Offered in preparation for our days of prayer and fasting, with the conviction that the Lord is calling his people, through our present calamities and rise of evil to humble ourselves before him, repent of our sins, heal our land of its rebellion against his Son, quicken dead hearts by his gospel, and make his church the pillar and ground of the truth, without fear of men but only fearing and adoring his matchless name.
Fasting unto Prayer
Whenever mention is made of fasting, our first thought is usually food, or anxiety over the anticipated lack thereof. We should instead think first of prayer, for fasting allows and encourages a season of focused prayer for some urgent need or crisis. A season of earnest prayer may create its own fast, perhaps not intentionally, but as an expression of the intensity of our purpose and focus of our minds upon seeking God. When the Lord makes us acutely feel our need of him, every other thought, even about the necessities of life, recedes into the background, at least for the time set apart to these ends.
This is the reason the Bible does not give extended directions about fasting, for the purpose of fasting is not fasting. It is not a spiritual exercise, a day for us “to afflict our soul” (Isa. 58:5), a religious observance without a sincere turning to the Lord. Fasting, therefore, is not necessarily evidence of holiness. It is certainly not meritorious. It is not of ascetic value, for the holiness and power of the kingdom of God does not consist in meat and drink, either partaking or abstaining, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:23). Fasting does not gain us extra points with our Father or gain efficacy for our prayers, which is derived from Christ’s mediation alone. Some fasts are total. Others are partial. Some include even water. The rule of fasting is that the fervency of our desire and the greatness of our need will dictate the nature of our fast.
Fasting has mental and spiritual benefits. Our appetites can be curbed for a time, which can teach us in concrete terms that “man does not live by bread alone.” Fasting can thus incline us to greater discipline in seeking God. Yet, the hunger in our stomach should reflect the hunger in our heart for the Lord. Many people laud the health benefits of fasting, but the Bible never endorses or encourages this practice, and any health benefits are irrelevant to the true value and practice of fasting. These are: to humble ourselves before God for our sins, to seek him as our soul’s highest good, and to free ourselves as much as possible from the usual distractions that prevent us from our giving ourselves to prayer. In short, we fast so that we can pray, and we give ourselves to prayer because we are struck with a sense of our great need for our Father to come to our aid. Regular fasts are appropriate only if regular seasons for seeking God in focused prayer are sincerely pursued. The greater our sense of need, the greater will be our fervency in prayer, and, by implication, the more attention we will give to fasting as a help to prayer.
Fasting can be hypocritical, and the Bible warns against this. If, for example, we give up food but hold on to sin, our fast is displeasing to the Lord. Our hearts are very deceptive. We are frequently willing to give up lesser sins so that we can retain greater and deeper ones, thus fostering pride and self-satisfaction that we have made some progress. God condemns this kind of fasting (Isa. 58). Because fasting is always unto prayer, like prayer, it must begin with confession of sins, ours and others, private and national, family and congregational. There must be a sincere desire to seek the Lord and put away from ourselves everything that displeases him. Repentance is paramount to fasting. God hates sin of every form, and he especially hated hypocrisy (Isa. 29:13; Jer. 12:2). While he loves his people, he does not love our sins, and our sins separate us from him, until we repent and return to his fountain of grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is unlikely that fasting will be helpful for our young children, for unless they are stirred to seek the Lord, fasting may disturb or embitter them. There are, however, exceptional seasons in which fathers and pastors and civil leaders, due to pending disasters, may impose a fast upon every person under their authority. As a rule, however, I would reserve fasting until a child is seeking the Lord and can understand fasting as a help to that end – hunger in the stomach reflecting and encouraging us to hunger for God, his cleansing grace, and his needed help. Even if children want to participate, I would recommend that this be for only one meal or a few hours of the day.
Daniel’s Occasion for Fasting and Prayer (vv. 1-3)
Motivated by Faith in God’s Promises
The end of Judah’s seventy-year captivity was nearing its conclusion. Daniel knew this from reading Jeremiah’s prophecy (Dan. 9:2). Though God had promised deliverance at the end of the appointed period of chastisement, Daniel is very conscious of his sins and the sins of the people. They have not sought the Lord during this lengthy chastisement. They do not deserve deliverance, but God is faithful when we are not! Will the Lord keep his word? Daniel knows he will, and his assurance of the Lord’s faithfulness prompts him to seek the Lord for the fulfillment of his promise.
