God and America
Praying for Our People
Over the last couple of weeks, we talked about what it means to be Last Days Men. We found that we certainly live in days of wickedness, sinfulness, and evil like what is described in 2 Timothy 3. However, we were told to expect difficulty in trying to live a godly life and to expect persecution. We were told to beware of a pretense of godliness where Christians compromise truth to get along in this world. Rather, we should be anchored in the Word of God and benefit from its equipping power to be evangelists in these last days. If you missed those messages, I would encourage you to check them out on the website. Go to the sermon page and click on “Last Days Men.”
I have often wondered what our nation will look like in another generation or two if it continues to go the direction we see things heading today. If the Lord tarries, what will it be like if Christians cannot buy or sell their goods to make a living unless they affirm things like same-sex marriage or be supportive of abortion. Will there come a time in our nation when we will be put in prison if we speak about Jesus without affirming Allah as god also. Will we continue to stand for Jesus if we are stripped of our rights of freedom, the freedoms that we so enjoy in this great nation? Will we continue to pray for America, even under the oppression of our Christian beliefs?
I believe there is an excellent biblical example of what we ought to do . . . not only under oppressive conditions, but even today as we see our nation heading that direction. I would like for you to go back in time with me to the year 605 B.C., 2,623 years ago.
In 605 B. C., Nebuchadnezzar, who would soon become the Babylonian king, led a great army against the Egyptians in the Battle of Carchemish, which fought along the Euphrates River. Though Egypt was considered one of the greatest military powers of their day, they were defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then preceded south and went on to capture Jerusalem in that same year, taking control of the city, destroying the Temple, and taking captive certain royal princes of the house of Israel, among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, or Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, as most people recognize them.
In the first chapter of Daniel, we find these four men taking a stand for their beliefs, though they were in Babylon under the control of the King. God blessed them for standing for Him and they received promotions in the kingdom. In chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego stood firm once again for what they believed concerning worship of a golden image made of the king. Thrown in to the fiery furnace to die, God choose to preserve them. In chapter 6, Daniel was caught praying to God three times a day when a decree was made that he could only make petitions to the king. Thrown to the lions to perish, God preserved Daniel. As we come to the prayer of Daniel recorded for us in chapter 9, Daniel is close to 90 years of age and has been in captivity to the Babylonians for around 67 or 68 years.
At this point, you might think Daniel would have given up on the hope of a restoration his people, the nation of Israel, back to their home land. But instead of giving up on his people, we find one of the most powerful national prayers recorded for us in Scripture. I want to look at this prayer as an example of how we can and should be praying for our nation today. I have divided his prayer for his people into four characteristics, characteristics that should be a part of praying for our people, the people of America.
Praying for a Nation:
~ Founded in Scripture (vv. 1-2)
1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans--
2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
I picture Daniel reading and studying his copy of the Scriptures. Evidently, Daniel was reading from Jeremiah 29:10-12 where it says:
10 "For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
Do you see what is going on? Daniel is reading a copy of Jeremiah the prophet and he recognizes that his people are only 3 years away from returning to Jerusalem. But, he also realizes that they are not spiritually prepared, so he is driven to his knees in prayer, simply from reading and understanding the Word of God. Daniel reads the Word, meditates on what he has read, and understands God’s promise to the nation of Israel.
Just last week, we talked about the importance of intentionally learning the Bible. We should be taking time to read and meditate on the Word of God. The power of this great prayer Daniel is about to pray is founded on Scripture. The same will be true for each of us. Powerful prayer is based on the Word of God. Notice the next characteristic in verses 3 and 4.
Humble Acknowledgment (vv. 3-4)
3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,
Whenever we see “fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” in Scripture, it is an image of humility. This is huge! When a person takes off their beautiful robe and puts on sackcloth, when a person smears ashes on their pristine face, and when a person refuses to eat satisfying meals, it is a sign of inward pain and agony over something that is very important to them. Keep in mind, this was not a public display, but a display of humility before God.
But not only was Daniel humble as he came before God, but Daniel prays with urgency and fervency to the Lord acknowledging that God is great, God is awesome, and that God keeps His promises. God is a covenant keeping God. In other words, our prayers should bring glory to the very character and nature of who God is. Yes, God is merciful, He extends grace, He is loving, powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and everywhere present (omnipresent). But, we must also acknowledge in our prayers that He is holy, just, righteous, and as such brings judgment for sin. Daniel actually addresses God’s righteous anger over their sin. We will see this a little later in His prayer.
When we come before God in prayer for our nation, we must come in humility acknowledging the character of God. Just because we are Americans does not mean that we are deserving any kind of special treatment. In the past, America has experienced some of God’s blessings, of that we have no doubt. But the blessing of God did not come on us because we are a people of privilege. Blessings came as we honored Him. Daniel comes humbly before God with his prayer because he knows that they do not deserve God ‘s favor. Yes, God did say that the people of Israel would return to the land in 70 years, but that has nothing to do with their deserving it.
When we pray for our people, our prayers must be founded on Scripture and we must come in humble acknowledgment of who God is understanding that we do not deserve any blessing from Him. Third, Daniel spends much of his prayer in confession.
Determined Confession (vv. 5-14)
5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.
6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.
8 To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.
9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him
10 and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.
12 He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem.
13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.
14 Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.
