Some say that prayer is all in the mind,
That the only result is the solace we find,
That God does not answer, nor hear, when we call;
We commune with our own hearts in prayer – that is all.
But we who have knelt with our burden and care
And have made all our problems a matter of prayer
Have seen God reach down from heaven above;
Move mountains, touch hearts in his infinite love.
We know that God works in a wonderful way
On behalf of his children who trust him and pray.
Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel 14 (14:14,20) alongside Noah and Job as three of the most righteous men who ever lived. In the book of Daniel, ch6, Daniel is one of the three officials that king Darius set over his empire. Daniel had such beauty of character and wisdom and success in all that he did that the Darius planned to appoint Daniel over the entire kingdom, which made the other government officials jealous of him. They tried to find some fault in the way that Daniel was handling the affairs of the king so that they could accuse him before the king, but they could find nothing about Daniel to criticize. He was faithful, honest, seemed to make no mistakes. So they said the only way we’re going to be able to accuse him of something is in regard to his religion. So they decided to go to the king and say this, “King Darius, live forever! All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” The idea appealed to King Darius’ pride, that for a month he would replace every god and man. So he agreed to sign the document.
Daniel knew about this document and that it had been signed, but he still continued to do every day what he’d been doing. three times a day every day he would go into his house, open his windows toward Jerusalem, get down on his knees and pray. He would thank God for things and ask God for things. Every day, three times a day, even when this decree had been issued and the practice could cost him his life.
A group of government officials went to Daniel’s house because they knew he did this, and they caught him praying. Then they rushed back to the king and reminded him of his decree and then told him that Daniel has disregarded his orders, and Daniel continues to make petition to his God three times a day. So the king was deeply grieved, regretted signing the decree, but gave orders for Daniel for brought and cast into the lions’ den. The king didn’t eat or sleep or have any entertainment that night. He arose at dawn and hurried to the den and called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then he a voice from inside the den, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” The king was overjoyed and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up from the den. And not a scratch was on him. Then the king gave orders for the men who had accused Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den along with their wives and children, and lions leaped upon them and crushed their bones before they had even reached the bottom of the den. Afterward King Darius wrote this message addressed to everyone in his empire, “May your peace abound! I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” And Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and then in the reign of the next king, Cyrus.
Another true story – Around 445 B.C., after many of the Jews had been allowed to return to the land of Judah and settle there and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, there were still many Jews scattered throughout the Persian Empire. In the capital city of the empire, Susa, there was a Jew who served as the cupbearer for king Artaxerxes. This cupbearer’s name was Nehemiah. One day Nehemiah met a group of Jews who had come to Susa from Jerusalem and Nehemiah asked them about how things were in Judah. “How are our brethren doing? Are they prospering? How’s the city? What condition is it in?” They said to Nehemiah, “Well, things are not good in Judah. The people are very poor. The locals surrounding them despise them and are a constant threat to them. The walls of Jerusalem that they tried to rebuild have been torn down and the gates burned with fire. It’s really a sad situation in Judah and Jerusalem.” In response to the bad news, this man Nehemiah spent much of the next three or four months fasting and praying with tears to God on behalf of his fellow Jews. He prayed that God would use him to help the situation. And he came up with this bold plan to ask king Artaxerxes to send him to Jerusalem and provide him with the resources to rebuild the walls and gates of the city. King Artaxerxes could just kill him for troubling him with a request and for suggesting that he change his policy toward Jerusalem and the Jews. In Nehemiah 1 we read about what Nehemiah prayed on the day he planned to make this bold request of the king. In his prayer he praised God for His greatness and goodness and faithfulness to the covenant, and confessed that he and his fellow Jews had been unfaithful, and then he made this request, Nehemiah 1:11, “O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.” This man is king Artaxexes. It’s a very specific request for help with this particular man on this particular day. One of the reasons that we don’t see answers to our prayers, if we’re not seeing answers to our prayers, may be that we’re not specific enough, we don’t ask for particular things enough; we just ask God to bless us generally. But Nehemiah prayed here, “Please give me success and compassion with this man this day.” And prayers that are definite like that you can soon find out if they’ve been granted or not. Nehemiah was serving wine to the king that day. And that day Nehemiah did not hide his sorrow in the presence of the king as it seems he did before. He let it show. And the king noticed and said, “Nehemiah, why is your face sad though you are not sick? This nothing but sadness of heart. What’s bothering you?” It says Nehemiah was very much afraid. And he said, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said, “What would you request?” And in the couple of seconds before he answered the king he sent up one more little prayer for God’s help. Then he said, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” The king said, “How long are you going to be gone?” And Nehemiah gave him a time frame. Then Nehemiah boldly asked, “If it please the king, will you also give me a passport and letters to the keeper of the king’s forests there authorizing me to take enough timber to rebuild the city walls and gates and a house for myself, because I’ll need a place to stay.” Nehemiah recalling the occasion says at the end of 2:8, “the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.”
