HOW QUICKLY IS PRAYER ANSWERED?
Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday morning October 3rd, 1954
"Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to humble thyself before thy God thy words were heard, and I am come because of thy words." Daniel, 10:12.
PRAYER is a theme about which many sermons are preached, but which I think we may say that most of us are illogical. If prayer is not important we have given it undue prominence. If it is important we have failed to give it the place that is its due. We must make up our minds individually as to whether it is or is not vitally important. It is easy to leave the impression on a new convert that prayer is a duty, and when it is that, it has ceased to be prayer. If prayer is the Christian's vital breath, then most of us are lacking in vitality. On the other hand, the relatively insignificant place of prayer in our lives is due to the fact that probably we have not sincerely faced up to the revelation of Scripture concerning prayer. We persist in thinking that prayer is an optional ministry for which we may find time if other and more important duties permit.
To that must be added two things at least. Prayer is always irksome at first. It is like the early days of drudgery in any art and too soon we give up. Or, secondly, we have not found prayer to be a working factor in our lives. We find prayer helpful in a subjective way. We are conscious that when we have worshipped and prayed, there has been benefit, but as a general rule we think its usefulness ends at that. Few indeed have followed prayer to its logical conclusion. It requires that we believe in the reality of an invisible realm. It is not like a toy telephone into which a little child may speak without making connection. If that were so and we were to indulge in it, it would mean the gradual deterioration of the individual and of the race. Our minds mature not by talking to ourselves or indulging in introspective imagination, but in contact in various ways with other and greater minds.
It also means not only the reality, but the superiority of the invisible. So far as we know, the other realm make no prayers to anybody on this side which is called the visible. Prayer experience, so far as petition is concerned, is from the visible to the invisible. We seek the aid of the invisible. We know of no seeking by the invisible of the aid of the visible. Thirdly, so far as we know, this strange ministry of prayer is the one means by which we can reach into the realm of the invisible with our thoughts, desires, longings and faith. It may be asked whether a person can live without praying, and the answer is most certainly. It is clear, however, that the operation of such lives is distinctly circumscribed.
Our problems if we do not pray, will always present themselves in the temporal setting of every day. We shall have no problem about another world. Our solutions will be within the things we can see and touch. Peace, for example, will be a matter of relationship between individuals, societies and nations. It is conceived as absence from war and bloodshed. Even Christian ministers and clergymen will so pray for peace. Of course, if they had given the slightest consideration to the matter, they would have seen that prayer for peace has no scriptural authority, but prayer for the will of God to be done amongst men has the high authority of our Lord in the prayer He gave us. Hence, men who do not pray move in a realm governed by the human, not knowing that the basis of their problems is supernatural. But the man who prays, especially the one who prays with understanding, realises the significance of prayer in the invisible realm, and he then discovers that prayer, to be answered effectively, does not so much demand action in the visible as in the invisible realm.
The text before us this morning answers our question: Prayer is answered immediately. From the moment a man of God prays, swifter than any fire engine ever left its station, invisible ministries are set in motion. That is the answer to the question. That means that God is a present help in trouble and that the believer who has mastered the mysteries of prayer lives within the realm of the invincible. The man who dispenses with prayer sees problems on the human level and only in their visible interaction. His solutions are likewise concerned with the temporal and the visible, but the man who prays sees into human issues, perceives the spiritual trends and impulses, and in his praying determines them at the highest level of Divine power.
