Discipline Unto Prayer

T.A. Sparks


And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; (now his windows were open in his chamber toward Jerusalem;) and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, AS HE DID AFORETIME (Dan.6:10).

There is something tremendously impressive about a man who is beset and attacked from every side, apparently overwhelmed, and who yet maintains a quiet, dignified persistence of faith and goes on with his God, unmoved and undismayed.

Daniel’s troubles sprang from the fact that he had been marked out for advancement. “The king thought to set him over the whole realm” (v. 30). There were two presidents equal with him as well as many satraps under him. All these reacted violently to the decision about his promotion, so violently that they plotted to destroy him. At first they had a great deal of success. It seemed unlikely, or indeed impossible, that Daniel could ever obtain the supremacy planned for him. Yet he did! The evil scheme failed. The servant of God was delivered and placed over the kingdom. The means by which he was advanced must have seemed very strange. Yet they are in full harmony with all that the Word teaches us about spiritual progress. Especially is Daniel’s experience in accord with what is shown in the case of the Lord Jesus, that the way to the throne is by death and resurrection.

“As He Did Aforetime”

The lions’ den was a kind of grave. Daniel was not spared the grave; he had to go right down into it. Since, however, he was God’s man and kept true to his God, he lost nothing and gained everything by his descent. His rivals went down into the same grave, and they stayed there. By the end of the chapter we find no more mention of presidents and satraps. They could not stand the test of the grave. Daniel, on the contrary, was given his place over the whole realm, not by any effort or planning of his, but simply by his maintained position of faith in God. The lesson is for us. We, too, in His amazing grace, have been marked out for advancement, chosen for the throne. This explains for us, as well as for Daniel, the peculiar bitterness of the conflict in which we are often involved. There are great issues in view; we need to know how to behave in the midst of it all, and what is the secret which will enable the Lord to fulfill His purpose in our case as He did in Daniel’s.

We find that he came through wholly and solely on spiritual grounds. His own wisdom, his earthly authority, his influence among men, his experience, his friends—all these counted for nothing. As he was hurried away and thrown into the den, he must have been a picture of complete helplessness. There was nothing he could say, and nothing he could do. He did not try to wrestle with the lions; it would have been useless if he had. In a spiritual conflict—and ours is that—nothing but spiritual strength is of any use. For all his apparent helplessness, Daniel had a standing with God. The key to his emergence from the conflict in such complete triumph is found in our verse about his praying, and particularly in the last words, “as he did aforetime.”

He was steadfast in his faith. Yet it would not be enough to think of his having faith in a merely general way, or being a man who habitually prayed for all sorts of things. We can only understand the nature of his steadfastness if we realize that he was keeping true to a definite and God-given vision. He had understood the purpose of God with regard to His people. Moreover, he had adjusted his whole life to that vision, as the open window and the “three times a day” prayer-watch show. He knew what God wished and intended, and had given himself wholeheartedly for its fulfillment. Day in and day out, fair days and foul, he kept himself in God’s direction and stood for God’s will. No wonder that human jealously and spite were used by satan in a determined effort to silence him! But he could not be silenced. He could not be made to close his window. “Aforetime” he had persisted in his faith vigil; now that trouble was pending he refused to be turned aside from his set course with God. He had a spiritual ‘routine,’ a holy habit, a steady heart purpose. When this brought him into the crosscurrents of conflict, and the writing was signed against him, he seemed to take no notice at all, but calmly continued in his watch with the Lord —“as he did aforetime.”

We may be tempted to wish that we were that kind of man, calm, steady, unmoved—wrongly imagining that this was a matter of Daniel’s temperament. If so, it is good for us to remember the kind of man he could be. “I was affrighted, and fell on my face...” (8:17); “I Daniel fainted...” (8:27); “Then said he unto me, ‘Fear not, Daniel...’ “ (10:12). This was no man of steel, but one very like most of us, with all our inward quakings, our timidity and our tendency to faint. Yet he was undismayed. In the midst of plots for his destruction, in spite of tremendous pressure to panic or compromise, without show of strain and in quiet dignity of faith he went straight on with the Lord. And so must we. Perhaps it will help us if we try to discover some of Daniel’s secrets.

The Largeness of His Vision

The first reason why Daniel was able to proceed so calmly, as though nothing had happened, was found in the largeness of his vision. If we have a vision that is chiefly concerned with ourselves, our circumstances or our assigned work, we shall be puzzled or offended when things begin to go wrong with us. We need, indeed we have, a vision of God’s universal and eternal purpose in His Son, and this alone will save us from being overwhelmed in the hour of spiritual conflict.