And if you know the rest of the story you know how God used Nehemiah to inspire the people of Jerusalem to get to work at building the walls. Everybody around them tried to discourage them from the work and threatened them, but Nehemiah met all the opposition with prayer; there’s a number of little prayers in the book that Nehemiah sent up to God. And God protected them and helped them to complete the city walls in just 52 days. God also used Nehemiah to bring spiritual revival among his people, to lead people to repentance of their sins and commitment to walk in God’s law. The hand of God was upon Nehemiah to make him successful in these good works he wanted to do. Why? It wasn’t just because he trusted God and tried to do right in his own life. That was part of it. But it was also because of his prayers. His prayers brought the hand of God upon him.
Jesus, our perfect model, our perfect example, early in His ministry Mark 1 tells us He had a late night at the house of Simon’s mother-in-law in Capernaum, healing the town’s sick people and casting out demons out of the possessed. But Mark 1:35 says that the early morning, while it was still dark, before anyone else was up, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place to pray. Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 6:12, the night before Jesus selected His 12 disciples, the night before He was going to make some major decisions, it says “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Spent the whole night in prayer!
Jesus taught His disciples not to just pray at church and the supper table, not to just pray when people are going to notice and think you’re pious. He said if you just pray to be noticed by men that’s all the reward that you get for that. Go in your closest in secret and pray. And your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matt 6:5-6).
Luke 18:1 says that Jesus told His disciples “a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lost heart.” He said, “In a certain city was this unrighteous judge. This judge did not fear God nor respect man. And a widow in that city came to him and asked him for legal protection from her opponent. She wanted a restraining order put on somebody who was mistreating her. At first he just told her to get lost. He didn’t think her worth a moment of his time. But this widow wouldn’t take no for an answer. She just kept on coming back to him and kept on asking him for this legal protection til eventually the judge said, “This widow is going to wear me out” and finally granted her request. Then Jesus explained, if an unrighteous judge will be moved to grant the persistent request of somebody he doesn’t care about, then absolutely Your Father in heaven will be moved to grant the persistent just requests of His children. Jesus wanted His disciples to have no doubt that prayer makes a difference, especially persistent wrestling with God night and day kind of prayer. Then He made this interesting statement, He said, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” It’s a statement that seems to suggest that the day that Christ comes back is not going to be a time of abundant faith on the earth. The majority of people are not going to be true believers. What’s the point? Just because most people do not believe and are not devoted to prayer does not mean that God is less real or that prayer is less powerful. Don’t get discouraged and don’t quit praying persistently when the people you’re surrounded by think you’re wasting your time praying. Luke said that Jesus said this to His disciples “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.”
The early church
The early church that grew from just a handful in Jerusalem very quickly to several thousands in Jerusalem and then, in every direction outside of Jerusalem, multiplied and spread like wildfire over the 1st century world, a world that was even intolerant and that made it very costly to be a Christian, that was a church devoted to prayer.
Acts 1:14, after the ascension of Jesus, His disciples were waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them as Jesus instructed them. And it says, “They were all with one mind continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
2:42 says of the first converts in Jerusalem, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
4:29-31, an example of one of their prayers, “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
6:4, the apostles say, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
And on and on through the book of Acts, you find them praying and praying and fasting and praying. And you find God responding and responding, guiding, empowering, protecting, delivering them, for the advancement of the gospel and His kingdom in the world.
James, one of the Lord’s brothers in the flesh, became an elder of the church in Jerusalem and was considered along with Peter and John one of pillars of the early church (Gal 2:9). He wrote the NT letter we call James. The writings of early Christians testify that his knees resembled those of a camel’s, they were so calloused, because of his constant kneeling in prayer.
Why would a man be so devoted to prayer that he develops camel knee syndrome? Well, listen to some of his statements in the letter of James.
James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting…”
4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Meaning there are things God is willing to give us and do for us and do through us, but He has put a condition on them that we ask Him for them. If we don’t ask, then we don’t have.
5:13ff, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone of good courage? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you weak [he may mean spiritually weak]? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is weary, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain in the land for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” James knew that prayer is plugging into the power of God. He knew the blessings come down as the prayers go up. That’s why had camel knees.
Paul, the apostle, and his relationship with prayer is amazing to me. In many of his 13 NT letters he can tell those he’s writing to, “I pray regularly for you,” or “I constantly bring you before the Father in prayer,” and he can list the specific requests that he would always ask for them. Paul often asked those he wrote to be continually praying for him in his missionary endeavors. He saw prayer as vital to his success in his ministry.
In Romans 12 and Colossians 4 he exhorted Christians to be devoted to prayer. In I Thessalonians 5:17 he said, “Pray without ceasing,” which doesn’t mean every second 24 7 365, because that’s impossible. Sometimes you have to sleep and sometimes you have to talk people and focus on your work and do other things. But it means you pray in the good times and the bad times. You have a habit of frequent prayer, and when life gets hard, you don’t get discouraged and quit praying. And when times are good you don’t forget about where your blessings come from and your dependence on God and quit praying. No matter what happens you keep on praying.
What I see about Paul and prayer in the book of Colossians especially is incredible to me. Paul had never met the Christians in Colossae personally. He’d just heard reports about them. And at the time he was a thousand miles away in prison in Rome. 1:9, “… since the day we heard of your faith and love, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the gospel…” Do we constantly pray for one another? Paul constantly prayed even for Christians he’d never met. 2:1, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf [Colossians] and for those who are at Laodicea [a city just 12 miles away in the same valley], and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, in the true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ.” So he was enduring some great struggle on behalf of these Christians a thousand miles away that he’d never met for their spiritual maturity. The word for struggle means a fight, a wrestling, or some sort of taxing labor, hard tiring work. Now, how could Paul be having a fight, doing some hard work on behalf of these Christians across the world? I think it must have been in prayer. Paul was giving his time and energy, exerting himself to pray persistently and fervently for them. And so was somebody else who came to visit Paul. 4:12, “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” And Paul exhorted the Colossians to follow his example in prayer. Look at 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”
Now, I don’t know about you but when I think about the prayer life of Daniel, Nehemiah, Jesus, the early church, James and Paul and compare them with my own prayer life, I feel spiritually inferior, like I’m still in elementary school and still in basic training when it comes to prayer. And when I think about what they said about prayer and what happened as a result of their prayers, I get this picture of great storehouses of power and blessing that are available to us, more than we realize. God wants us to have and use what’s in the storehouses. But it’s not His will to just pour out on us all the blessing and power that’s available to us. It’s His will that we draw it out little by little through prayer. And I can think of some good possible reasons why that’s God’s will. If He just poured out all the blessing and power for us without prayer, we’d probably take the credit for what we have and the good that’s in us and accomplished through us. We’d become prideful. I also think God wants us to draw power and blessing through prayer and experience answers to our prayer, because that’s a process that really builds our faith that He is with us and He really does pay attention to us and hears us and cares about us individually and He really does act on our behalf. The more we realize that, the more our hearts overflow with gratitude and love and zeal for Him. And that’s a joy that this world doesn’t offer.
So here’s my prayer challenge that I’m committing myself to this year that I hope you will join me in. I’ve made this list. There’s a copy for everyone. It’s a list of the names of everyone who attends this congregation, from those who attend all the time to those who are just here on occasion. And I probably left out some people that I should have included, so I’ve left some blank lines in the list so that we can write in some more names. The names are listed in 7 columns. One for each day of the week. And my commitment is to pray every day for all the people listed in the column for that day of the week. My commitment is to not just read all their names to God and just ask a general blessing on them. But to bring each name before God and think about that person for a bit and pray for what I know are their specific needs and ask for them the specific things that I think would be ultimately and spiritually best for them, like Paul would do for Christians. I want to pray for their growth in their knowledge and understanding of God and His will, their faith and hope, for their marriage relationship, wisdom in raising their kids, help with their health struggles and job struggles, opportunities for them to serve or teach… things like that.
To do it I might have to sacrifice some TV time. I might have to go to bed a little earlier so I can get up earlier to have the quiet time in the morning to do it. I might have to lose a little sleep to do it. I might have to get away for a bit by myself during my lunch break. I’m going to have to plan for it and make time for it everyday and maybe make a little sacrifice. But if we could ask Daniel, Nehemiah, Jesus, the early church, James or Paul, you know they’d tell us that the struggle to be praying for one another persistently is absolutely worth it.
If we’ll do this, really strive for one another in prayer, I’m confident we will see good things happening in and through one another, and it will thrill our souls to have that confirmation that the Creator of Universe really does hear and respond to us.
A stack of these is on the little stand in the foyer. Pick one up on your way out.
– James Williams