Praying like Daniel?

I recently participated in an encouraging and delightful bible study where we studied the famous story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). In particular, the fact that Daniel prayed three times a day was very intriguing to most of us. To pray three times a day is not a biblical command or a doctrine. But the New Testament tells me: “Be unceasing in prayer.” Thus, a very straightforward application from Daniel’s story could have been: “Go and do like-wise.”

But I have to admit that something in my heart went against it. It was my past experience. I distinctly remember making the decision several times to be like Daniel and to pray three times a day. But I can probably count on one hand the number of times I actually managed to do so. Failure upon embarrassing failure. Couple years ago, I would have preached to myself: “overcome your past experience and obey.” But I cannot anymore.

Andrew Murray, in one of his books on prayer, points out that prayerlessness is a sin just as stealing or lust is a sin. After all, a person who doesn’t pray is practically expressing his unbelief and distrust in a loving and caring God. And as we cannot simply break with sin, especially habitual sins, we cannot easily break with the sin of prayerlessness. It takes God’s power to change.

What I therefore realized is that change is not just about doing the right thing (i.e. praying three times a day). Rather, I first have to become the person who does the right thing: a person who loves to pray, who loves to spend time with his heavenly father and who has the necessary grace-driven discipline to seek God’s face in times when the desire to do so reaches a low. And this makes a huge difference.

Here is why I personally would refrain from applications such as “Be like Daniel and pray three times!” If this is done mechanically and done for the wrong motives, we have become merely religious people, not Christ-centered people. In addition, if we are able to bring up the discipline to obey (which is a crushingly hard thing to do) and consequently become the people who are able to pray three times by our own effort, we have an identity problem: we are back to defining who we are by what we accomplish and are thus no different from how the world defines people.

As Tim Keller pointed out, the gospel narrative tells us that we stop defining ourselves by what we do. Rather our identity stems from what Christ has done for us. Defining ourselves by our accomplishments leads to self-righteousness and pride if we are successful in achieving our aims by our own efforts. Or we’ll end up with inferiority complexes and deep frustrations if we fail. We either beat up others or we beat up ourselves or we go back and forth. (I thank Tim Keller for the words). Conversely, the gospel narrative is the only way that can make us truly humble because every good thing happening in and through us is by God’s grace. And it can make us truly bold because God’s grace elevates us and gives us a status of worth, which truly is beyond this world: to be called God’s children.

The story of Daniel is that he prayed, that he was put into the lion’s den and miraculously saved by an angel of God. He escaped the lions unharmed. But Daniel’s story points to a much greater and even more marvelous story. Years later, there was another man greatly beloved who prayed three times, with tears, sweating and blood. Like Daniel, he was thrown into a lion’s den as Psalm 22 says: “Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” But this time, there was no angel to save. On the cross, Jesus was literally overpowered and his bones were crushed. This, in fact, is how Jesus bore my sin of disinterest in God, my vain confidence in myself, and my lack of spirituality and discipline, all expressed in prayerlessness.

I am back to the question of how I can become the person who loves to pray and who is unceasing in prayer. Only when I look at the Lamb of God and when I realize that the person whose prayer life was faultless went into the lion’s den to pay for my failures. He is the Lord who has always loved me now lives in me through his Holy Spirit. This is the starting point for my sanctification process towards a life of unceasing communion with God.

May God help me.

 

15 comments

  1. “But Daniel’s story points to a much greater and even more marvelous story. Years later, there was another man greatly beloved who prayed three times, with tears, sweating and blood. Like Daniel, he was thrown into a lion’s den as Psalm 22 says: “Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.”

    Henoch, you touch on some very good points in this article. Indeed, Daniel does point us to Jesus. We ought to view the Old Testament events as speaking about Jesus, just as the New Testament writers did frequently. That provides for a rich Bible study and one that is far more life-changing than gleaning some moralistic imperatives from the Old Testament.

    Just one minor correction: “But this time, there was no angel to save. On the cross, Jesus was literally overpowered and his bones were crushed.”  I don’t see anything that tells us Jesus’ bones were crushed. In fact, not one of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19:36). 

    But getting back to your points. Your personal story witnesses to something God has been showing me lately. In my mind, holiness was bound to morality (as defined in UBF). But I found that by accepting the grace of God’s forgiveness for my sins, I could begin to love, to pray, to believe, to serve, and to hope with an all-surpassing, effervescent, exceedingly effective nature. In other words, by accepting that I can do nothing to please God, and that all my good works with well-intentioned motives really are filthy rags before God, I found the new wine Jesus spoke of.

