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10.17.10 What Is Faithful Prayer Today? Daniel 6 Sermon Summary

by on October 19, 2010

Summary Points

  • Faithful prayer is spoken and lived
  • The essence of spoken prayer is trust
  • The essence of lived prayer is good work, magnanimity, and thanksgiving
  • How to talk to children about this passage

In the 4th century St. Anthony of the Desert heard Paul’s words to “pray continually” (1Th5:17) and withdrew from society to sequester himself. Is that what we have to do today? Daniel provides an alternative. He was thrown into the lions’ den for faithfully praying while holding a non-religious job in a society where his religion was marginalized. That sounds like something we can relate to.
According to this famous story, faithful prayer can consist of both (1) prayer the way most of us think about it, that is, talking to God; and (2) a living a life that bears the fruit of such prayer.
Daniel was a man of prayer in the way most of us think of when we hear the word. Daniel had a regular and ritualistic prayer routine. Three times a day he would enter his upper room, open the windows toward Jerusalem, and pray in such a way that those on the outside knew exactly what he was doing (see verse 10). And when King Darius decreed that such was illegal, Daniel was easily found guilty of violating the law.

The story also tells us of the content of Daniel’s prayers. He was mostly concerned with dedicating himself to God. What does it mean to be dedicated to God? In one sense, it means acknowledging one’s dependence on God. This Daniel does in verse 11. Another way to think about this is revealed in verse 23; dedicating oneself to God, acknowledging one’s dependence, is simply to trust God.

Daniel’s trust in God was uncompromising, which is why when the King made it illegal to pray, Daniel maintained fidelity in his prayer ritual. God’s law was of greater import than the laws of the land. But his trust in God went further. Even when the consequences of his fidelity led to suffering and death, Daniel submitted to the laws of the land. Amazingly, trusting in God’s law meant trusting in the law of the land; Daniel did not protest his punishment.

Here is an important lesson about faithful prayer and the life characterized by it. It trusts God even through the negative consequences of law. In the story of Daniel, the civic law required his punishment. Daniel embraced it (verse 16). His example applies in another court as well—that of natural law. Each of us will suffer and die through the fortspinnung of natural law. We can pray for healing and deliverance, but faithful prayer still depends on and trusts in God even when natural laws claim our lives.

A life characterized by prayer is a life of excellent productivity. In the opening verses (3-5), Daniel is commended for his professional ethic in service to King Darius. You don’t have to pray to be a good worker, but honest prayer produces a character that results in good work. Daniel is one such example. Like Joseph before him, Daniel was blessed by God with success in whatever endeavor he had in service to a foreign governor. Part of that blessing came as Daniel prayed faithfully.

The life characterized by prayer magnanimously allows for the potentiality of other peoples’ prayers. Daniel and Darius were friends, and King Darius was distraught when he realized Daniel’s fate. The story tells us that Darius refused to be entertained and fed, and worried for Daniel all night long (verse 18). In other words, he fasted and prayed—maybe not in the manner and to the God Daniel was, but it was spiritual angst and concern nonetheless. The book of Daniel never judges Darius for this. The life characterized by prayer recognizes the desire of God to listen and respond to all people. IOW, the prayerful life recognizes grace.

Finally, a life characterized by prayer ascribes deliverance to God. This is only to be expected. If one has dedicated oneself to God, acknowledged one’s dependence and trust upon God, then when God’s faithfulness is manifest, one will naturally give thanks to God. Daniel gives thanks to God for his deliverance, and even for his faithfulness to begin with (verse 22). His attitude here is consistent with his prayer; he depends on God.

To summarize, faithful prayer today consists of both the spoken prayer of dedication, dependence, and trust, and a life characterized by such prayer—a life of acceptance, excellence, magnanimity, and thanksgiving.

Questions for Deeper Reflection

  • What “lions’ den” are you in right now? Daniel could have been bitter about being faithful then being punished. Instead he was faithful, was punished, and needed more faith. How has your faith landed you in a position requiring even more faith?
  • What is the content of your prayers, and how is the way you live your life consistent with that content? If you wanted to change your life, should you consider changing your prayers?
  • Here’s the hard questions: Are you praying for success, or are you submitting to God? How will the answer to this question impact the way you respond to adversity?

Talking About this Passage with Children

  • Daniel in the Lions’ Den is one of THE most popular children’s stories. Probably it’s the lions. My 5 year old loves lions, especially after Disney’s the Lion King. As in the story of Joshua and Jericho, most of us shield or underplay the demonic side of the story; in this case, the killing of the wives and children of those who set Daniel up. As with Joshua, parents might try to talk about the image of dedicating everything to God. If your child is mature enough, you can speak of this part of the narrative in metaphorical language. Otherwise, we’re bound to say it is indeed terrible and not God’s will that the innocent suffer for the guilty.
  • This story must be considered in tandem with the story of Daniels three friends in chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. There the three friends say they will be faithful to God even if God does not deliver. Of course, God does deliver the three friends and Daniel in his time. But the cold hard facts of reality which our children will face sooner or later, in small or tragic degrees, is that the people of God suffer and question whether God will deliver or has abandoned. This is a story told in Exile to bolster the faith of those whose patience is running thin. It really is a children’s story, meant to exalt one’s nation, one’s national God, and one’s fidelity to nation and God. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that (think of honest Abe or Washington). But even the chosen people can become idolatrous and presumptuous in their election to salvation, without being as trusting and magnanimous as Daniel was. My daughter’s narrative paraphrase Bible (Sparks Story Bible, which I whole-heartedly recommend) includes the line, “God always keeps me safe.” That’s just not true in reality. But it makes the kind of story that keeps faith alive, and that’s the point. No matter what happens to me, God helped Daniel, and God can help me. And so I will pray.
  • Of course, there’s nothing wrong with letting children take the story and run with it—literal, nationalistic, whatever. As long as when the time comes that the other shoe drops, we are prepared to help them dig deeper into the narrative of God’s people and find the faithful and faith fulfilling meaning. We can only do that if, as adults, we have made that journey ourselves.

The Faith Connection Card responses were, “This week I will:”

  • Pray without ceasing
  • Find and tell of God’s deliverance
  • Practice submission to God
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