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“A Pattern for Prayer”

2 Chronicles 20:1-12, Daniel 9:2-19, Nehemiah 1:4-11
Bob DeGray
May 30, 2004

Key Sentence

Use the truths of Scripture to align your prayers with God’s will.


I. Immediate problem
II. Orientation to the person and work of God
III. Request


        Last week we talked about the need for passion in prayer and praise and how to develop it. One thing we saw was that we develop passion when we see things from God’s point of view. But last week we focused on the heart motivation for prayer and the heart response to God’s work. What about the head? Is prayer something important because it is purely emotional, driven and sustained by emotion alone? No. Passion is great, the heart is important, but Biblical prayer also flows from the mind, from a Biblically informed seeking after God’s will. This week we want to see that the ministry of prayer and our individual prayer lives are moved forward when we use the truths of Scripture to align our prayers with God’s will.

        When I was researching this series I looked on the internet for ‘great prayers of the Bible’, and came up with some really good material various churches have put together. One of those was Glendale Baptist Church, here in Houston near Galena Park. A teaching summary I found at that site really intrigued me. It was called ‘Three Great Prayers in the Bible’ and it was a side by side comparison of 2 Chronicles 20, Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9. Pastor Robert Lewis did a good analysis of these three prayers. I don’t know how he presented this analysis because his sermons aren’t on line. But today I’m going to use his basic outline to show that you and I should use the truths of Scripture to align our prayers with God’s will.

I. Immediate problem

        The three prayers occur at three different points in Biblical history. 2 Chronicles 20 is the passage we studied a while back about Jehosphaphat, the king of Judah. It occurs in about 850 B.C. during the years of the divided kingdom. Daniel and Nehemiah are later, at the end of the Jewish exile. Daniel is set in Babylon, where Daniel is an advisor to the king. Nehemiah is set in Babylon and Jerusalem, where Nehemiah takes the lead in rebuilding that city’s walls after the return from the exile. In context, each of these prayers is a response to an immediate need or opportunity.

        Let’s begin with 2 Chronicles 20:1-4 After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, "A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar" (that is, En Gedi). 3Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. Jehoshaphat was one of the good kings of Judah, one of several in this period. He removed idols and led the people toward true worship of Yahweh. But he did make mistakes, including aligning himself with the evil king of Israel in a war which resulted in the king of Israel’s death and in a prophecy which promised trials for the his own nation.

        Chapter 20 probably reports that trial, but it ends in a victory because of God’s answer to this prayer. There was a very real threat - a number of armies joining together to attack Judah, and already very close when discovered. So Jehoshaphat prays at this crisis moment, an immediate urgent need, an army marching toward Jerusalem.

        The next situation, chronologically, occurs during Judah’s exile to Babylon. Because of her faithlessness and idolatry, Judah has been conquered, and a great part of her population, the best and most influential people, taken as slaves to Babylon. One of them was Daniel, who became a trusted advisor to the king. But he is also a student of Scripture, and he discovers something there. Daniel 9:1-3 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom-- 2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

        Daniel was having his quiet time, reading his Bible and studying one of the most recent books of Scripture, from his point of view, the writings of Jeremiah the prophet. As he read, he understood, probably from Jeremiah 25 and or 29, that the exile was to last seventy years. Looking back on his long life, Daniel recognized that the time of exile ought to be coming to an end. That was the cause of his prayer. He saw both a need, for the exile to end, and an opportunity, for God to fulfill his promises and be glorified. And he wasn’t content to just see these things - which is a trap we sometimes fall into - instead they drove him to prayer: prayer and petition, fasting, sackcloth and ashes. The fasting and the sackcloth were evidence of Daniel’s commitment to this prayer - and sometimes we can use fasting the same way.

        So Jehoshaphat had an urgent crisis, Daniel saw an urgent opportunity, and so did Nehemiah a few years later. It’s still Babylon. Daniel may or not be around, but Nehemiah is cupbearer to the king, a position of responsibility and considerable authority. Daniel was motivated to pray by his Bible and calendar, but Nehemiah is motivated by a news report. Nehemiah 1:1-4 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3They said, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." 4When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
        Nehemiah gets news from Hanani, his literal brother not just a fellow Jew. He was one of the Jews allowed to return to Jerusalem under the edict of Cyrus, recorded in Ezra chapter 1. A man with this name appears as one of the returnees in Ezra 10.

        There was apparently some travel between Jerusalem and Babylon. I imagine the situation is similar to the Zionists of the early 1900's, who had settled in Palestine but would travel the world to engender support for an Israeli state. Hanani was coming back, to plead for support for Jerusalem, and he tells his influential brother of the poverty, disgrace, trouble and ruin that faces those who have come from Babylon. Nehemiah resolves to act on this need, but first, to earnestly pray about it.

