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Stuart Chase - 8 May 2022

Seeking God by Prayer (Daniel 9:1–23)

We live in an age of seeker-sensitivity. We are told that our churches must make things accessible and unoffensive to those who are “seeking God.” Daniel 9 gives us some insight into what it means to “seek God”—and how to do so by prayer. The chapter teaches us some valuable lessons.

Scripture References: Daniel 9:1-23

From Series: "Daniel"

A sermon series in the book of Daniel.

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Toward the end of the twentieth century, the church growth movement took root within evangelicalism. Motivated by the conviction that it is God’s will for men and women to become disciples and responsible members of Christ’s church, this movement employed research, sociology, and analytics to craft church growth methods. One of the core principles of the church growth movement was that people are seeking God and churches need to be sensitive to “seekers.”

Seeker-sensitive churches tend to do whatever it takes to remove obstacles for “seekers” entering the church. The result was that seeker-sensitive churches went out of the way to remove things from their buildings and liturgy that would potentially create offence. Seeker-sensitive churches tended to adopt styles of worship that closely mirror worldly living to make outsiders comfortable in their services.

I do not wish to spend a great deal of time critiquing seeker-sensitive churches or the church growth movement, but it is important to note that, biblically, unbelievers do not seek God—at least, not unless God has first started a work in their lives to draw them to himself. Believers, on the other hand, should seek God. One of the primary ways we seek God is by prayer. We see this in the text before us, which tells us that Daniel, “in the first year of Darius … turned [his] face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer” (9:1–3). Daniel’s prayer in this chapter teaches invaluable lessons for those who would seek God by prayer. As we study this chapter together, we observe at least five major lessons about seeking God by prayer.

The Preparation for Prayer

First, those who seek God by prayer should properly prepare for it. Our text reveals to us how Daniel prepared for prayer.

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

(Daniel 9:1–2)

The events of this chapter are set “in the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede.” Darius was the Median general who conquered Babylon the fateful night of the handwriting on the wall (chapter 5). King Cyrus was away fighting other battles and left oversight of Babylon in the capable hands of Darius.

The first year of Darius was 538 BC. Even if you are not someone who remembers historical dates, that date is significant. Daniel was among the first exiles taken to Babylon in the year 605 BC. A period of 67 years had passed between 605 BC and 538 BC. Thus, when Daniel “perceived in the books” that the exile would last “seventy years,” he immediately realised that the time was near.

But the important observation at this point is how Daniel came to realise the imminence of restoration: “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” He realised the time was near by studying Scripture, and Scripture prepared him for prayer.

There is no better method of preparing for prayer than by immersing yourself in Scripture. There is no better way to pray according to God’s will than to pray Scripture-directed prayers. This is true both corporately and privately.

Corporately, we want our prayers—indeed, all our worship—to be driven by God’s word. We intentionally try during our church services at Brackenhurst to get to the reading of Scripture as soon as we can in our order of service. We want to hear from God before we respond to him in prayer and worship. The careful listener will also observe that the prayers are prayed in response to what we have just read. We also recently announced to the church a change in our order of service at our Sunday night prayer meeting, whereby we will first hear the word preached before we respond in prayer. This will enable us to focus our prayers, having just heard God’s word taught.

This principle will also aid our private prayers. Too often, our prayers are for provision of luxuries, freedom from affliction, or physical healing. There is nothing, per se, wrong with those prayers. The problem is, we don’t know whether those prayers are God’s will. We don’t know whether God wants us to have a nice holiday, or to be spared from a particular affliction, or to experience healing from our dread disease. We can and should bring these burdens to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), but we do so not knowing how God might answer.

On the other hand, if our prayers are informed by Scripture, we can pray with greater confidence. John wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15). As we search the Scriptures, we discover that there are things that are clearly God’s will for us, and we can pray confidently for those things.

Christian husband, do you find it difficult to love your wife? Since you know that God instructs you to love your wife (Ephesians 5:25), why not pray with confidence for God to restore the love you once had for her?

Christian wife, do you struggle to respectfully follow your husband’s leadership? Since you know that God instructs you to submit to your husband (Ephesians 5:22), why not pray with confidence for God to restore the attitude of respect that you once had for him?

Christian teen, do you struggle to honour and obey your parents? Since you know that God instructs you to honour and obey them (Ephesians 6:1–2), why not pray with confidence for God to restore the attitude of honour and respect that you once showed them?

Christian, do you long to overcome that sin in your life? Since you know that God wills your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), why not pray with confidence for God to give you the grace to overcome that sin that so easily overtakes you?

Unbeliever, do you wrestle with wanting to believe the truth but struggling to embrace it in your heart? Second Peter 3:9 tells us that God wants people to come to repentance. Why not pray earnestly and confidently for God to grant you a heart of repentance?