The text brings us to about the year 534 B.C. Ezra was back in Jerusalem taking preliminary steps for the erection of the temple. The Chaldean regime was ended, the joint domination of the Medes and Persians had merged into the unified rule of Cyrus and he had been so established for three years. Daniel was an old man. God was speaking to him, and although his physical powers were now restricted, he was, nevertheless, a mighty intercessor and his ministry of prayer was brought to bear upon the great and pregnant political changes of which he was a careful observer. He knew that they had important meanings for the great nation to which he belonged, great even in its exile, and he was strongly fortified in faith by the prophetic word. Prayer with him was not a ministry to which he resorted because he had little reserves of physical strength; prayer with Daniel in his old age was what it had been throughout his life, the master key to omnipotence. Consider then first of all:
1) DANIEL'S ATTITUDE
First he desired to understand, that is to say, he wished to see his own viewpoint, his personal contribution in the light of the overall purpose of God. There are times, of course, when we must follow the secret hints and pressings of the mind in almost blind obedience. But always God desires that we should enjoy some cognisance of the ultimate to which the Divine purpose tends. There are stages in revelation of which Daniel and all who desire to live in the same high degree of revelation must be well aware. The first, of course, is a decisive dedication of our own wills to the will of God. From the moment that we sincerely, in the presence of God and in simple faith, dedicate our wills to the will of God, He proceeds to mould the dedicated will to His pattern. Dedication is inevitably followed by such acts of simple obedience as ensure continuing adjustment to the Divine will. In every direction in the life, the necessity for such adjustment will be made clear, and out of the simple dedication of our will, God will endue us with power to step into the obedience to which we have committed ourselves.
Finally comes the integration of the whole will in the larger and comprehensive will of God. We may, any one of us, be doing what we sincerely believe to be the will of God. It may seem so obvious and yet what we thus do may not fit in completely with the entire pattern in the mind of God. "Even Christ pleased not Himself." He not only found pleasure always in doing the will of God, but He offered up His own will for complete integration into the perfect pattern of the will of the Father. Many people look upon a a piece of work which seems to be good and altogether commendable, who have never thought as to whether such commendable work necessarily fits in with the larger plan. Misunderstandings arise in Christian service because earnest Christians are satisfied with that which seems obviously good in itself without the further thought as to how it is related to the great purpose God may have. To know that demands a high degree of absolute submission to God in which we desire the confirmation in the spirit of the pattern which is heavenly.
Hence our Lord, must leave the ministry on earth with all its untold blessings for the people and offer Himself on the Cross to die, pleasing not Himself because He was animated by the joy set before Him. There is an enormous amount of service and enterprise determined by a superficial decision that it is good which God does not and cannot integrate in His larger purpose. If we could see the world-wide pattern according to the mind of God, we should probably be staggered by the chapels and churches that would be closed and those that would be opened. Scores of Societies would probably cease to exist and possibly others would come into being. Daniel is one of the outstanding examples of a man whose life was not only good in submission to the will of God in all his own personal life, but integrated into the whole of the glorious purpose of God. It was clear to him that every deviation of the individual will from the will of God was sin, and as he saw those deviations in his own life and confessed them he submitted himself afresh to God. And by so doing he was permitted to see ever more clearly the national sins.
How obvious it was that sin was deeply rooted in the affairs of men, and the more clearly he saw it, the more he realised the need for expiatory intercession (ch9:3/19). He made the sin of society his own, he felt it as if it were his own, he confessed it as his own, and in a strange and unique way which was truly redemptive he took the nation' s sin upon his own soul. It is important that we should realise that in so doing he did not bear it in such a way as aroused his indignation. God's people, alas, often take the world's sin upon their hearts in indignation, and that is why our manifestos and condemnation so often fail. We must see the sin of the people in our own hearts if we are to be used of God to save the world from its sin. Nor did Daniel see sin in the nation as the people saw it. They saw its fruit and rebelled. They found the results of their sin most unwelcome and they endeavoured to deal with the results without dealing with the cause. Man always sees his problems isolated from their Divine context and so he never solves them. Daniel, however, saw the issue from God's point of view. That was the reward of the complete submission of His will and therefore he prayed with understanding, humbling himself before God and placing his entire being within the mind and will of God.
