‘Don’t pray to anyone but me for thirty days,’ commanded Darius, the king of Persia. The royal edict plunged Daniel, the king’s respected administrator, into a crisis. Should the eighty-year-old Daniel continue his lifelong habit of praying three times a day, or give prayer a miss for the next month?
Really no choice
The stark choice was between life and death. To stop praying meant prolonged life; to keep praying would lead to a painful death in the lions’ den. But for Daniel, the child of the only God, there really was no choice; he must pray whatever danger he faces.
Therefore, ‘when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards 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 6:10).
King Darius had planned to give Daniel authority over the whole kingdom, so why did he pass a law which placed his favourite officer in dire trouble? The foolish monarch listened to the flattery and lies of jealous officials, who resented the promotion offered to Daniel. The circumstances had changed dramatically for the worse, but Daniel did not change. He simply carried on praying. Would we have done the same?
Lions in the bedroom
Stuart Olyott suggests that ‘the real den of lions was Daniel’s bedroom. He knew that if he disobeyed the king’s command, he would be mauled and savaged by wild animals, and would lose his life. But he would not have lost his testimony … The devil would prefer that we kept our lives and lost our testimonies’. Do we have the courage of Daniel in a crisis? Are we willing to risk becoming unpopular with close friends, or causing offence to cherished family members, rather than disobey God’s commands in his Word?
Courage in crisis comes through the discipline of daily fellowship with God. Some may call the regular ‘quiet time’ legalism. Nevertheless, to pray each day at set times is spiritual wisdom. Neither the king’s business nor his threats kept Daniel from his routine of praying three times a day. When we are too busy to pray, the lions in the bedroom have already eaten us!
Faith in prayer
Why did Daniel pray with ‘the windows opened towards Jerusalem’? Was this the foolishness of a stubborn old man, or the defiance of a determined protester? Not at all! Daniel’s conduct expressed his confidence in the covenant God of Israel. He believed God would fulfil his promise to take the Jews, his chosen people, back to the promised land (Daniel 9:1-3).
Exiled in Babylon, Daniel sorrowfully recalls the crumbling walls of the Jewish capital, and the temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies many years ago. Such a devout Jew as Daniel would have known the prediction of the dying patriarch Jacob, namely, that Shiloh, the Messiah, would come from the tribe and land of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10). To fulfil that prophecy, God must take the Jews back to the promised land.
It was to that land, therefore, that Daniel looked, and for which he longed, as he prayed. His faith, based on God’s Word, would eventually receive its reward when Cyrus, the Persian, later issued a decree allowing the exiles to return home (Ezra 1). Further ahead, Messiah would arise from the Jewish race to die as the Saviour of the world.
Daniel eagerly looked forward to Christ, whereas we look back (Daniel 9:20-27). However, we also look forward – to Christ’s second coming at the end of the world. Meanwhile, faith in God’s promises keeps our hope alive and prompts us to pray for his coming. Faith in prayer gives us courage in crisis.
Humility in prayer
Daniel’s posture in prayer shows his humility: ‘He got down on his knees and prayed’ (Daniel 6:10). We gain an insight into Daniel’s understanding of God, by eavesdropping on his prayers in Daniel chapters 2 and 9. God is the wise and powerful sovereign who controls providence and history. From him alone comes wisdom and knowledge (2:20-23). Before such a God Daniel wears ‘sackcloth and ashes’ as he confesses his own sins and those of the nation (9:3-19). Daniel’s God, in contrast to the ‘God’ of many present-day Evangelicals, is ‘great and awesome’, and the prophet falls humbly at his feet (9:4).
How different to the attitude of the arrogant Nebuchadnezzar, who learnt that God is sovereign the hard way. Seven years chewing grass with the oxen taught the Babylonian monarch some valuable lessons! He discovered that the Most High’s dominion is eternal and that before him ‘All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing’. The humbled king confesses that God ‘does as he pleases with the powers of heaven’ and ‘No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”‘ (Daniel 4:34-35).
Does this emphasis on God’s majesty belong only to the Old Testament? Certainly not! James calls us to humble ourselves before God and turn our laughter into mourning because of our sins (James 4:7-10). Addressing Christians, the writer to the Hebrews describes God as ‘a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29).
A realisation of God’s holiness leads to a godly life (Daniel 6:4-5). Sin makes God deaf when we pray (Isaiah 59:1-2; Psalm 66:18-19), but a clear conscience gives boldness before God and fearlessness when opposed by evil men.
Persistence in prayer
Daniel developed the habit of praying over many years. So in a crisis he simply followed his normal routine of praying three times a day ‘just as he had done before’ (Daniel 6:10).
Exiled at about the age of fourteen, and now in his eighties, Daniel prayed to his God every day, without fail. When Daniel’s enemies went near his house, they did not go to see if he was still praying, but because they knew he would be praying. They had no doubt that their scheme to oust their rival would not fail. They knew that Daniel would persist in prayer.
Several of Jesus’ parables highlight perseverance in prayer. Luke’s account of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ comes before the story of the man who, with unexpected visitors and an empty larder, wakes his sleeping friend to ask for bread. The man hammering at the door will not take ‘no’ for an answer! Jesus drives home the message of the parable with a promise. ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Luke 11:5-10).
Praise and prayer
Daniel joins praise to his prayers even though he risks the lions’ den if he disobeys Darius’ ruling. ‘He … prayed, giving thanks to God’ (Daniel 6:10). Writing from a prison in Rome, Paul commands the Philippians to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. Some of his readers would remember how the apostle and his companion, Silas, sang praises at midnight in a Philippian jail (Philippians 4:4; Acts 16:22-25). As strange as it sounds, pain and danger may teach us to praise, especially when we know that God’s plans are perfect (Romans 8:28).
God is with us
Daniel’s faithfulness in prayer led to the lions’ den, but the God whom he served continually sent his angel to shut the mouths of the hungry predators (Daniel 6:16-22). Just as God came and stood alongside Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace, so he stood at the side of Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 3:24-25).
The same Lord sat with Paul in prison, when he delivered him from the lion Nero. ‘At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me … but the Lord stood at my side, and gave me strength … And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom’ (2 Timothy 4:16-18).
The Lord will also take all who believe in Christ into his ‘heavenly kingdom’. But, meanwhile, we may obtain courage in every crisis as we come daily to the ‘throne of grace’. For there we ‘receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).