There is no more powerful form of prayer than Scripture-directed prayer. There is no better way to seek God by prayer than to do so immersing your prayers in the revelation of Scripture.

The Posture of Prayer

Second, those who seek God by prayer must seek him with the right posture. Our text reveals Daniel’s posture in prayer: “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (v. 3). We find at least a twofold posture of prayer in this verse.

First, Daniel’s posture was one of earnestness: “seeking him by prayer.” The word translated “seeking” implies intentionality and effort. Daniel was not merely going through the motions. Prayer was not simply something he did to tick a religious box. He was earnest in his prayers.

Too often, our prayers seem to fall flat because they are mechanical. We pray because we have been told we should do so, but we don’t really believe that God will answer. We pray for the salvation of that lost loved one, but we do so out of habit, as we have done for the last thirty years, not really believing that our prayers will make a difference. We pray almost despairingly for the downfall of Islam and the prosperity of the gospel in Muslim-dominated territories not really believing that God wants his church to prosper there. We pray mechanically for sanctifying grace, not really expecting any difference in our attitude toward sin tomorrow. We lack earnestness, and then wonder why we don’t experience the same answers to prayer that others see. Rather than asking in faith, we ask with doubt, forgetting James’s caution: “For [the doubter] must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7).

Second, Daniel’s posture was one of humility. Humility is written all over v. 3.

We see humility in Daniel’s reference to “the Lord God.” You will notice that “Lord” is not capitalised, because it is not the Hebrew word Yahweh. The word here is Adonai, which speaks of God as a master and the pray-er as his subject. By use of Adonai (rather than Yahweh, which he uses elsewhere in the prayer), he focuses on humble submission rather than relationship.

We see humility in Daniel’s “pleas for mercy.” He did not approach God as if he deserved what he was asking. He knew that answers would come only by God’s mercy.

We see humility in Daniel’s “fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” These were not magic tokens that would increase the likelihood of answered prayer. Each of these was a symbol of humility and of recognition of dependence.

Perhaps we don’t always see the answers to prayer we would like to see because we pray arrogantly. We think that it’s God’s job to give us what we want. We pray as if we need just a little bit of God’s power added to our own efforts rather than recognising our total dependence on his grace for everything we need.

The Pattern of Prayer

Third, as we seek God by prayer, we do well to follow biblical patterns of prayer. Verses 4–16 record the pattern of Daniel’s prayer in this chapter. It is a pattern that has a good legacy in Scripture and one we do well to follow today. Daniel included essentially four elements in his prayer, which create a pattern for our prayers today, both corporate and private. As we seek the Lord by prayer, we do well to adhere to this pattern.


First, Daniel sought the Lord with a prayer of invocation. “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (v. 3). He recognised his need for God’s presence and favour. In fact, the prayer is littered with references to God’s gracious favour. Though his prayer flowed from God’s promises, he did not assume that those promises would come to pass automatically. Only God’s presence would ensure his favour.

When we pray, we need to do so invoking God’s presence and favour in our prayers. This is true both privately and corporately.

Personally, we need to be cognisant as we pray that our prayers will only be effective to the degree that God presences himself to answer them. We must pray with an attitude recognising our need for God to make our prayers effective. There is no power in prayer itself; the power lies with the person to whom we pray.

Corporately, we need to invoke God’s presence with us as we gather for worship. Though we know that God promises to meet with his people when they gather (Hebrews 12:22–24), we dare not enter worship presumptuously. At Brackenhurst, we apply effort and intentional thought to the way we structure our prayers in corporate worship. The first prayer listed on our order of service is a prayer of invocation, by which the person leading the prayer asks God to presence himself with us. Our worship will be meaningless apart from God’s presence and so we plead with him to make his presence known among us.


Second, Daniel sought the Lord with a prayer of adoration: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (v. 4). He recognised and adored God for who he is before he launched into any petition.

Why did Daniel begin with adoration? He did so because he needed to remember God’s greatness in light of the great prayer he was about to pray. It was no small matter for God to send his people back to the Promised Land with his favour. Only a great God could accomplish such a great thing.

Adoration in prayer helps us to remember that our God is great and that he can do great things. If we forget God’s greatness, our prayers will be small. If we forget God’s greatness, we soon slip into the error of self-sufficiency. Is there nothing for which you need prayer? Then your problem may be that you have lost sight of God’s greatness. When we recognise God for who he is, we will not be afraid to pray bold prayers.


Third, Daniel sought the Lord with a prayer of confession.

We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 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. 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. To us, O Yahweh, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 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. 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. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favour of Yahweh our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore Yahweh has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for Yahweh our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 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.

