"Anguishing in Prayer"
Recently, I had the joy of preaching a message from Daniel 9:1-19, where we find a powerful, passionate prayer offered by Daniel on behalf of the people of Israel. The 70 years of captivity were about to end and the Jews would have the opportunity to return to Jerusalem. Daniel worshiped, confessed the sins of his people, and anguished over their spiritual condition. He was more concerned with what would happen in their hearts than he was about the superficial issues of simply changing locations with their newfound freedom to return home.
Clearly, Daniel’s prayer is a model for all of us. It is an example of the great need for spiritual anguish in our prayers. As we look around our nation, and particularly at the spiritual condition of the body of Christ, there is much to be grateful for – but there is also much that should stir a sense of spiritual anguish, marked by fervent confession, pleas for God’s mercy, and longings for a restoration of His power and presence.
The Secrets of a Heart of Anguishing Prayer
Let us look briefly at this prayer of anguish and then allow our own hearts to sense the need for a similar pursuit in our prayers.
1. Anguishing prayer is birthed from the truth of God’s word
We find that his reading of God’s word ignited Daniel’s prayer. Daniel 9:2-3 tells us that he had been reading the prophet Jeremiah (probably the portions we identify as Jeremiah 25:11-12 & 29:10). As a result, he was aware that the 70 years was almost over. His response was, “I set my face toward the Lord God…”
Even into his 80’s at this time, Daniel’s reading and deep understanding of God’s word led to deep and passionate prayer. In fact, further study reveals that much of his prayer comes right out of the Scriptures. There are allusions to Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Psalms and, of course, Jeremiah. Throughout the prayer, Daniel referenced God’s “commandments” (verse 4), His “commandments and ordinances” (verse 5), the “prophets” (verse 6), God’s “teachings” (verse 10), God’s “Law” (verse 11), the “Law of Moses” (verses 11, 13), and God’s “truth” (verse 13).
John Piper tells how George Mueller said that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. Inevitably, his mind wandered. Then he started with the Bible, and turned the Book into prayer as he read, and for 40 years he was able to stay focused and powerful in prayer. Piper then notes, “I have seen that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn't brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.“
2. Anguishing prayer is concerned with the honor of God’s name
Daniel’s petition is God-centered. At least 19 times, he makes reference to God, while man is referenced approximately 11 times (mostly in the context of confession of sin). In his prayer, Daniel speaks of God as the “great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy…“(9:4). He tells of how God’s mighty hand exhibited His great name (9:15). In verses 17-19 Daniel prays, “…for the Lord's sake cause Your face to shine…the city which is called by Your name…because of Your great mercies…for Your own sake, my God…for Your city and Your people are called by Your name." Notice the God-oriented nature of the prayer – and Daniel’s passion for the glory of God’s name. It was this desire that led to deep confession (vv. 4-15) and a prayer of great faith (16-19).
Too many times our anguish is simply over our own inconveniences and trials. Thankfully, the Lord hears and cares. However, our ultimate concern should be that of Daniel’s. The fame and honor of God’s name is the deepest desire of a true Christ-follower.
3. Anguishing prayer is sustained by a longing for God’s presence
I love Daniel’s resolve in the phrase, “…then I set my face toward the Lord God…“(v. 3). As the English Standard Version says, “…seeking Him in prayer.” This was a face-to-face pursuit, where Daniel resolves with sackcloth, ashes, and fasting to pursue the ultimate reality of a revival of God’s presence among His people. That is why he prayed, “For the Lord's sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate” (v. 17). In verse 20, he noted that his prayer was ultimately “for the holy mountain of my God.” This is a key to real anguish. It is not satisfied with superficial progress of the religious program but desires nothing less than a full manifestation of God’s presence.
In Exodus 33:15-18 Moses exemplifies this same passion. Even though God’s angel was going to lead them into the Promised Land, God said His intimate presence would not go with them. Moses resolved, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth." Then he cried out, "Please, show me Your glory."
This is the same vision for our lives that Paul articulated when he wrote, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Real anguish is dissatisfied with anything less.
4. Anguishing prayer is answered in accordance with God’s plan
Daniel 9:20-23 tells us of God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer of anguish. The angel Gabriel was sent speedily from God’s presence to give Daniel “skill to understand” God’s plan (v.22) and to assure Daniel that he was loved by God (v. 23). What ensues is the revelation of the “70 weeks” that would take place in the future as God restored Israel through the coming of the Messiah. Ultimately, we must also know that His Spirit will minister to us out of our anguish to teach us that His plan and timing are always best and to assure us of His never-failing love.
Will We Anguish?
It is strange how we can have a passion for our nation in other categories, but often fail to agonize over the spiritual condition of our land. We get excited about national sports, national news, national politics, and the national economy. Yet our great need is a sense of anguish over our spiritual condition as a nation. The greatest need in our nation is not better sports leagues, more political ideas, or even economic recovery. The great need is spiritual revival. So, how are we really anguishing about this?
I will never forget when this sense of anguish became so strong on my own heart that I felt compelled to leave the security of the pastorate in a very large local church and become a missionary by faith for the sake of spiritual renewal in our nation. The elders at Grace Church graciously said, “You could stay here and our church could grow to 10,000 or more – or, you can go and ignite renewal in 10,000 pastors and congregations. Which would have greater impact?” Their support reflected a God-given sense of God’s anguish over our nation. This anguish is something we all must feel at some level. Then we must act by praying, serving, going, and giving.
Recently, I had the privilege of leading a prayer time at the national headquarters for Life Action Ministries in Buchannan, Michigan. During one of our prayer sessions, we watched a video by David Wilkerson. (As a side note, you can view it for yourself at http://tiny.cc/zIm1L. I would URGE you to watch it and share it with others.) Read an excerpt from that video, and let it touch your heart:
“Whatever happened to anguish in the house of God? Whatever happened to anguish in the ministry? It’s a word you don’t hear in this pampered age. Anguish means, ‘extreme pain and distress – the emotions so stirred that it becomes painful. Acute, deeply felt inner pain because of conditions about you, in you, or around you.’ Anguish – the sorrow and agony of God’s heart. We’ve held on to our religious rhetoric and our revival talk. But we’ve become so passive. All true passion is birthed out of anguish. All true passion for Christ comes out of a baptism of anguish. You search the Scripture and you find that when God determined to recover a ruined situation, He would share His own anguish for what God saw happening to His people. He would find a praying man and he would take that man and literally baptize him in anguish.”
Praying for Anguishing Prayer
Even though I am now giving my life for the cause of spiritual awakening, I feel a longing for an increasing anguish over this calling and the spiritual needs of the American church. My prayer is that you will share God’s heart at a deeper level for this same reality.
Let us pray for an anguish that is birthed from the truth of God’s word, concerned with the honor of God’s name, sustained by longing for God’s presence, and answered in accordance with God’s plan. This is God’s invitation to live lives that really matter.
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.