We see in Daniel the important connection between faith and fasting. Without faith, it is impossible to please God, and this is as true with respect to fasting as in every other aspect of our lives (Heb. 11:6). God makes promises, and belief in his promises prompts action. Daniel knew that God’s people must be humbled in light of their sinfulness. They must repent of their rebellion. Their appeals to the Lord must be prompted by hope in his mercy and the knowledge that he is zealous for his name, his people, and his church. So lively was Daniel’s faith that he gave himself to an undefined season of seeking the Lord through fasting and prayer; he “set his face unto the Lord, to seek by prayer and supplications” (v. 3). Seeking the Lord is not easy work; it is not usually “joyful,” in the sense of “happy,” for the flesh fights back, and we fall asleep. This is the reason that we must “set our face,” resolve by God’s strength to seek him as the urgency of our need and the glory of his name demand.
As we approach similar seasons, our motivations must be the same as Daniel’s. The Lord’s promise to deliver Judah prompted Daniel’s seeking, and we must be stirred to seek him by his promise to build his church (Matt. 16:18), the kingdom given to him by his Father (Luke 24:26; Eph. 1:19-23; Phil. 2:9-11). If we know that the present temptation to the church to yield to fear and false gospels is God’s chastening for our sins, as were Judah’s, how much more must we stir ourselves to seek the Lord’s mercy, that he may purify his church and deliver her from her many sins? We must seek the Lord not so much because we feel miserable due to the uncertainty of our times but because we believe his promises, know he fights for us as our Captain, and are firmly persuaded that his intention is to exalt his church above every other mountain and kingdom (Dan. 2:44-45). Faith and repentance must prompt our prayers. Our faithful is faithful, and he will be merciful to us if we seek him diligently and sincerely.
Motivated by Zeal for God and Urgent Need
Daniel’s personal circumstances, with the exception of two famous instances, were quite good, all things considered. He was an adviser to three powerful kings, and it is certain that wealth and influence accompanied his elevation. Daniel may have been tempted to think that since all was going well with him personally, there was no real reason to take the condition of his rebellious countrymen seriously. Did they not deserve to suffer? His advanced age did not tempt him to pass on the responsibility of seeking God to others. Because Daniel was intensely zealous for the name, glory, and people of God, he looked past his own condition to the needs of God’s people as a whole. Above every personal consideration, Daniel read Scripture, knew that the hour of deliverance had come, and that God would use the believing prayers of his people to bring his promised deliverance to pass. “It is time for you to work, O Lord.”
And should we not feel the same? Secularism and heathenism spread like a disease throughout our nation. No nation build upon the foundation of secular atheism and political polytheism can endure. We are being killed by our idols.
Nevertheless, multitudes are deceived to trust the state to save and secure their lives. God is thus robbed of his public honor and the enthroned Son of his obedience as our rightful King. The church is asleep in some quarters, compromising the gospel in others, and fearful in virtually all, not wanting to press the battle where it is raging most, for fear of offending men. Yet, if the church pleases men, she cannot be a servant of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:10). How needless is all this fear, for we have our Savior’s promises to be with us, build his church, and fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory as the waters cover the seas. Let zeal for our Father’s house and our Savior’s kingdom provoke us to “set our face to seek the Lord.” He is the only one who can fulfill his promises to his Son and through his Son to us (2 Cor. 1:20). “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (Ps. 46:7,11). “The Lord has not forsaken those who seek him” (Ps. 9:10). “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). He will fulfill his promises as we humble ourselves before him and seek him with all our hearts.
Daniel’s Prayer (vv. 4-19)
6 Foundations of Confession and Repentance (vv. 4-14)
(1) v. 4: Daniel begins on the sure foundation of God’s covenant. He is our God, and we are his people. We are his by covenant grace and adoption (v. 4). He is the great God who is more than able to keep his promises, as impossible as it may seem to our weak sense. He is merciful; indeed, our only hope is in his mercy that he extends to us through Jesus Christ. His mercy is his steadfast love that is ours in Jesus Christ, and from which we cannot be separated (Rom . 8:35-39). He is also just, and if we have not responded to his grace in grateful obedience, we may expect his chastisements. The beginning of Daniel’s confession reveals that all true turning to God is prompted by a zeal for his glory and assurance of his mercy to those who seek him.
(2) v. 5: Daniel confesses his sins and the sins of the entire nation. Daniel was one of the godliest men who ever lived, but he did not say “their sins,” referring to Israel – and remember that Daniel had suffered as a righteous man in exile for over 70 years. Humility before God empties us of bitterness and makes us feel our own part in God’s judgments. Notice also that Daniel did not confess the sins of the Babylonians. No, whatever the world is doing, God moves men and nations according to his working in his church. God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ does not make our sin less serious, but more, for our Savior died and rose again that we might be crucified with him and walk with him in newness of life. Against the flippancy with which sin is treated by many within the church, sin brings very real consequences in the lives of believers. We must not receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1), and Daniel recognizes that God’s people have sinned presumptuously, arrogantly, brazenly. He has been gracious and good in giving them his covenant; they have acted wickedly. True confession always recognizes the gravity of sin, not with reference to the world, but with respect to his people, who have received God’s grace and truth, and who should be devoted to our Lord.
(3) v. 6: Daniel recognizes that our sins are more aggravated and our chastening deserved because God sends preachers to warn us. Nowhere have God’s goodness and faithfulness been more manifested than in his willingness to send us preachers and teachers. Especially to these shores, the Lord Jesus has sent an army of preachers to bring the whole counsel of God to us. In many ways, we have rejected their entreaties and warnings. We have been quite content to live as we please while giving God a little lip-service to assuage our guilty consciences and “buy him off” in some sort of deluded game of bargaining for blessing. God takes his word seriously, and when any people have the blessing of hearing his word, as Judah did and as we have, he will hold us accountable, even if our “prophets” have been dead for many years. As we think about our repentance, we must ask the Lord to forgive us for spurning the preachers whom he has sent to us and for gathering around us men who will speak what our itching ears want to hear. What land has been blessed as we have been, with the company of preachers, especially in the past, who tirelessly labored to set our feet upon the Rock of ages? Our light makes our crimes all the more egregious.
(4) vv. 7-8: Daniel confesses God’s righteousness in chastening his people, and his people’s “confusion of face,” their deep shame for their rebellion against such a good, faithful, and loving God and Savior. Here is no plea to remove the consequences. Much like David’s confession in Psalm 51, there is an admission of the justness of the consequences of sin without any plea to be relieved from undesirable consequences. There is brokenness in Daniel’s confession that we must ask the Lord to give us. The Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, his love and his longsuffering must make us ashamed of ourselves for our rebellion. Shame is a word we do not hear much about today. Our nation, even the church, is built around the idea that no one should feel ashamed of anything. The Lord accepts us “just as we are.” We should accept others just as they are. There are no sins, only circumstances beyond our control; no sinners, only victims. This is atheism and a false gospel. Rebellion against God’s word brings shame, confusion, uncertainty, embarrassment. Daniel felt it; we must feel it. At issue is not our pain but his honor, not our deserved troubles but his purity. Our sins and compromise have led to the name of God being blasphemed around the world. If we have any zeal for our Savior’s honor, we must be humbled in the dust and admit our confusion, without apology or excuse, waiting upon the Lord alone to have mercy upon us and restore us to righteousness, which belongs to him alone, as Daniel recognizes.
(5) vv. 9-10: Daniel’s hope is God’s mercy, his compassion, his pity. At no time does Daniel hint that we deserve to be restored. Our rebellion is compounded by our ingratitude, he confesses. We are always absolutely dependent upon the mercy of God, but in our blindness, pride, and coldness toward him, we do not recognize and sense this as we should. If we did, we would seek him, and he would give us grace. Because he loves us, he brings pressure to bear upon us; he forces us to face our sinfulness and cast ourselves upon his mercy alone. It should go without saying that any idea that we deserve to be preserved from current calamities will only bring more of them. We deserve nothing: not a certain standard of living, forgiveness of our innumerable atrocities, a heaven-sent remedy for our calamities. We can only plead mercy for our sins. He will give it to us if we seek him through Jesus Christ, if we turn to him with all our heart, if we trust his promises, if we turn from our wickedness. He delights in mercy; his mercies are fresh every morning. His mercy is our only hope.
(6) vv. 11-14: Daniel thus admits the absolute justice of the present calamity of Judah. The nation has broken covenant with God and rejected his law. The rebellion is compounded by the refusal to seek the Lord in prayer, despite the many warnings received through his prophets and the comparatively light chastisements that eventually gave way to their destruction and exile. In making our confession to the Lord, we must not focus upon the painful consequences of our sins, as if we somehow deserve better. There must be honest and sincere confession that we deserve everything we have received from his fatherly hand, and worse. We must admit his righteousness, and this is the key to the whole. If we judge ourselves, we will not be judged along with the world (1 Cor. 11:31-32). If we arraign ourselves before his judgment seat, adore his righteousness, and confess our treacheries, we are then in a position to receive his mercy. We must especially pray that the Lord will open the eyes of his people to this truth. The world cannot receive it, for the natural man does not receive the things of God. They are foolishness to the unbeliever, but they are the life of the believer. Yet, many in the church are like Judah; they want to be “lightly healed of their infirmities” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). Give us soft words, easy principles, feel-good religion. Do not talk about our Sabbath breaking, our fornications, our compromises, our total need of a work of God to restore us, our complete deserving of these calamities. We do not want to hear about duty; give us easy grace. Yet, our wound will remain incurable unless we admit its depth and our utter inability to find a remedy apart from God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Our only hope is that the Lord will enable us to blush again before him.
Appeal for Mercy, Help, and Deliverance (vv. 15-19)
(1) v. 15: Daniel grounds his hope upon the Lord’s love for his people as expressed in his deliverance of them from Egypt. Due to their wickedness, they again need him to deliver them from bondage. Daniel knows the Lord has promised to deliver them, that he will not forsake his people whom he foreknew (Ps. 94:14; Rom. 11:2). However, they have lost all claim upon him except the grace and mercy of covenant. Like Daniel, our appeal for the Lord to save our nation, revive his church, and embolden us to proclaim the word of reconciliation cannot be based upon any thought of personal worthiness. Our present plight is due to our corporate unfaithfulness, compromise with the world, and cold regard for his word. Faithful believers are scattered throughout our land, but like Daniel, we are part of the whole church. We share in the guilt even as share in its consequences. And we have contributed our share to the present troubles. Hence, our entire confidence of being heard must lie in our adoption in Jesus Christ, that our Father will hear us for the sake of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, whose blood and righteousness are our only plea and ever retain their efficacy before his throne. In faith, we must draw near to our Father as little children, confessing our sins and depending upon our Father’s acceptance of us for the sake of his Son. Since we are wayward children, however, we must reproach ourselves with sincere contrition for our sins and recommit ourselves to being his faithful children.
(2) v. 16: Daniel asks the Lord to turn away his anger and fury. This petition is based upon God’s righteousness, which in this context means his complete fidelity to his promises. Even if we are faithless, he will not deny himself. His righteousness is our comfort; our hope is that the Lord will ever remain true to himself and to his word. Hear our Savior’s groaning confession from the cross: “But you are holy” (Ps. 22:3). Because Daniel was intensely zealous for the Lord’s own character, he pleads with the Lord to remember that his people, city, and covenant have become a reproach to the world. It is their fault, to be sure, but in their reproach, the Lord himself suffers infamy. Daniel grounds his petition in the righteous character of God, that he loves his own name and covenant, his work of grace, his saving purposes? When we see the sins of our land and lives, we, too, must ask the Lord to work to vindicate his own name, his righteousness and holiness, covenant love, and, preeminently, the kingdom of his beloved Son. This places our prayers upon an infinitely higher plane. “Lord, we are sinful, but may your name be hallowed! Lord, we have transgressed your covenant, but may your kingdom come! Lord, we are undone and embarrassed before you, but you are righteous, and in your righteousness, please deliver us that we may yet rise to glorify your name.” The hour demands this kind of God-centered praying. We tend to think only of the consequences of sin for us, of the things we might suffer as we are caught up in the general sinfulness of the times. Do we think of the consequences of our sins for the name and honor of our Father? Confidence in prayer lies in making our petitions with God’s glory chiefly in mind.
(3) v. 17: Daniel asks the Lord to remember his church. We reach the heart of Daniel’s prayer, the heart of every child of God. God’s sanctuary is the place he reveals his saving name and love to his people. In Daniel’s time, it lay in ruins. Now, the true temple, the church of Jesus Christ, is similarly reduced in the West: full of compromise, men who seek their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ, believers who treat the Bride of Christ as a whore to be used when convenient but without any real commitment to her peace and purity, government and discipline, word and sacraments. Evidence of this may be found in the way men devise all manner of man-made gospels and worship, the widespread ignorance of the Bible, and the mutilation of the gospel to support ungodly social movements and sexual perversion. These are not the ministry of reconciliation that has been committed to us. Gospel reconciliation is not persuading men to accept other men’s perversion or, God forbid, making him an advocate of them, but humbling our hearts so that we submit to his revealed righteousness in Scripture. We cannot revive the church, but the Lord can. He loves her. He rules over all things for her sake. He walks in her midst. He has the dew of his youth, the freshness and vigor to send his Spirit and restore us. When the church lies weak and desolate, we must give the Lord no rest until he makes his church the glory, wonder, and fear of the nations.
(4) v. 18: Daniel asks the Lord to hear and see the desolation of his people and city. He does not believe God is unmindful of the plight of his church. He would never have prayed this unless he believed that the Lord was passionately committed to the welfare of his people. If we are men and women after God’s own heart, how can we let a day go by without shedding a tear for the condition of the daughter of Zion, the Bride of our Savior? We may think it is all well with us, in our little corner of the Lord’s vineyard, but are we as righteous as we think we are? Do we not partake of some of the desolations that are evident throughout the church? Are we not embarrassed that our lives are often loveless, powerless, and joyless? Do not our hearts burn within us to see the mountain of the Lord growing and filling the earth, rising above all the other kingdoms of the world, with her gates thrown wide open in truth and righteousness that the nations may come in and partake of reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ? Our only hope that the Lord will so act for us is his mercy, his steadfast, covenant–pledged love. Seek from him a heart that burns with zeal for the welfare of the church, a heart that is truly grieved for her downcast state. Seek his mercy for your contribution to her demise. Seek his grace for strength to contribute to her restoration.
(5) v. 19: Daniel asks the Lord to act without delay. He is compelled by Jeremiah’s prophesy. We may doubt if we have similar authorization, but do we not? When he read, “It is time for you to work, O Lord, for men have made void your law,” or, “Today is the day of salvation,” lack we anything permitting us to pray, “Defer not, for your own sake, O Lord?” The gospel is in great danger of being swallowed up by secularism, Marxism, sodomy, hatred, infidelity, and externalism. God’s people appear, at least in our nation, to be compromised with the spirit of our age, its idolatries, covetousness, and entertainments. We have our share in this. “Forgive us, Lord. Work for your own sake, because you are righteous, because you have said that of the increase of Messiah’s kingdom there will never be an end, because you love the church, the place of your abode.” If nothing else, you may pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” The Lord’s timing is his own, but who can say but what the concerted, sincere, and contrite prayers of his believing people will not be the very means he has ordained as the instruments for a mighty work of revival and reformation in our time. The saints are praying. They are keeping watch. The incense of their prayers is rising. The Lord is casting them down in judgments against his enemies and salvation for his people. We see the smoke rising all around us. We bear the Lord’s name; he will not allow it to be trampled forever.
The Lord Answers Daniel (vv. 20-27)
The Lord heard Daniel’s prayer. The answer came in the form of one of the most famous prophecies in Scripture. The answer focuses upon the coming of the Messiah, The prophecy is stated in such precise terms that by it God sustained the faith of his people for the next five centuries. The Lord Jesus came and confirmed his covenant within the time prophesied. He offered himself for the sins of the world, thus bringing an end to sacrifice and oblation. We are now blessed to live in Messiah’s kingdom, and, thus, the Lord’s answer to Daniel through Gabriel is also our answer. The King reigns! No matter the low condition of the church, the Lord will revive his people, for they are united to Jesus Christ and share in his exaltation. Therefore, we must pray to see this answer: the glorious Savior, seated at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us, with his blood constantly distilling before the throne, in his resurrected person guaranteeing that our prayers will be received and answered. This is our confidence – not our wisdom but the Lord’s promises, not our purity, but our Savior’s. Our weakness is the very means by which he will exert his strength in our behalf to restore and revive his church throughout history.
This is our ultimate answer: a living, reigning Savior, to whom coming we receive all grace and power to lead holy lives, repent of our sins, and be used as ambassadors of the Lord to draw the nations to himself! We must see Jesus more clearly than we do, in his glory and power. We must hear his voice amidst the storm: “It is I, be not afraid.” He is leading us in his triumphal train. His gospel will prevail. All the forces of hell cannot prevent his purpose to build his church victorious over the gates of hell. When the enemy rushes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him, and this standard is nothing other than the cross and throne of Jesus Christ, Messiah, the Prince of the kings of the earth. Every knee will bow to him. Let us be first in line to bow before him, daily in line. Begin today to live more devotedly to Jesus Christ. Every nation and kingdom that will not serve him will be ground to powder (Isa. 60:12). Every nation and kingdom that turns to him will be healed by the leaves of the tree of life, his cross. There is no other hope for our times than our return to the King of glory and of grace. Our nation must repent of its idolatry, its atheism, its polytheism, and its perversions. We must bow before God’s enthroned King of the nations. We must as a nation confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Daniel’s prayer meets the need of our times. Should the Lord grant us humility and persistence in pursuing its lofty themes, this would be evidence of his reviving work in our midst and a harbinger of his greater work in purifying his Church and advancing his gospel. There is a great deal of talk, as there always is in such times, of assigning blame and developing solutions to our various “problems.” There is only one solution, and we must understand it clearly. It is for the Lord of covenant and mercy to restore us to himself, grant us repentance, and empower us to faithfulness. We must, however, begin with contrite and broken hearts for our own sins, for the Lord exalts only those who humble themselves before him. He is far from finished building the kingdom of his Son. The best days are ahead. The best days belong to those who seek the Lord and are filled with zeal for the glory of his name.
Reflections for Us and for our Children
1. What is fasting?
2. What does it mean to say that the “purpose of fasting is not fasting?” Why do God’s people sometimes fast?
3. Why do you need God’s mercy (forgiveness)?
4. Why does all God-honoring prayer always include confession of sin and plea for mercy?
5. Why should prayer never focus upon God removing the consequences for our sins? What must we recognize about the consequences of our actions and our Father’s chastisements?
6. Read Psalm 51:1-7. Describe the way David confesses his sins to the Lord.
7. Read Daniel 9:16-17. How does Daniel’s love for the Church, which he calls “God’s holy mountain,” stir him up to pray?
8. Why should the condition of the Church today lead you to pray and ask the Lord to restore her purity and righteousness?
9. For whose sake does our Father forgive our sins? Why can we be certain he will forgive us when we ask (1 John 1:9)?
10. Hos is God’s righteousness our great confidence in these times?
11. How can we be certain that our heavenly Father will be merciful to us, if we seek him and turn from our sins?
12. What are some specific promises that God has made to his Son as the Mediator of the covenant of grace, that are relevant at this time?
13. What was God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer? How is this the same answer to our prayer – but an answer he will not give unless we pray?
14. How can our nation have any hope of deliverance from present calamities?
15. How is the church the light of the world in our times?