    You seem to have found this new wine also, as evidenced by your praying that far exceeds what you could do when you attempted to pray legalistically. My example is that I could barely write two pages of “sogam” in UBF per week. Sogam writing started out good, but became a dread, as the new wine was slowly sapped out of my soul. Now that I have the new wine of the gospel again, I am able to write dozens of pages per week through blogging, emails and Facebook rather effortlessly!

    I am certain this kind of revelation is what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:20. Only by surrendering my ladder of self-atonement at the foot of Jesus’ cross can I surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees.
     

    • Thank you, Brian.

      Also, thank you for your minor correction. I am not too sure, though, whether John 19:36 is supposed to be taken literally since it is in the context of not breaking Jesus’ legs. I assume that driving nails through hands and feet would crush at least some bones.
      In any case, i would probably rewrite this section anyways to make my point clearer. The bone crushing is actually derived from Daniel 6: once king Darius threw Daniel’s enemies into the lion’s den, the story tells us that their bones were crushed. That was what i was shooting for.

      Thank you also for your comment on sogam/reflection writing. In fact, my short article is a reflection on Daniel 6. I have encountered many people who told me that writing reflections has become a burden and drudgery for them. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing reflections. After all, isn’t it supposed to be an enjoyment to meditate on the word of God? I would never want to abolish writing reflections. Rather, i would like to see people  writing them for the right motives. 

      By the way, your blog projects sound like an herculean effort. :)

    • Yes, this article is a good example of reflection (sogam) writing. Such sogams are indeed very helpful for personal mediation, and sometimes for public reflection too :) I don’t think sogam writing should be abolished. Far from it. I think we need a lot more of this kind of honest reflection of Scripture and events that happen around us. 

      For example, why does no one write a sogam about the four reform movements in UBF? Those are historical fact in 1976, 1989, 2001 and 2011. We already have the testimony about the movements. I think we would all be far more healthy if we would write sogams and reflect on such events honestly. God never meant for us to keep all those painful memories bottled up inside, drudging on like a wounded soldier.

      One reason sogam writing becomes drudgery is when someone is hovering over you, trying to “shape up” your reflection, trying to make you reflect in a way that contradicts your conscience or your feelings. My sogam writing became very burdensome over the past 15 years because I was literally told how to react and reflect during message writing. My “personal applications” in my messages were abut 90% dictated to me. That is common for UBF messengers; you are told how to reflect and how to feel based on someone else’s observation of your life.

      Another reason for burden in sogam writing is when you feel that you must reflect in a specific way that conforms to some ideology or pattern. For example, must we always conclude with America becoming a kingdom of priests? Must we always conclude that repentance means going fishing more or having more one-to-ones? True reflection is from the heart, and should be allowed to be a free expression of thought and emotion.

      Such writing should not be called “testimony writing”, because a testimony is a declaration of facts or a written proof or exposition of something. A sogam is about how you react or feel about something. Perhaps we need both. Jumping right into “sogam” without “testimony” could be dangerous. We might be easily manipulated by someone or led astray by our feelings. I think our reactions and emotions should be kept in check with testimony based on fact.

      And my blogging projects don’t seem to require much effort; I just write based on what I know and express how I feel, and attempt to learn from Scripture instead of dictating my ideas (something I’m still working on :)

    • Brian, i agree with what you say. No one should be told what to write in your personal applications of a message or a reflection. And no one should tweak a reflection to make it fit to a certain ideology. I can only be thankful that i was never told to do so.

      In our housechurch, we have started using the term “reflection” rather than “testimony” because testimony usually refers to how we witness God’s work in our lives, i.e. how we were born again. Reflection on the other hand is a personal meditation on God’s word. 

      Out of curiosity: what do you mean by reform movement in 2011? Did i miss something?

    • Henoch, the 2011 reform movement in UBF is my way of describing what took place in Hong Kong, Kiev, Russia, India, Toledo, Penn State and Westloop, as well as with several lone family house church chapters (joining other churches). In the 2 years leading up to 2011, the Hong Kong UBF director resigned, the Detroit UBF director (me) resigned, the Toledo UBF chapter imploded and nearly 50 long time native leaders from chapters around the world (counting husband and wife) left UBF altogether. 

      The 50th Anniversary book calls these people “ungodly” and the leaving of leaders as a “crisis”. I call them Christians with a conscience and our leaving is a cry for help.