Daniel looked back, far beyond his own time. The open windows looked out on an original purpose for the people of God, who had had their origin long before his own generation. The Jerusalem which he remembered was a poor affair compared with the true glory of Zion. Most of us are apt to dwell with regret on things as we once knew them, and to sigh for the days of the past. But it is vain, and altogether inadequate so to limit our vision. We have been called for something much bigger than that. We have a part in the Divine purpose which was conceived in eternity and realized in Christ by His Cross. If we set our hearts only on what we have known or experienced, on the limited sphere of our own past, we shall get into confusion when for the time being everything seems to be going wrong. Our natural vision is limited to the immediate, to the present experiences or to the tiny span of our own lives. We need to be saved from ourselves, and this will be by receiving spiritual vision as to the vast range of the Divine purpose in Christ. Like Daniel, if we look back far enough we shall be kept steady by the reminder of God’s original intentions.

Daniel also looked forward. We are told that he not only prayed, but also “gave thanks before his God.” Of course there was much cause for thanksgiving in Israel’s past history, but to the man of faith, the man of vision, the real motive for praise lies in the future. He has received assurance that there was to be a future for Jerusalem, a future even more glorious than the past. He knew that God would realize His end. It mattered little to him, therefore, if all the fury of hell raged around him for the present; it was of very small importance if he, Daniel, were swept off the face of the earth. Nothing could prevent the fulfillment of the purposes of God. Whatever else happened, the Lord would go marching triumphantly on to His goal. With this conviction, and his windows opened in this direction, Daniel could afford to ignore his enemies, and to treat all the decrees of men with dignified contempt. “And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he... prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”

The little calamities of the present time are contemptible in the light of the certain glories that are to be. We are meant to be people of eternity; we are called to view all present problems and difficulties in their larger setting. It may be true that we, like Daniel, seem to be involved in disaster, that for us the writing is signed which makes our own future quite hopeless. Our vision is not a personal one, nor is our service of God personal, so we must never allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by what is only personal. In Christ we have become closely associated with God’s eternal purpose for the greatness of His Son. This is the largeness that will lift us out of our own natural pettiness.

Daniel saw far beyond his own surroundings. He had gone to his house and entered his own chamber. It may well have been a large room, as rooms go, but in any case it was bounded by the four walls of what was essentially his. He did not look at the things around him, but away through the open windows towards the city of his God. How important it was at that crucial moment that he should not look around to what was merely local, to the unpromising circumstances in which he himself was found, but should keep well in view the Divine prospect of the God-filled glory of Jerusalem. Only the eye of faith could see that city then, but Daniel had the eye of faith. Surely it was this vision that kept him steadfast.

There is a sense in which men who are under great pressure to capitulate or compromise can only resist the temptation by remembering that their ‘cause’ is much greater than themselves. They are kept true by the realization that, provided they do not despair, the cause with which they are associated will ultimately triumph in spite of anything which may happen to them. How much more is the case with those whose ‘cause’ is spiritual! Had Daniel’s main preoccupation been about his own survival he could not have behaved as he did. If he had been thinking chiefly of how he himself could be preserved, he would probably have made terms with his enemies or in some way capitulated. To him, however, the vision was so great that his biggest concern was, not as to whether he could survive, but as to whether he could remain faithful. He felt that he had to be faithful because of the very importance and vastness of the issue.

This constraint to be faithful was noticeable in every part of Daniel’s life. It was true, not only in the prayer chamber when he was on his knees, but also in every feature of his ordinary daily life, that “he was faithful” (v.4). There can be nothing mean or insignificant in the life of a man who finds himself associated with a great Divine purpose: he realizes that this association demands a very high standard in every aspect of his daily life. Few of us can be placed in such difficult circumstances as Daniel was in Babylon. And very few indeed have kept as faithful as he did in the many tests and temptations which came his way. Perhaps it was because he had so learned faithfulness in the smaller matters that he triumphed so completely in this supreme testing.

If Daniel had considered it most important that he himself should survive, it would have been very simple for him to have refrained either from praying, or from kneeling to do so, or from leaving the windows open for all to see. After all, he was no slave in Babylon, but a man of great importance. He was no enemy of Darius, but his good friend. Had he wished he could have kept his personal safety, and no doubt he could think of many very good reasons why he should try to do so. But then what would happen to Jerusalem? What would happen to the purposes of God for His people? To Daniel it was the vision that mattered, not his own personal good. And in this very way he found his own deliverance. The man who remains true to the God-given vision can afford to leave the question of his own fate in the hands of the Giver of that vision.

This, then, is the challenge which comes to so many of us, the call to be faithful to the vision. Daniel reminds us of how important it is that one man should remain steadfast to the Lord. None of us knows how much of great Divine purposes may be served by our simple faithfulness. In a sense we do not matter at all. It is not important for us to avoid the den of lions, to be saved from difficulties, to justify ourselves or fight for our own position. But in another sense it matters supremely that we should be true to the Lord. In order that we may do so, we need to keep in view the largeness of the vision.

