************ Sermon on Daniel 2:18-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 1, 1998
"The Power of Prayer"
A couple of years ago this headline caught my eye: "Margaret Burke's prayer answered."
Topic: PrayerPutting aside any question concerning the wisdom of Margaret Burke's actions, we do have to admire her faith in God and her belief in the power of prayer. How I wish that all of us, like Margaret Burke, would expect the Lord to hear and answer our prayers.
Title: Margaret Burke's Prayers Answered
Burke, a destitute mother of three, had gone to St. Jude's Roman Catholic Church in Rochester, New York, everyday praying for help. On her ninth day there — when prayers such as hers are to be answered according to Roman Catholic belief — she found $10,000 at the foot of a statue of St. Jude. Believing the money was a miracle from heaven she took it, paid her bills, fixed her car, and got an apartment for her family.
According to the pastor of the church, the money was left by a parishioner as an anonymous donation for answered prayer. When police discovered that Burke had taken the money, she was charged with grand larceny.
Realizing that Burke had acted out of faith, church officials went to court to have the charges dropped.
In today's Scripture lesson we see that Daniel too knew and experienced the tremendous power there is in prayer. Daniel had problems, big problems — Arioch, the king's executioner had been commanded to cut off his head. But when faced with this situation, Daniel's first course of action was prayer. He didn't panic. He didn't go into hiding. He didn't try to strike first. Rather, he prayed.
Like Daniel, when the storm clouds of life gather over our heads, prayer should be our first rather than our last resort.
But is it? That's the question you have to answer for yourselves, my brothers and sisters.
Daniel's life was in danger. So he decided on prayer. Yet he did not call for an official prayer service in the synagogue. Instead, he got together with three friends in his house and the four of them prayed together.
The four friends did not talk at great length about the events of the day and the difficult circumstances they found themselves in. Rather, they fell to their knees together. Our text tells us that
(Dan 2:17-18) ... Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. (18) He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
We should all take a lesson from the fact that Daniel's first thought in such a situation was prayer!
I The Occasion for Prayer
A Why was it that Daniel, his friends, and all of Babylon's wise men were in danger of losing their heads?
Mighty Babylon, if you can imagine this, was in such turmoil because Nebuchadnezzar had dreams. One night while he was lying in bed, Nebuchadnezzar started to think about the future. He was concerned and anxious about what it might bring. He wondered if he would be able to maintain his position in the face of internal unrest and foreign enemies. He worried about the state and position of his beloved city, Babylon. As he was lying there thinking about such things, the Lord revealed to him in a dream some things about the future (Dan 2:29).
This dream greatly worried Nebuchadnezzar. He wasn't sure what it meant, but it did make him very uneasy and concerned and prevented him from sleeping (Dan 2:1). Therefore he summoned his wise men to interpret the dream.
For whatever reason, Nebuchadnezzar must have had some questions about the integrity of his wise men. I say this because Nebuchadnezzar asked the wise men not only for the interpretation of his dream but he also asked that the wise men first tell him his dream. Four times, in fact, he asked them to tell him his dream and its interpretation. By asking for the dream and its interpretation Nebuchadnezzar was asking for proof that Babylon's wise men really did have the ability to interpret dreams, that they were not simply making up an interpretation that would sound pleasing to the king, and that they did have the close relationship they claimed to have with the gods who gave Nebuchadnezzar the dream.
The wise men, of course, were unable to tell the king what he wanted to hear. They said to the king:
(Dan 2:10-11) "There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. (11) What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men."Do you know what Babylon's wise men really admit to here? They admit they are but fakes and hypocrites. They admit they had lied to the king in their earlier messages from the gods. They admit to the bankruptcy of their wisdom. They admit that their heathen religion is nothing but fluff and show — that there is nothing real about it or the gods they claim to worship. They admit that all their magic arts; their charms, enchantments and spells; their divination; and their plotting of the sun, moon, planets, and stars are but worthless human creations.
It was this admission that "made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon" (Dan 2:12). Even the lives of Daniel and his three friends were endangered.
