restoration Jeremiah had predicted was at hand.
Had Daniel never read this before? Or had he read it without really seeing it? We cannot say, but on this occasion it fairly leaped off the page at him.
One reason to read the Bible is that we never know when the same thing will happen to us. We never know when something that has been there all along will leap up to grab and thrill us.
Faith delighting in prayer
The Bible constantly sets before us the vital importance of prayer. It does so in more than one way. Sometimes it simply commands us to pray. At other times it gives us examples of prayer from the greatest saints of God. If these men needed to pray, how much more do we.
Verses 3-19 of our passage record the prayer of Daniel, one of the saintliest men of all time. We do well to read his prayer carefully and seek to emulate it.
Remember that Daniel began praying because of what he read in the Word of God. Some might argue that if God has promised something there is no need to pray for it. Daniel’s attitude was quite the opposite – if God has promised it, there is even more reason to pray. Prayer in its highest form is seeking that which God has promised to bestow. This is why we can pray with confidence and assurance.
Daniel didn’t go about his praying in a casual, nonchalant way. He poured himself into it – he ‘set [his] face toward the Lord God’ (v.3) – and he did so with fasting, sackcloth and ashes to demonstrate a spirit of repentance and humility before God.
Daniel’s prayer was first a prayer of adoration and praise (vv. 4,9). He did not rush into the presence of God and start listing his requests. He began by offering worship and praise. God is the Lord – ‘great and awesome’ (v.4); faithful and merciful (v.4); merciful and forgiving (v.9).
Let’s learn from Daniel that the proper way to begin prayer is with the worship of almighty God. Yes, we have our needs and our pressing concerns, and we are very anxious to pour them all out in a torrent to the Lord.
But no matter how urgent and pressing the need, it is still proper to begin with adoration and praise. The believers in the early church knew this. The authorities were breathing down their necks and the need was urgent and great, but they still began their praying with worship (Acts 4:23-31).
If we remember to begin our prayers in this manner, we shall find we are doing ourselves more good than we realise. If we begin by occupying ourselves with God and his greatness, we shall soon find that our problems shrink in size. No matter how great they may be, they are smaller than our God.
Confession and petition
Having offered praise to God, Daniel turned to the sinful condition of himself and his people. What is sin? It is failing to live in accordance with what God has commanded in his Word. It is failing to do what he has told us to do (‘to walk in his laws’, v.10) and doing what he has told us not to do (‘all Israel … has departed so as not to obey your voice’, v.11).
True repentance not only confesses sin but also honours God as the judge of sin (v.11). It takes God’s side against sin and pronounces his judgements to be right.
Having worshipped God and confessed the sins of his people, Daniel turned his attention to supplication (vv. 16-19). In this part of his prayer, Daniel pleads with God to:
1. turn away from anger (v.16);
2. hear his prayer (vv. 17-19);
3. cause his face to shine again upon his sanctuary (v.17);
4. look upon the desolations of Jerusalem (v.18);
5. act speedily (v.19); and
6. work for the sake of his own name (v.19).
While there is an intensity and depth of feeling that runs throughout Daniel’s prayer, it is especially apparent in this portion. It is also important to notice that Daniel recognises that he and his people have no merit to plead, but can only plead for the mercy of God.
Does this not bring us face to face with one of the most glaring deficiencies in our praying and one of the reasons it seems to accomplish so very little? How much intensity do we have in our praying? How much of this element of pleading do we have?
The need for spiritual renewal
So Daniel delighted himself in the Word of God and in prayer. There is not much glamour in reading the Bible and praying, and many in the church have moved on impatiently to other things. But in doing so they have left God behind, because he has not moved on at all! He still delights in his Word and in our prayer, and we must delight in them as well.
The measure of our faith is not to be found in excitement, ecstasies and emotional experiences, but rather in the degree to which we delight in Bible study and communion with God.
The church of today sorely needs true spiritual renewal. But let us not be in doubt about what a genuine revival will do. It will sweep away a thousand things that churches are now doing and will place on centre stage the Bible and prayer. May God hasten the day!