In Daniel chapter 9, Daniel partners with a prophecy decades old in order to see a nation reborn. In the first year of Darius the Mede, Daniel reads Jeremiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem must lie desolate for 70 years (v. 2). Measuring the timeline, Daniel understands that the time for restoration is coming. He does not read the prophecy and repose passively waiting for its outcome, but turns to the Lord to intercede for the prophecy’s fulfillment (v. 3). What follows provides insight into the nature and power of prayer that influences earth: this is how we can change the world.
First it should be reasserted that Daniel’s response to prophecy was to participate, not merely observe. There may be times when our only form of participation is to sit back and behold what God does. But more often than not, prophecy is an invitation to participate in God’s redemptive and gracious activity on the earth and in our lives. So deeply did Daniel feel responsible to partner with God’s purposes, that he prayed – it seems – as if the fulfillment of God’s plans depended on his prayer (v. 3). That, I believe, is prayer that changes the world.
Daniel turned to the Lord and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting. Daniel even donned rough burlap clothing and sprinkled himself with ashes. Both of these behaviors are iconic expressions of Semitic mourning. Daniel deeply, very deeply longed for the restoration of his people to their homeland, and grieved over the sin that brought about their exile. Why did Daniel engage in such drastic, even painful behavior as he prayed? Would abstaining from food and causing severe discomfort on his skin really get God’s attention? Does such activity change God’s mind or modify His mood? I don’t think so. Not at all.
I believe that what we observe in Daniel’s prayer here is the kind of praying that seeks to change earth. Prophecy already revealed the will and plan of God. Prayer, now, partners with that will to effect it on earth. This kind of prayer involves focusing our will, our attention, and our commitment. This is prophetic prayer – prayer that knows the will of heaven and calls for that will to prevail on earth. Fasting, then, is more about focus, about summoning the utmost of our energy and focus upon an obstacle or opportunity before us: where heaven can and should and must prevail on earth. I want to be clear here: I do not believe fasting makes God do anything. I don’t believe that fasting (or wearing burlap or ashes) bears in itself anything meritorious. Fasting affects me, not God. Prayer affects Heaven and earth. Daniel’s fast was about focus. He was fixed on changing earth.
God is already focused. Especially on this side of cross. God has already acted, already spoken, already had mercy, already released immeasurable and incomprehensible grace. God needs no arm-twisting from me, and certainly isn’t affected by my missing a few cheeseburgers. In fact, no self-flagellating will ever eclipse the pristine perfection of Christ’s suffering on my behalf. Christ has paid every price, met every condition; He alone is the Advocate, the Intercessor, the Mediator between God and man. His work is perfect! It cannot be augmented, improved upon, or added to in any way. It is finished.
So why fast? Well, if we feel led to, we should fast only for our own benefit; only to bring a sense of focus to our prayer. Fasting does not make prayer more powerful. It might, however, help us feel the significance of our prayer’s longing. Fasting is a refocus of our appetites, isolating our affections upon a single outcome. As such, it should be done sparingly, and never with the false hope that we’re gaining special favor with God as a result. You might say, “Hey Dav, Jesus fasted for 40 days!” Yup, he did. But friends, Jesus fasted AFTER He saw heaven open, heard the voice of God, and the Spirit descended upon Him. It seems to me that Jesus was spiritually overwhelmed by that experience and literally took 40 days alone to respond to it. And further, those days may have been days of powerful fellowship with the Father and focus on the ministry ahead. Jesus didn’t fast to get anointed. He fasted because He was anointed. Further, you might say, “Hey Dav! The disciples at Antioch worshipped the Lord and fasted!” (Acts 13) Yup. They sure did. They were worshipping the Lord and fasting – totally focused on Him, on His presence – to the point where they let go of time, schedule, even regular meals. That kind of worship is a work of the Holy Spirit’s calling and prevailing presence. He causes that response from us; we don’t cause or conjure Him by fasting. But here, as with Daniel’s prayer, we see that this kind of focus in prayer partners with the will of God to bring about His purposes on earth. In Antioch they prayed and birthed the missionary journeys of Paul – which in every measurable way has influenced the earth. They changed the world by prayer.
We see in the narrative in Daniel 9 and 10 that somehow prayer affects the outcome of history. Daniel prayed, confessed the sins of his people, and called for God’s redemptive plan to come forth. He “went on” doing it (v. 20). As he continued, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said that from the moment Daniel started praying a command was given (v. 23). Heaven immediately responded to Daniel’s intercession. Daniel’s prayer set things in motion for Heaven to prevail on earth.
There are realities that I do not fully understand (few really do – regardless of how many paper-backs they peddle). There are spiritual forces, authorities and rulers against which we contend for the advancement of The Kingdom. Daniel later heard this fact from another angel who told him that “since the first day you began to pray… your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked by way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia…” (vv. 12-13). This is not just an OT apocalyptic reference, because The Apostle Paul matter-of-factly says that we contend against, “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
What I do understand is that Daniel’s prayer actually helped effect the outcome and destiny of nations. What I do understand is that we can and should pray with focus and determination to see what we know to be Heaven’s will prevail upon earth. Where we read promise or prophecy in scripture, let us respond as if it were a direct invitation to partner with God in prayer. We know God hates suffering. We know God loves justice. We know God is willing that none should perish. We know God loves children. We know God loves peace. We know that God wants everyone to know the Love, Grace, and Power of the name of Jesus. We know God is grieved by evil, by malice, by oppression. We know the church is God’s plan for this planet. We know enough to pray well, to pray with focus and determination and resolute confidence. We can, in fact, change the world. We can pray.