      In the past, the reforms were initiated by Korean staff shepherds. In 2011, the big difference was that the reforms were initiated all over the world by native/national leaders who had given more than 10 years of service and in some cases more than 20 years to the UBF cause. And another difference is that in 2011, there is no coordinated effort except by the Holy Spirit.

      “reform” may not be the best word, and whatever has been happening, it is still going on in and out of UBF. I like the word “independence” because many of us left or went on strike to expose problems, many of which are similar to the 1976 reform.

      This time, there is no single person leading or coordinating the reform effort. There are numerous notable people making changes (many of them are named Yoon!). The most vocal are of course Joe and Ben. ubfriends has become the voice of the reform.  I felt moved by God to become the “librarian”, documenting many things on my priestlynation.com blog. (I believe every priest/monk movement has had a librarian, so I view that blog as my “priestly duty”).

      I will be summarizing the 2011 movement and attempting to find out what reforms in the past have taken effect. This will be made available en-masse. I believe that UBF has primarily continued to exist because of these reform movements. For example, the 1976 reform seems to have succeeded in removing the violence and torture training from UBF that existed in Korea. The 2001 reform seems to have brought some level of financial accountability (ECFA). One notable effect of the 2011 reform is that outside people, such as Mr. Armstrong, are far more aware of the real condition of UBF and are bringing sound, historical Christian teaching into our closed circle.

    • Brian, thank you for your detailed explanation. I agree with you that the word “reform” may not be entirely appropriate in describing the accumulation of sad events in 2011. But maybe it can result in a lasting change so that these things will not happen again. Although, humanly speaking, history proves that we just go on repeating our mistakes as sad and unacceptable as it is. It is my hope and prayer that the outcry of all those faithful coworkers (including you) will be heard and will lead to a transformed culture of communication and leadership in UBF. A looooong way to go…

      As for the role of UBFriends, i am not too sure whether it can be called a “voice of reform”. For true change to happen in UBF, people who hold leadership positions in UBF have to join the discussion and conversation. I don’t see this happening here. Rather, i would like to see UBFriends as a forum for friends of UBF to have a meaningful exchange and debate here on issues, which are not only of immediate interest for UBF, but on broader Christianity themes as well.

       

    • I would have to agree with you, Henoch: “As for the role of UBFriends, i am not too sure whether it can be called a “voice of reform”. For true change to happen in UBF, people who hold leadership positions in UBF have to join the discussion and conversation. I don’t see this happening here.”

      Dialogue is essential, and life-change won’t happen with monologue or quotes from books.  Some ultra-loyal leaders were still asking things like “does Brian have an evil spirit?” I’m blogging now for the future, especially to prepare for the year 2041.

      The first wave of reform took 15 years (1961 to 1976), the second wave took 13 years (1976 to 1989), the third wave took 12 years (1989 to 2001) and the fourth wave took 10 years (2001 to 2011). So I predict the next wave will take about 8 years, occurring sometime around 2019. 

      Because of these things, several ex-members will be introducing a new website this year documenting and explaining many of these things as a permanent public record.

  2. Abraham Nial

    Hi Henoch! The question that you ask, “how can I become the person who loves to pray and who is unceasing in prayer?” is I think the question most Christians including myself struggle with. I see the answers in your article. Please allow me to call “What I therefore realized is that change is not just about doing the right thing (i.e. praying three times a day). Rather, I first have to become the person who does the right thing: a person who loves to pray, who loves to spend time with his heavenly father and who has the necessary grace-driven discipline to seek God’s face in times when the desire to do so reaches a low,” as becoming the right person and “Here is why I personally would refrain from applications such as ‘Be like Daniel and pray three times!’ If this is done mechanically and done for the wrong motives, we have become merely religious people, not Christ-centered people” as having the right motivation. I think both these things were keys to the prayer life of Daniel. Now, how Daniel became the right person, and how did he get his motivations right?

    The initial chapters of Daniel make it clear that Daniel knew (personal relationship) who his God was very personally. And his relationship with God went on becoming stronger just as his understanding about God [encounters] kept increasing. As a result, his decision to abstain food from the king’s table, overnight prayer meeting to gain understanding of the king’s dream, his friends’ refusal to bow before the idol, and defying king’s edict to offer prayers only to the king, are not just about doing the right things, but primarily about becoming the right person based on a personal revelation of who God to me is. The point I am trying to make is, although a prayer topic, for example, “May God make [so and so country] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” may be good and the right thing to do, but it does not make me pray like Daniel. On the other hand a deeper revelation [deeper personal relationship] with God might actually make me pray like Daniel.

