Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Call to Be Bold and Humble

[This is the journal entry for my quiet time with God earlier today.]

Look: “...I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.” (Daniel 2:23)

This is part of a prayer of praise and thanksgiving offered by Daniel, a Jew held captive in Babylon after that nation conquered God’s people.

Daniel, following a period of training, was enlisted into the ranks of the Babylonian king’s “wise men.” Also enlisted from God’s people were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. (The three are known best today by the names given to them by the Babylonians, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, although I’m certain they would prefer to be known by their given Hebrew names.)

The king had dreamt a troubling dream. Unlike the Pharaoh during Israel’s enslavement in Egypt many centuries before, the king not only expected his wise men to interpret his dream, but also to tell him what had happened in his dream. For some reason, neither Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, nor Azariah was present when the Babylonian seers confessed that they couldn’t see the king’s dream, only interpret the dream as the king recounted it. The king was furious and ordered the execution of all the wise men, even the four Hebrews.

When Daniel and the other three Hebrews learned of the king’s death sentence, Daniel went to the king and asked for time so that he could interpret the dream. He then enlisted Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to pray that God would show them mercy by revealing both the content of the king’s dream and its meaning. “He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:18) Daniel wasn’t just interested in saving himself and his friends from the executioner, but also the Babylonian wise men.

That night, after the four had sought God’s mercy, the dream and its interpretation were revealed to Daniel. Interestingly, in the verse, Daniel thanks God not only for revealing these things to himself personally but also to “us,” to him and his three prayer partners. Our faith life is lived out in the company of, with the support of, and with accountability to other believers.

Listen: I’m struck by several things here.

I’m struck, first, by the nature of prayer offered to the God of Israel, now revealed to the whole world in Jesus Christ.

First, Daniel was concerned not just for his own life and not just for the lives of his fellow Jews, but for the lives too of the Babylonian wise men. In James 4:3, James upbraids his addressees, who are mystified at why they receive no answers to their prayers, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Daniel wanted to save his own life, to be sure. But he also wanted to save others’ lives and to rely with bold faith on God. In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul says that love doesn’t seek its own way. And in Philippians 4, he exhorts believers to put the interests of others above their own. Things could have gone very badly for Daniel when he boldly came into the presence of the king to plead for time to learn from God both the content of the king’s dream and its proper interpretation. But he did so with confidence in the mercy God shows when we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Second, when we pray alone, God certainly hears our prayers. But when we enlist others to pray with us, there is an accountability. If Daniel had said, “Hey, guys, please pray that God will save us and nobody else,” it’s likely that he would have prayed alone...and without effect.  But the four Hebrews could all agree that seeking God’s help and wisdom in order to save everyone’s life was a godly prayer. The God of Israel was ultimately revealed in Jesus, Who tells us, “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) (Of course, even when two or three or more pray for something, as Christians, they also pray in Jesus’ name and for God’s will to be done. Prayer is submission to the will of God, even when it’s not what we want.)

I’m also struck by the fact that Daniel didn’t forget to thank God for the answered prayers. How often have I gotten into scrapes and prayed, with genuine faith and submission, only to forget to thank God after He’s taken me through them? More often than I can remember, I’m sure.

I’m also struck again by the fact that true faith in the God we now all can know only in Christ is characterized both by boldness and humility. Daniel and his friends were bold in their prayers to God and humbly submissive to God. Daniel was bold to petition the king but did so without accusation or anger, only humility. Boldness AND humility should characterize the Christian’s life, including our prayers and our interactions with others. I often seem to fall prey to my human nature and end up being neither bold nor humble!

One big takeaway for me is to pray with faith and submission to the God revealed in Jesus. This is what Jesus teaches us to do. “Your will be done,” is, for me the hardest and most important petition of the prayer that Jesus has taught us, the Lord’s Prayer.

The other big takeaway is this: pray with certainty that God hears prayers offered in Jesus’ name, that is, prayers that submit to the will of God and are filled with a knowledge of God born of our relationship with Him. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) The experience of Daniel and his friends bears the truth of that verse out.

Respond: Lord, teach me today to be both bold and humble as I seek to live my life in Your power and to Your glory alone. In Jesus’ name I ask this. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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