Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. Daniel 1:3-4, 6
Daniel’s world changed the day the invading King of Babylon forcibly entered Jerusalem. Taken from his family, his familiar surroundings, a language he grew up with, he was confronted with the land of his conquerors where they spoke a foreign language, held radically different views about what it means to be human, an utterly condescending view of his religion, and a diet of food he was forbidden to eat. All the while, he was offered previously unimaginable privileges if he would just compromise on some of his convictions.
¶ But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. Daniel 1:8
Daniel’s people were no longer in charge. The culture he was immersed into hated what he believed and stood for. Yet Daniel resolved not to compromise or back down on what he believed or the convictions he held. Not much older than the young Daniel was the prophet Jeremiah who had written to Daniel and his fellow exiles:
¶ These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:1, 7
Daniel resolved to do just that. Despite how abominable he found the Babylonians and their ways, he would be a blessing to them without compromising his convictions!
Daniel was away from his parents’ supervision. He no longer had the priests of the temple or the elders of his people holding him to account – yet, he chose to seek God. He chose to pray. He chose to the Scriptures, especially the prophecies of Jeremiah. In short, he deepened his relationship with God. He learned how to hear God and perceive his voice in dreams and visions.
Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel 2:19
He didn’t, and couldn’t, do this in isolation from other believers. He knew that time spent in worship with God’s people was essential to his own spiritual health – no matter how few they were in number.
¶ Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Daniel 2:17-18
Over time Daniel, despite his ethnicity, despite his religious convictions, despite his age, won the respect of the Babylonians.
¶ Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:46-47
Daniel was prepared to consistently live out his faith in the God of the Bible without the need for others to agree with him. The result for Daniel was the widespread respect and admiration by the Babylonians for his proven character.
Do you see a man skillful in his work?
He will stand before kings;
he will not stand before obscure men. Proverbs 22:29
Daniel proved himself to be a man who could carry responsibility. He sought to live in obedience to the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and to be a blessing to the people and land to where he had been sent (Jeremiah 27).
¶ Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. Daniel 5:29
With the enormous responsibility that Daniel received, he continued to maintain his devotion to the Lord. His religious commitment in no way diminished his ability to serve in the government of Babylon.
Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Daniel 6:3-4
As Daniel aged and weathered life’s storms, his heart enlarged for people and their situations. He could be forgiven for growing increasingly bitter about all the negative aspects he had been through (exile, friends thrown into a fiery furnace, threatened with death by the king, cast into a den of lions, the overthrow of the kingdom and his position in it). Instead, as Daniel continued to grow in his relationship with God he became increasingly aware of the plight of others. Not only did Daniel become sensitive to those in distant lands, he also became concerned for the plight of people – for generations to come!
The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” ¶ And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. Daniel 8:26-27
Daniel’s view of his life was enlarged over time from concerns about his own life and friends, to concerns about people he did not know or had ever met. He even became concerned for people yet to be born. His vision of the future went from thinking a few years ahead to thinking about the next few hundred years ahead! This concern for people beyond a person’s own postcode and era is the common experience of those who walk a long time with Christ.
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. ¶ Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:2-3
Near the end of Daniel’s life he received increasing revelations about the coming Messiah and the end of the Old Covenant and its elements (the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices – Dan. 9:27).
¶ “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Daniel 12:1, 9
DANIEL’S LESSONS FOR FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST
I find the lessons from Daniel’s life to be both inspiring and relevant for where our culture is at now. It is my hope that this brief overview will encourage you to consider more of the lessons to be gleaned and applied from the Statesman-Prophet Daniel’s life. If you receive this encouragement, I suspect that you will at least conclude that Daniel should inspire us to:
Live uncompromising lives in devotion to Christ and His Word without fear of man (Prov. 29:25).
Be led by the Holy Spirit to become deeply spiritual.
Develop increasing concern for our broader community – despite their possible rejection of us.