        So those are the three settings, one crisis and two urgent opportunities. It’s my opinion that we encounter crises like these and urgent opportunities like these all the time on a church level and on an individual level. A lot of different applications for this pattern we’re seeing occurred to me during the week. I finally decided, though, that since we are currently looking at the ministry of prayer, the urgent opportunity that I would focus on is the opportunity to pray more. I’m not saying we’re entirely prayerless as a church, and certainly not as individuals, but we’re prayerless enough that sensitive believers have noticed it. And I think God is always offering the opportunity for us to become a people of prayer in a deeper way. Now that we’ve noticed the need it becomes an urgent opportunity. We shouldn’t miss a chance to grow in prayer. Therefore I want to pray and I want us to pray Biblically, using this model, that prayer itself would grow and multiply and be fruitful among us.

II. Orientation to the person and work of God

        So there are four situations to consider: Jehoshaphat under attack; Daniel seeing the seventy years run out; Nehemiah hearing of the poverty and ruin of Jerusalem; and us wanting to be more effective in prayer. But how should Jehoshaphat and Daniel and Nehemiah and Trinity pray about these things? Well, if we’re going to model our prayers after these three Biblical prayers it is going to be by orienting ourselves to the person and work and promises of God. That phrase comes from Pastor Lewis’s outline, and I like it. By far the largest part of each of these Biblical prayers is devoted to remembering before God who he is and what he’s done and what he’s promised. Now is this for God’s benefit? Not entirely, although we have learned that God is glorified when we reflect back to him his attributes, perfections and works. But it also benefits us: as we remember these things we grow in faith, we pray in faith and we more and more pray according to his will. It’s almost as if we’re doing research into the character and promises of God so that we can pray in this situation for what he will be delighted to give.

        Let’s look at these prayers and find some parallels that will help us craft our own. First there is a focus on God’s greatness. This is how so many Biblical prayers start. 2 Chronicles 20:6 “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.” Daniel 9:4 “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands.” Nehemiah 1:5 “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.”

        To Jehosphat he is God of our fathers, Nehemiah he is ‘the great and awesome God’ and to Daniel he is God of heaven. To Jehoshaphat, faced with an oncoming army, he is also the one who rules over all the kingdoms of the nations with irresistible power and might. To Daniel and Nehemiah he is the one who keeps his covenant, his promises of love to those who love him and obey his commands. Both Nehemiah and Daniel are explicitly praying Scripture back to God, citing both God’s self revelation in Exodus 20 and Moses’ comment on it in Deuteronomy 7.

        So the first step is recognition of God’s greatness. The second is confession. Jehoshaphat skips this step, not so much because of the urgency of the situation as because he had led the people into repentance and reformation prior to this attack. But Daniel and Nehemiah do confess sin on behalf of God’s people. Nehemiah is brief: Chapter 1, verses 6 and 7 “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. 7We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

        Nehemiah confesses, but Daniel makes confession a focus of his prayer. Daniel 9:4-11 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7"Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame--the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.”

        There is actually more than that, and of course there are other features mixed in with this prayer, especially comments on the nature of God himself, his righteousness, mercy and forgiveness. But the basic thrust is confession: we’ve done wrong. We’ve not obeyed. We’ve been unfaithful, and for this reason we are covered with shame. In other words “We see this opportunity but we don’t deserve the blessing you’ve promised because of our sin.” That’s a very honest prayer.

        So there is a focus on God’s greatness, a focus on confessing our sin, and in each of theses cases there is also a reminder of God’s past faithfulness, the works God has done.
        In 2 Chronicles 20:7-8 Jehoshaphat says “O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name.” He reminds God both of his faithfulness at the time of the conquest of Canaan and when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. Daniel 9:15 says “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day.” This looks back to the great act of redemptive history, God’s rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt, and Daniel focuses this reminder on the reputation God earned by it. Like many Biblical pray-ers, Daniel will end up basing his request not on our righteousness, but on God’s defense of his name and his honor. In the same way Nehemiah 1:10 says “We are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.”

        Finally, each of these prayers implicitly or explicitly cites a promise from God that applies to the present need. In 2 Chronicles 20:9 Jehoshaphat remembers that when the temple was built, God himself made some promises: “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.” He’s asking God to keep that promise. In the same way in Nehemiah 1:8-9 Nehemiah says to God “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.' That’s a direct quote of a promise from the end of Deuteronomy. Daniel is a little less explicit, but remember in Daniel 9:2 what drove him to prayer “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” The whole of Daniel’s prayer is a call to God to keep this promise despite the people’s sin.