(Daniel 9:5–15)

It will be helpful to observe here that Daniel’s prayer of confession was a prayer of corporate confession. The frequent use of “we,” “our,” and “us” shows that he was praying on behalf of his people. The practice of corporate confession has biblical roots. We see similar prayers of corporate confession in Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9.

Corporate confession is an expression of solidarity as the people of God. In corporate confession, we may not be guilty of the sins that are prayed about, but as a part of God’s covenant community, we recognise that the sin of the community affects us. This is clear in the text before us.

Daniel was not personally guilty of many of the things he confessed. He confessed to “turning aside from your commandments and rules” even though the text has shown us time and again how carefully he was to obey the Lord in all areas. How could he confess sin of which he was not guilty? He could do so because he recognised two important truths.

First, he recognised that he could not escape his identity as an Israelite and therefore as part of God’s covenant community. The sin of the community affected him because he was part of that community, even if he was not personally guilty of the sin that he confessed. This notion of corporate solidarity may not sit well with us in a highly individualistic society, but the principle is undeniably biblical.

Second, he recognised that, as a sinner, he contributed to the overall sinfulness of the community, even if he did not commit every sin that he confessed. Despite the great care he took to walk in God’s commands, he had still “done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled” against God.

We often lack a healthy understanding of corporate solidarity. Perhaps the best way we can relate is by means of sporting analogy.

I remember where I was the night of 17 June 1999. I was in McDonald’s in Alberton watching as Lance Klusener miraculously batted South Africa into a formidable position against Australia in the second semi-final of the 1999 Cricket World Cup. It was a low scoring game. Australia batted first and posted 213. It was a must-win game for South Africa. A tie would see Australia advance to the final.

Ricky Ponting was Australia’s fastest scoring batsman on the night. He scored 37 at a strike rate of 77.08. South Africa’s scorecard looked pretty dismal until Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes came together to post a meaningful partnership. It was slow going, however, with Kallis scoring at a rate of 57.60 and Rhodes at 78.18. Then Klusener, player of the series, came to the crease. He scored only 31 runs—but at a strike rate of 193.75. He brought South Africa to the brink of victory. The Proteas needed one run with four balls remaining. Klusener had pulled a most unlikely victory from out of nowhere. But then there was Allan Donald.

Klusener pulled a short ball to mid-on. There was no hope of a run but Donald took off. Klusener sent him back and, fortunately, Darren Lehman missed the stumps. With three balls left, Klusener hit the ball past the bowler and set off for a run, with Donald watching the ball instead of his partner. By the time he realised that he needed to run, the ball had already been returned to the wicket keeper and Donald was run out without scoring. The scores were tied and South Africa, once again, lost out on a World Cup final.

That night, nobody would have accused Lance Klusener of not doing everything that was needed to win the game. But he was knocked out of the tournament with the rest of his team, not because he had failed to perform but because the team overall had failed to perform. It was not his fault that the team had lost, but he was part of a losing team and suffered defeat with his teammates.

Similarly, as we amen the church’s prayer of corporate confession, we show solidarity with the body of Christ. We recognise that we are a part of a sinful community, which needs God’s gracious forgiveness.

But another question arises from a text like this: Why do we need to repeatedly confess sin if all our sin has already been forgiven in Christ?

It is a biblical truth that our sin has been paid in full by Christ. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14; see also Hebrews 7:27; 9:26; 10:14). At the same time, writing to believers—to God’s little children—the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Clearly, confession is more than a token act because confession results in forgiveness and cleansing. Something objective takes place when believers confess sin—something from God toward us. How do we make sense of this tension? The tension is resolved when we consider the realities of judicial forgiveness and relational forgiveness.

In Daniel’s time, Israel was in a covenant relationship with God. And yet Israel’s sin invited God’s displeasure. That displeasure did not negate the covenant relationship; indeed, it proved that the covenant relationship existed. But the fact that the covenant relationship existed did not negate the need for confession of sin, as we see in the text before us.

Similarly, we today are brought into a father-child relationship with God through the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, and our ongoing sin does not negate that familial relationship. On the cross, Christ paid the full price for the sin of those he came to save. When he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), he meant that the price had been paid and no further price would be required to secure the forgiveness of his people’s sin. When you repent of your sins and trust in the crucified and risen Christ for forgiveness and salvation, your salvation is secured for all eternity. This is the reality of judicialforgiveness: Christ has declared you righteous by his blood.

But judicial forgiveness brings you into a family relationship. You are now a child of God and one evidence that you are God’s child, as we saw recently in Philippians 3, is that you will actively pursue holiness, which includes repentance of sin. In fact, John says that if we deny we are sinners we call God a liar (1 John 1:7). One way we deny we are sinners is by neglect of repentance when we are made aware of sin (1 John 1:9).