It has been one of our family traditions which our children were introduced to from the moment they could talk, that whenever we were driving to church on a Sunday, each family member would pray. Our children learned to pray for our church by listening to Kim and I pray. Although, it became apparent to us that when they were young they didn’t quite grasp some of the nuances of what was being prayed. Hearing us pray for our church to grow, when it was the turn of one of our children to pray, they began to ask God with great gusto for grass at our church to grow! Over time, they each of them began to learn how to pray for our church – especially the Sunday service that we were driving to. I not only want each of my children to continue to develop in how they pray, I would also like each person in our church to learn how to pray more effectively for our church. Here’s how.
Every church has a ‘why’. To paraphrase Rick Warren, every church should be driven by their ‘why’. Every church that has clear sense of their ‘why’ is going to have people praying more effectively for their church. Our ‘why’ is not unique to us. Many (if not most) churches would say they have the same ‘why’ as us – after all, we’re all reading the same Bible. Our ‘why’ is based on the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and the Greatest Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). These ‘why’ informants guide us to be a community which: (i) fosters worship of God; (ii) encourages caring fellowship with other believers; (iii) delivers God’s Word to empower Christlikeness; and, (iv) cooperates to reach out to those who are without Christ (we sum these up as: enthrone / encourage / empower / engage).
But, any church will conduct their ‘why’ with the fragrance of the gifts that God has placed within it. If the pastor has the gift of evangelist, the church will probably emphasize reaching out, and most of the church will probably focus their prayers toward seeing the lost saved. However, such a church is in danger of a ‘why’ imbalance by possibly neglecting the other essential ‘whys’. This is why such a church needs, what every church needs – people who know how to pray appropriately for it.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, Second Thessalonians 1:11
WHY PRAY FOR YOUR CHURCH
Yesterday morning, in my daily Bible reading, I read in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus told His disciples that certain miracles can only happen with (much) prayer.
And He said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:29
A few hundred years after Jesus said these words, a monk was copying this sacred text as part of his life’s work and could hardly believe that prayer alone could be the cause of such a miracle. In the margin he added the words “and fasting” (something monks had to do a lot of). Later monks copied this baffled monk’s addition words into the text proper, and eventually the King James Version translators incorporated into their translation. But as any good recent English translation will point out in its footnotes, every older copy of the Gospel of Mark does not have these two extra words in their text. This makes Christ’s words about prayer worth taking note of more carefully. Added to this, the next time you are reading through the Gospel of Luke, note how often he describes Jesus spending nights in prayer. Then consider why He did.
After you’ve done a bit of pondering on this, consider that the Apostle Paul prayed more for the churches that he planted than he did preaching or writing to them. And to help you consider this, let’s conclude by noting how he prayed for these churches and why it should influence how we pray for our church.
¶ Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. Hebrews 13:18
WHAT TO PRAY FOR YOUR CHURCH
¶ And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14
1. Don’t cease praying for your church, especially its leaders
2. Ask God to fill everyone in our church with the knowledge of God’s will, especially our church’s leaders
3. Ask God to give your brothers and sisters spiritual wisdom and understanding into God’s Word, especially our church’s leaders
4. Ask God to enable those in our church to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, especially our church’s leaders
5. Pray that your church family will be fully pleasing to God, especially our church’s leaders
6. Pray that everyone in our church will bear fruit in every good work, especially our church’s leaders
7. Pray that your brothers and sisters will grow in their knowledge of Christ, especially your church’s leaders
8. Ask God to strengthen everyone in our church with the Holy Spirit’s power, especially our church’s leaders
9. Pray that God will enable our church family to endure life’s difficulties with patience and joy, especially our church’s leaders
10. Ask God to deliver those who attend our church, but are yet to surrender to Christ, from the domain of darkness into His glorious kingdom of His Son, that they might know redemption and forgiveness from God.
Apparently, some time ago, one of the world’s most respected theological publishers, Banner of Truth Trust, announced a list of the world’s greatest preachers of all time. These were the preachers whose preaching shaped their world, and ours, for generations to come. Not surprisingly, Jesus of Nazareth topped the list. (I’m rather pleased to inform you that F.W. Boreham was among the top 20 on that list.) It does cause one to ask though, What constitutes a preacher as ‘great’? As a preacher, I’d also be interested to know how one becomes a ‘great’ preacher.
The point is, Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to. Romans 10:17 THE MESSAGE
WHAT MAKES GREAT PREACHERS GREAT PREACHERS
History is peppered with many great preachers. Men such as Ambrose (340 – 397) was an Italian preacher whose preaching changed the world. His preaching led Augustine (354 – 430) to Christ who went on to become one of the greatest preachers of his day. John Wycliffe (1330 – 1384) was an English preacher who shook the world. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was a German preacher whose preaching changed the Europe. Count Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf’s (1700 – 1760) preaching changed the destiny of at least three continents. John Wesley (1703 – 1791) was an English preacher whose preaching is credited as saving England from the destruction that tore France apart. Billy Graham (1918 – 2018) preached to more people than any other preacher and witnessed more people coming to Christ than any other preacher. Each of these great preachers exhibited 5 essential qualities:
Great preachers are attractive – they attract people to listen to them.
Great preachers are easy to listen to – they are simple, eloquent and hold people’s attention.
Great preachers have something important to say – they need people to listen.
Great preachers move people to action – they create a movement for change.
Great preachers speak from their compassionate hearts as well as their sharpened minds – they will often memorise facts, Scriptures, and poetry to reinforce their message.
for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; ¶ as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Paul of Tarsus, Acts 17:28
WHAT THE GREATEST PREACHERS ALSO DO
Determining who should be considered among the greatest preachers is generally based on the level and scope of their influence and effectiveness. This is why the Apostle Paul is rightly considered to be the most influential preacher of all time (after Christ of course). His preaching clearly impressed people. The people of Lystra (Acts 14:12), for example, thought he was the god Hermes since he was such a good speaker. Was it his training that made him a great preacher? Was it his level of practice? Was it his dedication? Was it his great learning? There is something often overlooked about each of the truly great preachers that made them great, especially the Apostle Paul, : they prayed – but not how you might think.
The universal trait of every great preacher is that they were unusually intense pray-ers. You would be forgiven for thinking that great preachers often prayed to be a great preacher. But the evidence suggests that this was never their prayer focus. Using Paul as our model, we can see from his epistles just how this great preacher prayed. Reading his epistles, one thing becomes very clear about how Paul saw the connection between prayer and preaching: he saw them as a partnership, a dual partnership. This dual partnership was firstly between prayer and preaching, and secondly, his support community and him. Note these two Scriptural examples.
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— Colossians 4:3
¶ Finally, brothers,pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, Second Thessalonians 3:1
LOOKING FOR PRAYERFUL PARTNERS
If you have ever heard a great preacher, you can be certain that there is a team of people praying constantly for them and the effectiveness of their message. When the Apostle Paul sought prayer from those he turned to, he didn’t seek it so much for himself, rather, he sought it for its effectiveness of the preached Word when it was preached to those without Christ (note the two examples above). Down through the ages whenever God raised up a preacher, He also raised up their support team who would pray for the effectiveness of their preaching. Perhaps the most recent and clearest example of this would be the one they called,The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He became a preacher at the age of 16. By the age of 19 he was pastoring a small Baptist church near the Thames in London. His friends and family back home in the countryside where he came from were praying constantly for the young preacher with the strange country twang to ears of Londoners. By the time he was 26, his church had grown far bigger than their building could hold. A public building was leased while the church constructed its new facilities in Elephant and Castle (inner London). Over 30,000 people gathered in that building to hear the young preacher and thousands of them made a commitment to Christ over the coming years. When Spurgeon opened ‘Metropolitan Tabernacle’, it could hold 6,000 people and they could hold up to five services a Sunday to fit the crowds in. This tabernacle was built with a furnace room downstairs and whenever Spurgeon preached there was always hundreds of people down there praying for the effectiveness of his message!
Today, I’m praying that God will raise up both great preachers and great pray-ers. In next week’s post, I’ll discuss how these great preachers prayed for those who responded to their preaching. For now, I pray that God may stir you to be either one who preaches or one who prays for those who preach and what is preached to bear fruit for Christ. Let’s pray.