Monday, July 18, 2011

How Might Bible Reading and Prayer Work Together?

Reading: Daniel 9   
Daniel read the scriptures and those scriptures moved him to pray. For him, scripture reading was a part of his communion with God. Here we see that Daniel was studying Jeremiah and came to understand that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. Daniel realizes that seventy years is nearing completion and so this decree of God in Jeremiah moves Daniel to pray, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes (Daniel 9:2-3). This is no casual prayer; this is earnest prayer.
Daniel didn't think, “God has already told us through the prophet Jeremiah that He is going to do such and such; so it doesn't matter what I do; it really doesn't matter if I pray.” Rather, it seems that Daniel saw the promise of God as a source of confidence in God's mercy—a source of knowing His willingness—and therefore sensed the urgency of the moment in understanding the will of God, and sought the Lord all the more earnestly. Maybe it is this kind of thinking that lay behind the apostle John's statement, This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14).
Secondly, we can notice something about how Daniel prayed: He did not go to God telling Him what He would do, or demanding that He keep His promise. God's promises were never intended to embolden our arrogance. Rather they were intended to comfort us, draw us near to the throne of grace to find mercy to help in our time of need. Daniel goes the the Lord confessing his sin and that of the people, declaring how they have deserved the judgment they received (Daniel 9:4-8).
Daniel goes completely dependent upon and confident in God's mercy and forgiveness (Daniel 9:9, 18-19). He does not even appeal to how much they've changed or learned from this experience... quite the contrary (Daniel 9:13-14).
All too often I hear the New Testament call to come boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-23), twisted into a kind of boldness that comes telling God what He will do because somehow we found a promise. God knows His promises, and He intends to keep them. However, nobody likes having their words thrown in their face as some sort of trap that they now must follow through on. The invitation to come boldly is a call to come without fear of being rejected when we come looking for mercy. Daniel went to God looking for mercy.
Thirdly, Daniel appealed to God's justice.
O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. (Daniel 9:16)
The words “righteous acts” or “righteousness” can be translated justice. Even when translated righteousness, or righteous acts, in that sentence it carries the meaning of justice. “In keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and wrath...” is another way of saying, “Lord I am calling on you to continue to do what is right, or be just! Now that may seem a little odd. If they were deserving of this judgment because of their sin, why would he appeal to God's justice?
Apparently, Daniel's sense of God's justice not only included the truth that His holiness would burn against sin, but it also contained the truth that God understood our frame, and that He has compassion on His people—holy compassion. His holy justice is most greatly revealed in His holy love! Therefore this call to God to turn from his anger (which was just) is rooted in understanding that God's justice will ultimately reveal itself in love. What Daniel could not yet understand fully, was how at the cross of Christ God's just wrath and just love would meet together (Romans 3:25-26).
Fourthly, and finally, Daniel appealed to God's reputation, His glory. “For your sake, O your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name....For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name." (Daniel 9:17, 18, 19) God being known is more important than anything else in the universe. Therefore Daniel's appeal to God's reputation—God's name being held in esteem rather than mocked and ridiculed—is a valid motivation for praying according to God's will! Indeed, Jesus taught us to pray, 'Father, hallowed be your name...”.
Is your scripture reading part of your communion with God? When you read about how the church is called to live in the New Testament, does it motivate you to pray according to God's will for your brother's and sister's in Christ? When you read of how we are called to flee temptation and walk in holiness do you call on God to empower you by His Spirit to walk in righteousness, bearing the likeness of Jesus Christ? … to guide you in paths of righteousness for His name's sake? Let's learn from Daniel how to make our scripture reading part of our communion with God!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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