2) DANIEL'S ANTAGONISTS
From the moment that Daniel began to pray in the light of the Word and in the earnest and passionate desire for the will of God, his prayer was heard in heaven. "Thy words were heard," exclaims the angelic visitor. The precise language was noted and there was an immediate response, as immediate as the word is expressed and answered in the modern sphere. In this case a very important angel was deputed to speed the answer to the petition of Daniel. There is no avoidable delay in the heart of God. Needs and words claim His thought, attention and response. Yet, as we learn from this incident, three whole weeks elapsed from the time of Daniel's prayer to the arrival of the angel. In the meantime there does not appear to have been any acknowledgement from heaven that attention was being paid to his prayer ; but, of course, Daniel needed no such assurance for he had no doubt concerning the attitude of God to his prayer.
The way had not been easy for the angel; he had encountered strong opposition and but for the timely help of Michael would not even then have got through. The prince of the kingdom of Persia, the supernatural overlord of Cyrus and his people, had desired to prevent the angel coming to Daniel in answer to his prayer and there had been a bitter struggle. All this in the case of Daniel is on the grand scale. He was a master in the art of prayer, praying with such insight, understanding and faith as to challenge the supernatural on the high level of the principalities. Nevertheless, it is instructive for us, and within the smaller confines of our spiritual experience we shall know something of what confronted Daniel. It will teach us, at least, that we should never be too quick to blame God for delay in answering our prayers.
We do not know what activity and counter activity is set up by the prayer of faith in Jesus our Lord. Prayer, true vital prayer, operates extensively and decisively in the unseen realm. What we call the "answer " to a prayer is that part of it which emerges into the visible. God, however, is active, and although Lazarus may die and be buried, it is only because there is a far greater end in view. Hence prayer requires and demands intensity. Daniel was sure from the prophecy of Jeremiah that the time had come for God to intervene. Dynasties were crumbling and such facts were of great significance to his own people Praying with such light he prayed intensely, with a passionate desire to know and to understand, and as he pleaded, desire and passion increased, for he was sure the hour for God to act had come. His heart was linked with the word of Jeremiah and the initial response of Ezra, his soul longed for the dawn of God's day for his people, and such an intense passion stirred up a corresponding opposition and conflict in the supernatural realm.
In the light of such facts we may feel that our praying is virtuous rather than vital. Much of our praying is the expressing of our desires from the earthly standpoint instead of being governed by an understanding of the mind of God and the purpose for which He seeks our prayers. We have yet to learn that the prayer which longs for the will of God goes down to the depths of our beings, equally reaches into the depths of the being of God, and finally stirs up the depths of the powers of hell. Hence the intercessor finds himself in an arena of conflict of which the carnal Christian knows nothing. Daniel, by his praying, so aroused these powers that what was solitude and aloneness and silence for the prophet, was struggle, intense and prolonged, on the other side.
The prince of the kingdom of Persia was aroused by the prayer of Daniel. To many, if not most Christians prayer seems to be a duty of an insipid character, but the prayer of faith presents the challenge on the other side that principalities and powers cannot and dare not ignore. It is a solemn thought to remember that all the atom bombs man is making in the interests of defence never touch these terrible powers. Such weapons are quite harmless, but the prayer of faith of the child of God is another matter. How many of God's people think so? Here then are some serious and important lessons. Spirituality is essential. That will be ours as we study the Word diligently, seeing the mind of God, looking upwards in the light of revelation, and so looking outwards on the world with the eyes of God. Intensity will increase upon us as we so see Him, the Word and the needy world about us lying in the power of the evil one. We need also the blessing of persistent courage. Prayer for revival must be made with the understanding that every time God revives His Church, the powers of hell are staggered. Their opposition to the revival of the Body of Christ in any generation is therefore terrific. If we see this we shall make it our business to pray and to continue to pray. The issues of our intercession will be on the other side and therefore we must be patient. We are not to be slothful, we are not to be doubtful, but we are to press the issue at the Throne of Grace, sure of the will of God and resolved by His grace, never to yield. That is the prayer for which God waits and it is the prayer through which, in due season He will assuredly break through.
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