    Next, why did he not stop praying, “May God bring Israel back to their land and make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” even before the threat of the lion’s den? The timing and the context of the passage makes it clear that Daniel knew what was going on. That the seventy years of captivity was over (Dan 9:2-3). Probably a group of the captives had already returned to the land but were facing serious opposition and the building of the temple is not happening. Further he has been having those series of visions about the future of his nation yet unable to fully understand them (Dan 8:27). It says he sets his heart to gain understanding and as a result God is sending angels to interpret his visions and give right understanding about the future of his people (Dan 10:12). Now, I think such a dynamic spiritual life and understanding of the signs of the time definitely motivates to pray for what God is doing.

    Two years before, I reached a crisis in my life and as a result decided to stop doing all things that seemed right and prayed to be a right person before God first. At that time the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and helped me to see Jesus in a fresh perspective as the Bridegroom God and the Judge. As the Bridegroom, He desires love from his people and as the Judge, He removes everything that hinders love. Based on this revelation I also received a new identity for my life as an intercessor to prepare myself and others for Jesus, who desires for His people and will return to finish the evil on planet earth and establish his glorious kingdom all saints (old and new) have been waiting for. After coming out of UBF, as a small community in New Delhi, we call ourselves F.R.I.E.N.D. (Fore-Runner Intercessors of End-times in New Delhi). Our existence and our activities are centered around the new revelation of Jesus to us, and hence to encounter Him more in this understanding and to make Him known as the Bridegroom and Judge, of course not neglecting what he did on the cross. Prior to this encounter, I could not have thought of prayer and fasting etc possible for me. I still have a long long way to go when I think of Daniel. But my prayer is not to be another Daniel, but to be a person that God wants me to be in my own peculiar life situations with the understanding of God’s heart so as to participate in what I know Him to be doing.  Further I am hearing the fascinating stories of people who pray in tongues for hours without getting tired or bored! I wish to have such gifts from the Spirit to pray because it is biblical.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment (or sogam?).    

    • Abraham, it is such a joy and pleasure for me to hear from you. Thank you for your honest comment and sharing your personal experience.

      I have to confess that my prayer life is a story of failure. I think you are right in saying that having noble prayer topics, which lie heavy on our hearts, as was the case in Daniel’s life for his people, can provide some motivation and desire to pray. But at least in my experience, none of these effects were lasting. I realized that in order to be able to pray fervently and unceasingly, something much greater has to happen in my life. As mentioned in my reflection, I have to be gradually transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit. This process happens, when my heart and character is shaped by the good news of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God.

      You are absolutely right in saying that we need a better perspective of who Jesus is and experience him more. I am in a very slow reading process of a book by Jonathan Edward on David Brainerd’s life. (As a person living in New England, this is actually a very good and obligatory read). I have to say that the puritans seemed to have had a knowledge of the glory and joy of God and a spirituality of which i know close to nothing. At the very least, this book helps me to have a more realistic picture of where i stand in my pursuit of God’s glory: i am a total newbie.

