Praying Like Daniel
Prayer is something almost all of us have dabbled in or been curious about sometime in our lives. I’ve even noticed that dutiful religious people almost universally feel guilty about not praying more or feel inadequate as prayers. My question is, must this be the case? Is it possible to become more comfortable and better at praying?
I’ve learned that our brain’s right systems are continually asking three questions: Who am I? Who are my people? What do people like us do in situations like this? I’ve also learned that our right systems are full of mirror neurons that learn by picturing something and then imitating it.
Starting with that premise, when I recently read the book of Daniel (in the Bible), I observed that built into Daniel’s life routine seemed to be, what I think we could simply call, walking with God. He spent time regularly aligning himself with God’s larger story and character by reviewing how these were revealed in God’s Word. He also regularly connected with God through relational prayer (seen powerfully in the Lion’s Den story of Daniel 6). Praying seemed to be a normal part of his life.
When I got to Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:3-19, it seemed to me to be a particularly good picture of prayer for me to practice imitating. In that prayer, I noticed three things I wanted to start imitating.
The first thing was how Daniel included praise and adoration of God when he prayed. He didn’t just jump in and start telling God what he wanted God to do, as I am prone to do. He prayed like he had a relationship with God and like he believed God might like to hear from Daniel—in addition to his requests—what Daniel appreciated about God. I saw that Daniel included in his prayer things like, “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, mercy and forgiveness.” As he walked with God and came to know God as He is, Daniel practiced telling God the greatness of what he was coming to know. I decided I'd like to imitate Daniel and try to do some of that too when I prayed.
The second thing I noticed in Daniel’s prayer that I wanted to imitate is how he included confession throughout his prayer. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession (Dan 9:4). It struck me that as Daniel matured, he increasingly saw reality more through the lens of relationship with God and His larger story than through the lens of what he wanted or what was best for him. His confessions, it seemed to me, were agreeing with God about reality (truth). They were verbalizing the specifics of how he and his people had fallen short of what God had asked of them and what would please Him. I decided I wanted to imitate confessing like Daniel too when I prayed.
The third thing I noticed in Daniel’s prayer that I wanted to imitate is how he boldly asks for God’s gracious response to a current troubling situation. Daniel prays, O Lord, hear, forgive, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (things were not going well for the returned captives in Jerusalem - Dan 9:18-19). Daniel’s bold asking was not about trying to talk God into doing what was inconsistent with God’s character or larger story. It was asking God to move powerfully in ways aligned with what God had revealed about Himself and about His larger story plan (the will of God).
Daniel’s bold asking reminded me of how I like it when my grandsons boldly ask me for something that they believe I am able and am happy to do with or for them. It makes me feel like they know me and trust that my heart is for them. God, I’m sure likes that too. So, I’m determined to imitate Daniel and be more bold in my asking of God in prayer. Maybe you'd like to imitate Daniel too.