Wow! Daniel is pouring out his heart to God concerning the sins Israel committed that led to their captivity in Babylon. He doesn’t make excuses; instead he admits that the nation of Israel has gotten exactly what it deserved. He does not blame Babylon or anyone else for their misery. Daniel credits God with holiness and righteousness in driving them out of the Promised Land to places far beyond. The people of Israel were a people seen in the world as serving the living all powerful God, but now in open shame for the world to see, God’s people are scattered to faraway places. It is to their shame that they have sinned against God. Their testimony to the world has been soiled
Daniel’s prayer focuses on the sins of the people of Israel that resulted in the 70 years of exile. Daniel’s prayer is both personal and collective. He speaks about his sin, even though Scripture does not record Daniel doing anything wrong. He recognizes that he is part of a community of sinners when he says, “We have sinned.” He didn’t say, “Oh, Lord they have sinned against You.” Have you ever noticed how easy it is to confess other peoples’ sins? Daniel recognizes that he is part of a group that has been punished by God for their shared sins. While Daniel may not have been personally liable for the sins that caused his people to be sent to Babylon for 70 years, he still took responsibility. Have you ever prayed like this? Have you ever taken that kind of responsibility for the sins of our nation though you may not commit those sins?
This is probably the most determined confession I have ever seen. 72 percent of Daniel’s prayer is confession. What is confession? Confession is a simple acknowledgment of the reality of the situation. Confession is an agreement with God about the truth of our sinful actions. To confess means to say the same thing God says. When we confess sin, we are saying the same thing about sin that God says.
Daniel is simply saying what God says about how the nation of Israel rebelled against Him. They have transgressed, they have not listened to God’s prophets, they have disobeyed God’s commands, they have rebelled, and committed treachery. Daniel does not try to sugar coat it or make it look like it was someone else’s fault. Daniel is not angry with God, he does not blame God, and He never indicates that God has let them down. Daniel puts the blame squarely where the blame belongs, on both himself and his people. There is probably nothing harder for us to do than to admit this.
Could this be our prayer? Maybe it would sound something like this, “Lord God, you are truly great and awesome; You never fail to keep your promises. But Father, we have sinned, we have committed great sins against You. We have turned aside from your commandments. We have taken the lives of countless babies from the womb. We have turned your design for sex into something degrading and enslaving. We have abused the covenant relationship of marriage by making it a matter of convenience and we have perverted Your design for it being between a man and a woman. Father, we have created chaos in the minds of our young people by living lives that are double standards, one for Sunday and one for the rest of the week. Lord we have neglected your Word, forsaken the gathering of your people, and put other things ahead of You in our lives. We have grown cold in our hearts and without even thinking about it, we have turned against You dear God. Lord we have pursued pleasure and wealth; called good, evil and evil, good. We have not been effective in reaching our community for Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Father, You are just in any judgment You bring upon this nation”
That is how the example of Daniel’s prayer could be applied to our nation in confession. However, Daniel did not stop with confession and neither should we in following his example of a heart of true prayer.
A Plea for Forgiveness (vv. 15-19)
15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 "O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.
17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.
18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name."
Daniel prays for the return and the rebuilding of his nation. He acknowledges God’s deliverance from Egypt and how they have sinned against the covenant God made with them at Sinai. But Daniel pleads to God for forgiveness, a turning away of His anger against them, and a restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple. Is Daniel praying this for his own sake? No! Daniel knows he will never return to Jerusalem. Is he praying this for the sake of his nation, Israel? No! Daniel repeatedly asks for forgiveness and restoration for God’s own sake (vv. 17, 19). Did you see that? In other words, if the Lord will hear his prayer, the people who God has called by His name may once again bring glory to God. Daniel wants his people to be restored so that they may once again show the world their great God.
So many of our prayers are focused on our needs, concerns, and dreams. We pray for our nation because we don’t like our freedoms being slowly stripped away. We pray for our nation because we want a country that gives us an easy lifestyle. What if the focus of our prayer was so that America could put God on display to the world; so that the world would see God’s great blessings on America once again? What if our pray was for His sake, not ours?
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
We need to pray with the glory of God as our goal, not our own personal gain or comfort in life. We need to pray for America, not because we want to have more religious freedom, less persecution, less difficulty as a Christian, more wealth, or even a great environment for our children. Rather we need to pray that our nation will experience revival in such a way that the world cannot but notice how great our God is. Just as Daniel said about Israel, America has become a byword among the nations of the world. Our prayer should be that God revive and restore this nation so that His name be glorified. America is neither God’s chosen people nor do we have any promise by Him that this land belongs to us or our descendants. However, we can call upon God in humility and beg for His mercy for our nation, and more specifically, His hand on His people that are in this nation.
Our prayers should be founded upon God’s Word. Think about this for a moment. To read the Bible and not be motivated to pray shows an academic or legalistic faith. The other extreme is those who pray without Biblical discernment. While it is commendable to pray even if you are ignorant of the Scriptures, God does not want you to stay that way. He wants you to know Him and His will so that our prayers are not “asked wrongly.”
My question to you this morning is, “Do you pray for America?” I hope so. But if you don’t, I hope you will begin to pray. I believe it is our duty as citizens of the Kingdom living as citizens of America. Are your prayers founded on the Word of God? Do you pray with humble acknowledgment of who God is and who we are? Do you pray with determined confession, agreeing with God about the sins we have committed as a nation? Do you plead for forgiveness and restoration for His sake? That His name will be glorified?