B When agents of Babylon's secret police appeared at his door Daniel did not panic even though his life was hanging by a slender thread. Instead, he spoke with wisdom and tact to Arioch, Babylon's chief executioner. Then Daniel went in to see the king and asked him for the time to discern the dream and its meaning.
This took courage on Daniel's part. Only a man of incredible courage would remain calm with the executioner at the door. And, only a man of incredible courage would dare go in to see the king in such a situation. There existed the very real possibility that Daniel would not leave alive.
How is that Daniel could stay so calm even in the face of his own execution? How come he had so much courage? Because he knew and believed what the psalmist had said:
(Ps 46:1) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (2) Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea ...The rest of our Scripture reading confirms the truth that for Daniel, and his friends, the Lord was their "refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble."
C We are told that Daniel asked the king for time, "so that he might interpret the dream for him" (vs 16). This is not a request. This is not a wish. This is not a last ditch effort. This is a promise. Daniel promised the king he would tell him the dream and its interpretation.
How could Daniel make such a promise? Babylon's wise men refused to make such a promise; in fact, they admitted their total inability to do what the king wanted. So why would Daniel make such a promise?
Daniel could make this kind of promise only because he was a man of faith. By faith Daniel knew that nothing was impossible for the God of might and wisdom, and that therefore nothing is impossible for those who truly believe. I think here of the words of Jesus:
(Matt 17:20) "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."Daniel, we would have to say, had this kind of faith.
II The Prayer and Its Answer
A Daniel made good use of the time the king allowed him. He did not hold a conference with the other wise men of Babylon, nor did he devise plans to flee and escape execution. No, as I already said, he used the time to pray. His first move was to establish a prayer circle. Four weak but believing men, four exiles from Judah, got down on their knees and laid their predicament before God's throne. They wrestled with God and asked Him for the humanly impossible: they asked for the dream and its interpretation.
B Do you see the great contrast here between Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, between the world and the church? When Nebuchadnezzar gets into difficulty he consults human wisdom; but Daniel appeals to the wisdom above. When he is at wits end, Nebuchadnezzar turns to force and decrees the death of all his wise men; but when Daniel sees death approaching, he takes refuge in God and relies on the power of prayer and knocks tirelessly at the gates of heaven. Because he relies on human wisdom, power, and might, Nebuchadnezzar is worried and upset about many things; but because he relies on God's wisdom, power, and might Daniel is anxious about nothing. It is clear to me that Daniel lives out the words of the Apostle Paul:
(Phil 4:6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Like Daniel, when the storm clouds of life gather over our heads, prayer should be our first rather than last resort. But is it? That's the question you have to answer for yourself, my brothers and sisters.
C God, of course, heard Daniel's appeal: "During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision" (Dan 2:19). On account of this Daniel was able to tell the king the dream and its interpretation. On account of this Daniel was able to spare the life of Babylon's wise men. Because he believed in the power of prayer, Daniel became a preserving force for the land and people of Babylon.
III Prayer and Us
A In the life of God's people, prayer is so vitally important. According to a song we sing,
Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
The Christian's native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven with prayer.
(Blue Psalter Hymnal # 434:3)
Anyone who engages in prayer enters a domain of unlimited possibilities. Anyone who, like Daniel, engages in prayer is able to accomplish what the minds of Babylon's wise men and the bloody sword of Arioch could never accomplish. What astounding possibilities and opportunities lie before us if only we would reach out for them in prayer! Only through prayer could the situation in Babylon be saved and the confusion be ended. Only prayer was able to save the lives of the wise men, who otherwise would surely have met Arioch's sword.
A lot of people have lost their eternal lives because they have neglected prayer. And, a lot of confusion would be removed and a lot of problems would disappear if only we would turn to prayer: this is true for problems in the world, in the school, in the church, in our family, and in ourselves.
B Let me lay before you three examples of the power of prayer. The first example has to do with the church in Korea. Did you know that South Korea is easily the most Christian nation on earth today; I say this because it has a greater percentage of Christians in the population that any other country in the world; it also has the world's biggest congregations — at least one has almost a million members.
