We live in a day and age where prayer has to be fun, punchy and entertaining. We cram it before the message and sandwich it into our music program and hope that the emotional charge we have created will buy us a few minutes to rattle out our requests. In Daniel 9 we see a totally different approach to the throne of grace. We see a preoccupation with the character of God and a deep understanding of the unworthiness of the supplicant. My hope is that as we consider Daniel 9 in more depth we shall see some principles that we can apply to ourselves to enrich our own prayer experience.
For me the key verse is actually verse 2, even though the question doesn't ask us to address it. In this verse Daniel describes how he came to know the captivity was to end after 70 years; he had learnt it from books. The great spiritual, insightful Daniel had spent time quietly reading through and seeking to understand scripture.
Having got a firm grasp of his subject Daniel then set about entering in to prayer. Scripture teaches us that if we pray in God's will then he will answer; yet we generally spend little or no time checking out what the will of God might be.
Verse 4 then displays his method of entry, he starts in the character of God and ascribes some of His characteristics: great, dreadful, faithful, merciful and requiring obedience. In this opening Daniel is clearly aware of the awesomeness of the one whom he is addressing but also the conditional nature of the covenant he was in.
In verse 5 Daniel shows that he had thought out in the minutest detail the different failings of Israel and verse 6 shows that they were heedless to rebuke and had been for generations. In summary he opening admitted that Israel had loused up.
Verses 7 & 8 then show that Daniel clearly accepted the current bad situation as just both from God's perspective but also from the Hebrew perspective.
From that position Daniel could have been hopeless except that in verse 9 he draws upon another aspect of the character of God, His mercies and forgiveness. Again if we are to be successful in prayer we have to have faith. Not faith that God has to hear us because of any characteristic of us but because of a characteristic of Himself.
Verses 10-14 are then important; Daniel is saying that the judgment that God has brought upon them is actually a proof to him of the reliability of God. God said he would punish and did. Whilst it is often difficult to draw solace from the chastening of God we really should. Chastening is evidence, albeit in an unpleasant form, that God is still active with us. Verses 13 & 14 also mark an important shift as Daniel begins to turn his mind to the provision for and benefits of repentance.
In verse 15 we see Daniel preparing to put the past behind him. He reminds himself and God of the covenant relationship and some of the past glories of it and then faces the weakness of his position as a stated immutable fact.
Verse 16 is as notable for what is omitted as for what is there. Daniel has no real basis for his request except that he is making it. Punishment has happened, and justly, and now Daniel is asking for reprieve. Verse 18 is the key to success; the request is not made because of the merit of the supplicant but because of the merit of God himself.
Verse 19 seems like a strange bargain but is again entirely in keeping with scripture. Daniel asks God to bless his people, because they are his people. Others are looking on; the Lord should glorify his name.
So what can we learn from this?
Again, it is outside the scope of the question but I think the next most important verse to consider when viewing Daniel's prayer is actually verse 21.
"Yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering".
When faced with a prayer of the form Daniel had made God's response was to rapidly dispatch the reply beforethe prayer was even complete. Perhaps if we focus a little less on what we get out of prayer time, and a little more on what God thinks of our prayer times, we may get a little more out of our prayer times!