        So each of these model prayers includes elements of recognizing who God is, recognizing what God has done, recognizing what God has promised, and very often, confessing sin that has stood in the way of receiving God’s blessing. How can we apply this to the opportunity we have to see God work through prayer? Last weeks emphasis was on the passion, the heart we need to bring to prayer. This week I want us to focus on the content, on the thought process we bring to prayer, and I want you to buy into the idea that some good prayers, prayers that align with God’s will, require Biblical research, or at least a highly developed awareness of Biblical truth and precedent. So let’s take the issue of prayer for just a moment and orient ourselves to the person, work and promises of God regarding prayer.

        Let’s think first about the attributes of God that incline him to hear and answer our prayers. On a basic level, with Daniel and Nehemiah, we can go back to God’s self revelation in Exodus 34 as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” It is his compassion, graciousness, love and faithfulness that give us confidence to seek him in prayer for our own circumstances. Furthermore we acknowledge with Jeremiah that he is the sovereign Lord: “you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Finally we recognize with the Psalmist that one of his names is ‘the God who hears.’ Psalm 65:1_2 “Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come.” His hearing of our prayers is an attribute so prominent that it is given to him as a name and a title: ‘the God who hears.’

        But if this is the kind of God we have, do we have anything to confess that accounts for our lack of prayer? Scripture offers several possibilities. In Isaiah 59 we find that our sins can hinder prayer: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” If as God’s children we persist in unrepented sin, like a loving Father, God will systematically reduce our blessings until we grapple with the issue. If we have fallen into a characteristic sin, we need to confess it and turn from it and forsake it in order to open the gates of prayer and his answers. One specific area the Bible addresses is a husbands caring and compassion for his wife. Peter tells us that our prayers will be hindered if we don’t live with our wives in a considerate, respectful and gracious way. And in a more general sense Scripture attributes rescue from even the most disastrous calamities to prayer. Daniel 9:13 in today’s Scriptures says “all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God,” and Psalm 32:6 commands “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found.” and promises “surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.” So prayerlessness is disobedience. Those who claim to trust God and yet don’t seek him are sinning.

        We recognize him as the God who hears, we confess sin that hinders our prayers, and prayerlessness that is sin, and then we look for a historical situation to remind God that he does answer prayer. They abound of course. The three situations we’re looking at today are examples. Last week in 1st Samuel we learned that when Hannah gave birth to the son she had prayed for she gave him a name that meant ‘God hears’. Nehemiah, later in his prayer, cites the time of the Judges, saying “So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.” God, you’ve done this before. Even when your people have sinned, if they’ve turned and cried out to you you’ve answered.”

        Finally, we gather promises that remind both God and us that he will answer prayer. Some of the most startling of these promises are in the Gospels. John 16:23_24, Jesus says “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” This is a bold promise of answered prayer, and one that we are intended to cling to so that we will be bold. Probably the most famous Old Testament promise of this type is 2nd Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That’s a promise to Israel, but it’s a principle that applies to all of us.

III. Request

        It’s this kind of Scriptural analysis of God’s person, work and promises that creates and dominates the prayers of Jehoshaphat, Daniel and Nehemiah. Only at the very end do they actually make requests. In 2 Chronicles 20:12 Jehoshaphat prays “O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." We’ve often noted that this is a great model prayer. Nehemiah says, verse 11, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” He was looking for a way to get the king of Babylon to send him to Jerusalem with aid. Finally Daniel recognizes that God keeps his promises not only for our good but for His glory. Daniel 9:17-19 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name."

         So these Biblical prayers have a pattern worth imitating. When we recognize a problem we first orient ourselves and our prayers to the person and work and promises of God, confessing any sin those things may reveal. Only then do we make our requests, because through Scripture we have aligned ourselves to Gods’ will in this matter. We can use this model in many different areas of our personal and church lives. As we close I want to model a prayer that addresses the issue of us praying, based on the Scriptural study we’ve just done. Let’s pray.

        O Lord, the God who hears and answers prayer. You have told us over and over that you are gracious and compassionate, loving and faithful, sovereign and mighty. It is to you we come this morning, confessing that we have not depended on you in prayer the way you desire. Lord, we confess that some of this is due to sin in our lives, which has kept us from intimacy with you.

        Lord we confess those sins and we turn from them and trust your forgiveness as a loving Father through your son. Some of us are guilty, Lord, of this very specific sin of not loving and caring for our wives, living with them in an understanding way and being gracious to them as you are to us. Lord, forgive us, and let our prayers not be hindered. And we are often guilty of self sufficiency so that we have not sought you or cried out to you, nor received the blessings you long to pour on us.

        But we ask O Lord that you remember your promises, that whatever we ask in your name, according to your will, we will receive, and that if we humble ourselves and pray you will bless. Lord, so many have cried out to you in the past and seen your blessing that we cannot doubt your hand, and so we come to you in faith that you will hear and answer. This is our request: make us a people of prayer, who seize opportunities to pray and who see the answers. Motivate us and change us not just for our sake but for your name’s sake. Lord, we ask, that you be honored and glorified in us and by our dependence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.