Do you know how the Korean Church got this way? You ask the Korean Church, and they will tell you that they got this way because they are a praying church. In Korea, most of the pastors and at least ten percent of their congregations get together for at least an hour of prayer every morning at daybreak. Eighty percent of the pastors follow this up with an hour of personal prayer. Furthermore, fifty percent of the pastors and twenty percent of their congregations gather together for overnight prayer once a week, usually on Friday night from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
The second example has to do with a boy named David. A number of years ago the church I served in Southern Ontario, Canada, began to pray for five-year-old boy David.
David had gone into convulsions and was in a coma. Doctors told David's parents that he would not live and, if somehow he did live, he would be mentally handicapped because of brain damage.Doctors still have not explained either David's illness or his recovery. But as Christians, we know the credit has to go to the Lord for hearing and answering the prayers of His people. God's people prayed and David, by God's grace, was healed.
God's people throughout Southern Ontario began to pray. Two weeks later, much to the surprise of doctors, David again attended school — a healthy, alert, normal five-year-old.
The third example comes from one of our missionaries. Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo), told the following story:
Subtopic: Answer Promised
Title: Hot Water Bottle and Doll
A mother at our mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. We tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle we had was beyond repair. So during devotions that morning we asked the children to pray for the baby and for her little sister who was now an orphan. One of the girls responded, "Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won't feel so lonely." That afternoon a large parcel arrived from England. Eagerly the children watched as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig through the rest of the box, exclaiming, "If God sent that, I'm sure He also sent a doll." And she was right! The Heavenly Father knew in advance of the child's sincere requests, and 5 months before, He had led a ladies group to include both of those specific articles.
The story of Daniel, or of the Korean Church, or of David, or of a water bottle can be multiplied by hundreds of thousands of other stories which show us the tremendous power of prayer.
C I don't know if there is something odd with Daniel and his friends compared to us. But I want you to note that they came together in order to pray. Do we ever do that? I know we get together with family and friends. When we do, we talk about the church and the school, our jobs and our families, the President and Congress. But do we pray?
Last Sunday night I mentioned some of the good and bad points that I have seen in Trinity during the past five months. One thing I did not mention was prayer. I am sure that some here — maybe many here — are real prayer warriors. Yet, I can't say I have found any real evidence that we are a praying church. Maybe we are. Maybe we aren't. But as of yet I just don't know. I would like to believe and be able to say that we are.
This past week I received a letter in response to our home page on the Internet. Let me read it to you:
Dear Brother / Sister in the Lord,Isn't it sad what he wrote in the middle of the letter: "If you do not believe in the power of prayer, than please ignore this letter and forgive my boldness." Some Christians, obviously, do not believe in the power of prayer.
I too am a Christian and I am in need of a special prayer for my daughter.
My daughter, Sabrina Jackson, is a Christian also, but she is backsliding. She is 18 years old. About a year ago, she started dating a boy that was not a Christian in any sense of the word. In fact, he told me that he "hated God and Jesus" the first time that I asked him his thoughts on religion. He has some kind of power that has completely blinded my daughter. She has quit high school in her senior year to go live with this boy in Phoenix AZ. while he attends trade school. I might add, with his mother's and father's blessings.
My wife and I have been praying as hard as we can but she is still resisting ... the Holy Spirit. We are sincere believers in the power of prayer ... I now need the help of as many people as I can, to pray for Sabrina to turn from her life in sin with her boy friend.
If you do not believe in the power of prayer, than please ignore this letter and forgive my boldness. If you are truly a prayer believing Christian as my wife and I, could you please say a prayer for Sabrina Jackson, that she would turn from her life of sin. Pray that the Lord would remove the blinders that her boyfriend has placed on her and that she would listen to the Holy Spirit like she used to before she met him.
If you would like to meet (see a picture) of Sabrina, you can go to our home page at: http://home.earthlink.net/~ action568/ We have a family photo album that has recent pictures of her. I also have been praying for her boyfriend ... that he may come to the Lord and give his life to Him.
God Bless you.
Mike (Action) Jackson
So I need to ask: like the Jackson family, do we believe in the power of prayer? Or, more importantly, do we practice the power of prayer?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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