  3. Henoch, thanks for this article. I will share three observations that are helping me to learn how to pray.
    1. One of the biggest reasons why I found prayer difficult, unnatural and unappealing is that I didn’t know how to come to God as I am. Rather, I tended to put on a false identity, a religious mask. This was the mask that I wore when I interacted with church people. It was a manner of speaking and acting modeled by others in the fellowship, a pattern of behavior that I thought was spiritual. By wearing this mask, I avoided dealing honestly with difficult emotions and problems and the ordinary simple matters of life, pretending that those realities were unspiritual and unimportant. This carried over into prayer. When I approached God in prayer, I did not come as the person I truly am, but as the fictitious, idealized Christian that I was trying to be. Basically, I was not being honest with God. Wearing a religious mask kills off our ability to pray. I have been slowly learning to be honest before God. In practice, this means that, rather than approaching God and starting to pray about the things I think I “should” be praying about (my “sheep”, ministry matters, etc.), I search my heart to find out what’s truly going on inside of me, the thoughts that keep bugging me, the people that irk me, the feelings that occupy me, and then, no matter how trivial or unspiritual those things seem to be, those are the things that I bring to God. Inside of everyone’s head, there is a constant flow of thoughts and feelings, an undirected stream of consciousness, much of which we tend to regard as superficial, unspiritual and even sinful. I think we need to learn how to take that stream of consciousness and, rather than fight against it, turn it into a dialogue with God.
    2. When Daniel prayed three times a day, it is unlikely that his prayer resembled anything like the kinds of extemporaneous prayers that have been modeled for us in our church and in other evangelical churches. His thrice-daily fixed-hour prayer was probably based on the Psalms. In the centuries leading up to Christ, psalms were the lifeblood of Jewish spiritual life. Early Christian worship and prayer were steeped in the psalms. Learning how to pray the psalms is difficult but immensely helpful to teaching us what prayer is all about. Several books have helped me in this regard. Life Together and Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer by Mark Roberts. Praying with the Church by Scot McKnight. Any of these can help you get started.
    3. Prayer is one (and perhaps the most important) of the spiritual disciplines. Doing it well requires us to understand the nature and purpose of spiritual disciplines and, more generally, how to live in the realm of grace. The bottom line is this. Spiritual disciplines are not a means of earning God’s favor, but practices that help us to receive the grace that God has already given in Christ Jesus. Let me say that again, because it is so important. Spiritual disciplines are not a means of earning God’s grace, but practices that help us to receive the grace that God has already given in Christ Jesus. Many of us have been taught, explicitly or implicitly, that prayer is an exercise by which we try to move God’s heart to grant us favor. But the gospel teaches us that we already have God’s favor, and the only obstacle is our own stubborn reluctance to receive it. Therefore, the practice of prayer and other spiritual disciplines should be seen as a means to receiving grace. Prayer itself is not something that we need to construct on our own, but a gift that we can receive from God through Jesus Christ. An excellent resource on this is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, or anything else coming out of the spiritual formation movement, Dallas Willard and Renovare ministries. Here is an exercise that will test you to see if you are ready and able to pray as a means of receiving grace rather than earning favor. For the next 30 days, do not consciously try to come up with any kind of extemporaneous prayers to God in your own words. Rather, just pray The Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, prayers from the OT and NT, and other wonderful prayers that have been written by devout Christians through the ages (Francis of Assisi, St Patrick, etc.). Many awesome prayers are found in the red hymnbook found in most ubf chapters. Pray those prayers that were written by others, and then sit quietly and let them sink in, i.e. receive them as a gift from God, rather than thinking that you have to come up with a good prayer of your own that moves God’s heart and earns his favor. Make your prayer time all about receiving everything from God rather than doing something for God. If you are uncomfortable with this, then you are uncomfortable with grace itself.
    God bless you.
     

    • Joe, thank you very much for sharing your personal experience and for your advice. I fully agree with you that prayer is not a means to earn anything from God. Like fasting, it is not to impress God (or anyone else for that matter), but it is supposed to be a help to the person who is fasting to focus on God without distractions. 

      I also agree with you that Daniel’s prayer must have been vastly different from how we picture and practice prayer. In fact, Daniel 6 tells us that he prayed and that he offered thanks to God. A German translation adds that he was praising God. Thus, the praise of God and thanksgiving was a crucial and substantial part of Daniel’s prayer. I would love to give it a try, for the next 30 days or so to use the prayers of others to come before God. Thank you, Joe.

  4. Thanks, Henoch, for sharing Keller’s teleological approach in his sermons that always movingly (at least for me) ends in Christ. When I pray (very poorly), God often answers and blesses me that I am awestruck and stunned. When Jesus prayed (perfectly), God did not answer him by taking away the cup, so that God can answer and bless me. Thank God for the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

    • Thank you, Ben. I am still in the learning process of making the gospel the primary motivation in my life… or better: to learn to unleash its power in my life. :)

    • Ben, Acts 20:24 was an important life-change verse for me this year. I always had doubts as to whether I would have the courage to actually suffer or die for my faith. But when my faith became grounded in the good news of the grace of God, I found ever-abundant strength and courage. Even my timidity is wiped out :) 

      Some may label me as an antinomian or anarchist but I stand now on God’s grace. Such grace is the only truth that motivates me to be willing to suffer and die. And such grace is the only motivator that inspires me to pray continually and to actually be content with my life. That’s the “secret” – Christ in you (Colossians 1:27).

  5. Henoch, see if you can find Luther’s “a simple way to pray” which he prepared for his barber. It echoes Joe’s statement and what you wrote. Thomas Watson also wrote a great book on the Lord’s Prayer as well. I have a ton to learn about prayer, and that is best done by doing. 

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