But, as I have said, something happens when we confess our sins as Christians: Christ forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. This means that our sin brings actual uncleanness and unrighteousness into our lives. It does not negate our salvation, because Christ purchased that once-for-all on the cross. But it does place a relational strain between us and our Father, and that strain is removed and the relationship restored by means of confession.

As we seek God in prayer, therefore, we must do so by means of confession and repentance. Sin does not interrupt our standing before God, but it does interrupt our fellowship with God and that fellowship is restored only by means of confession.


Fourth, Daniel sought the Lord with a prayer of petition. “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” (v. 16).

Confession was necessary for God’s anger and wrath to be turned away from Jerusalem. But once confession was made, Daniel could confidently petition God for restored favour.

It may be helpful to note that the order of Daniel’s prayer is not the only inspired order of prayer in Scripture. It is interesting to note that, in the Lord’s Prayer, petition precedes confession, though both elements are nonetheless present. The order of the elements is less important than the elements themselves.

Prayer is the means by which we bring our petitions before God. In prayer, we recognise that we are a needy people and that only God can meet our most urgent needs. In prayer, we bring our deepest burdens to the Lord, who is able to meet every need we have. Daniel’s most pressing burden was Jerusalem’s forgiveness and restoration. He was moved to pray for this as he consulted the Scriptures. He was not ashamed to bring his burden to the Lord in prayer. The Bible encourages us to do likewise.

What should we pray about? What can we pray about? Peter gives the answer: “casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, CSB). Are you burdened about something? Then pray about it! It matters not whether it is a health need, the salvation of a loved one, the burden of a lost pet, the desire for a spouse or a child, or the need for employment. If it burdens you, pray about it, because God cares about your burdens because he cares about you.

The Purpose of Prayer

Fourth, as we seek the Lord by prayer, we must understand something of the purpose of prayer. We see the purpose of prayer in the text before us.

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. 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. 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 9:17–19)

Daniel was motived in his prayer not by Judah’s comfort or Jerusalem’s glory but by the glory of Yahweh’s name. He prayed this “for your own sake, O Lord” and “because of your great mercy” and “because your city and your people are called by your name.” He wanted God to hear his prayer so that God’s name would not be maligned.

This is a mark of mature prayer. As Rodney Stortz puts it, “Maturing prayer is seen when we are more concerned about the Creator’s glory than the creature’s comfort.” The basis of effective prayer is always a healthy understanding of God’s glory. God does not answer our prayer because we deserve our prayers to be answered. He answers them because he is a gracious God who loves to glorify his own name by showing himself powerful to answer his people’s prayers.

When you bring your petitions to God, plead his mercy. Plead his honour. Believe that he will answer prayer because his willing ability to answer prayer is evidence of his powerful ability, which displays his glory. God is always most glorified in answered prayer. Be prepared to give him the glory for answered prayer.

One temptation all of us face is pleading with God to answer prayer but then failing to give him glory when he actually does so. Let us shake ourselves out of this lethargy and learn to consciously give thanks when God answers our prayers.

The Power for Prayer

Finally, and related to the above, as we seek God in prayer, we must keep before us the power for prayer. We see in our text the power that is at our disposal when we pray.

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before Yahweh my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.”

(Daniel 9:20–23)

We will consider these verses again in our next study, but for now notice that while Daniel was still speaking, God sent an answer. We will consider that answer next time, but for now we observe that God did answer his prayer.

I don’t know if you’ve ever caught yourself being surprised that God has answered prayer. You pray for something, only half believing that God will answer it, and you find yourself taken aback when God actually answers. What an indictment upon our faith!

David gives us the correct attitude in prayer:

Give ear to my words, O Yahweh; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Yahweh, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

(Psalm 5:1–3)

Do you see David’s attitude here? In the morning, he prepares his prayerful sacrifice and then watches to see how God will answer. The CSB captures the essence of David’s words: “In the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.” David prayed with expectancy. He believed that God would answer his prayer and so, almost as the words left his mouth, he began looking for God’s answer. Do we do the same?

If you are like me, it might be more truthful to say, “In the morning I plead my case to you and then I forget.” Or, “In the morning I plead my case to you and then I start scheming how to solve my own problems.” If we do not look expectantly for God’s answer to our prayers it is only because we have failed to believe his power to answer prayer.


Will you learn from this text how to seek God by prayer? Will you properly prepare to seek him? Will you embrace an earnest and humble posture in prayer? Will you follow a biblical pattern of prayer? Will you meditate on the purpose of prayer and believe God’s power for prayer? I trust that this text will encourage you to turn your face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy.