Exiled to Babylon, Daniel came to grips with the depth of Israel’s sin. He had read Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Jerusalem’s destruction and that its exile would last for 70 long years. He mourned and prayed. During my devotional time this morning, I read Daniel’s prayer. The part that jumped out at me was this:
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. (Daniel 9:17-19)
And in particular, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” How many of us begin our prayers with such humility? I have always found it fairly easy to express my thanksgiving to God, but praying with humility has been more challenging. Typically, we just ask for stuff. We ask because we care or desire. We care about our relatives. We care about our jobs or GPA’s. And we desire good things that will bless us. These are not wrong things to do, but do we pray with an attitude of pride, that we deserve such things because we’re good people or hope we are? Or do we pray because we know of the great mercy of God?
We are told over and over in the Scriptures about the Lord’s mercy. Micah says the Lord delights to show mercy. Moses, Nehemiah, and Jesus remind us that God is merciful. Time and again in the parables Jesus told, they conveyed the mercy of the Lord. The father was merciful to his lost son; the master was merciful to his servant; and the vineyard owner was merciful to the laborers he hired late in the day.
It is the very nature of God to be merciful. We don’t need to earn it; he freely gives it. Yet, not for a moment should we think we deserve it. Like the Psalmist, we should say to the Lord, “Have mercy on me.”
I think the more we come to terms with the absolute holiness of God, the more our pride dissolves and gives way to humility. He is worthy; I am, only because of what Jesus did on my behalf. Acknowledging this will impact our prayer lives tremendously. We will be less inclined to just “throw up” quick prayers to God. And we will be more inclined to pray more because we know our great need for him.
There is another lesson to learn from Daniel’s prayer which is quite applicable to our present-day political and cultural crises. In the beginning of his prayer (9:4-5), he says,
Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.
Note that he is very inclusive in his attribution of sin. “We have sinned and done wrong.” “We have been wicked and rebelled.” There is no hint of “us and them.” Daniel considered them all guilty, including himself! How refreshing it would be if believers in our nation would approach our cultural and political issues with the same humility. We have sinned and in order for our problems to be resolved, we desperately need the Lord to have mercy on us. It is so easy to blame “liberals” or “right-wingers,” but doesn’t the blame fall on us? Have we been devoted to prayer for our nation, for its leaders, for our neighbors? Have we slandered those whose opinions and perspectives differ from ours, or at least held toward them hatred in our hearts? Have we had the courage and boldness to share the gospel that transforms hearts with others?
Daniel’s prayer reminded me of how far short I fall in my own humility when I come before the Lord. I am guilty of contributing to the sins of our nation, as well as other sins. I am in desperate need of his mercy. However, I am not hopeless because, like Daniel, I have confidence that there is an ample supply of God’s mercy available to me. All I, we, need to do is ask for it.
© Jim Musser 2019 All Scripture references from the New International Version.