The Greatness of His God

To Daniel God was greater than all. It was as simple as that. He had many visions, concerned with all sorts of people, places and events, but he had one transcendent vision, and that was the vision of his Lord. None of the historical or prophetic allusions can be without significance, for the Word of God is never without meaning; but we shall have missed the essence of Daniel’s story if we become occupied with things or people rather than the Lord Himself. This is the second of Daniel’s secrets of a steadfast life: to him the Person of the Lord towered high above all others. Prophetic truths may interest or enlighten us, but they will never save us in the hour of testing. Daniel’s chamber was not a study—at least it was not then being used as such; it was his prayer-room, his audience-chamber with his God. As we tend to hurry to our best friend when trouble comes, so Daniel, when he knew the writing was signed, went straight home to his prayer chamber to commune with his Lord. He knelt on his knees not as a matter of routine or ritual, not to list a number of items for prayer, but to worship and to wait upon his God. As we have said, he was associated with a very great vision, but the central and supreme feature of this vision was the Person of the Lord.

This is as important to us as it was to him. When we come to the New Testament, we must be careful to give due weight to every detail of its teaching. It is very wrong for us to ignore or disobey the injunctions, the admonitions and the explicit statement of the Word of God. Yet our supreme concern must be with the Lord Jesus Himself. To follow all the teachings and methods associated with the House of God and yet lack the overwhelming Presence of the Son and Owner of the House is to substitute an empty shell for the living reality.

Daniel’s vision of the Lord was so great that it involved the eclipse of all his enemies. No doubt they were very imposing, ‘the presidents, the deputies, the satraps, the counselors and the governors’ (v. 7). Whatever Daniel thought as he considered this long and formidable list, he gave no indication of being greatly concerned by it. He went off home to meet with his Lord ...“as he did aforetime.” To have his eyes on the Lord did not mean that he ignored his enemies or pretended that they did not exist. It only meant that because of their hatred he drew nearer to his Lord, realizing that at all costs he must not be drawn away from that committal and that communion which represented the very heart of the Divine purpose. He was determined to keep on positive ground. It can be merely negative to get preoccupied with our enemies, or with the things that menace God’s purpose.

Daniel refused to be diverted from the main issue. He would not even turn aside to pray about his own perilous position. He had but one answer for his foes, and that was to continue straight on in his devotion to the will of God. We need to follow his example. Satan will always try to divert us from the positive end of God. If we can be drawn out into side issues, he will always provide such for us. They may be things that provoke us, some matter that never fails to arouse our irritation or anger. If we turn aside to pray too much about them, we shall have missed the real call to positive prayer. It is true that Ephesians 6 stresses the call to prayer conflict, but it comes at the end of a letter that is devoted to the main vision of God’s purpose in His Son. It is for this, and not for lesser or personal matters, that we are called into the spiritual battle. Or the devil may even keep us busy with some side issues which we like, good things in themselves, perhaps, but diversions from the principle one. The man of the Spirit refuses to be diverted. Like Daniel, he goes determinedly on.

Daniel’s vision was so great that it also eclipsed his friends. There is no mention here of Shadrach and his two companions. We do not know where they were. Perhaps they were praying for him in secret. We do know, though, that there are times when we must go through alone with the Lord. This is no contradiction of spiritual fellowship. Such fellowship can only be healthy and vital if in all things the Lord Himself is the One we keep in view. Darius was also Daniel’s friend. As a matter of fact he did his sincere best to help him. But it is not recorded that when Daniel knew that the writing was signed he sought out Darius, to talk the matter over with him or to seek his help. No, he went straight away to the Lord. With all his apparent power, Darius proved helpless in this matter. Daniel knew the Lord as ‘high over all.’ He could not have held quietly on his way as he did if he had not known a constant walk with his Almighty Lord.

The Power of Prayer

In the third place Daniel had learned complete confidence in God’s ability to answer prayer. Nothing could deter him from waiting on God, for he knew the power of prayer. Daniel was well acquainted with power; he had lived at the seat of it for many years. As a lad, he had seen in his own land the amazing things that could be done by this world-power. Together with his fellow Jews he had been taken captive by the mighty emperor, the “head of gold” surmounting all the Gentile kingdoms; and now for a very long time he had had his place at the heart of that terrifying world authority. He knew all about the decrees of an absolute despot and about the “law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not” (vs. 8, 12). And when he had considered it all, he was more than ever convinced that one man on his knees was more than a match for it all, that there is more power in the simple prayer of faith than in the greatest empire that this world can ever produce. He had learned his lesson. To him it was no mere theory, as, alas, it often is to us. He had proved it in the past and he was content to go on proving it. It was a special occasion but he sought for no special remedy. He just went on praying “as he did aforetime.”

When a man is up against something of satanic origin, he is forced back to prayer, for only God can deal with the great enemy. It is significant that the signed decree was based on a lie. Darius put his signature to it because of deliberate untruth. Those who brought it to him insisted that it had been agreed among “ALL the presidents of the kingdom...” (v.7). Daniel was at least equal to his fellow presidents, and he had had no part in it. Had Darius known the truth it is certain that he would never have agreed to pass the law. Wherever there is a lie, Satan is not far away. And when we get involved in his activities we do well to stand back for a moment, to consider the whole thing, and to decide—as apparently Daniel did—that only God can deal with this situation. Of course we may need to state the truth or point out the lie, but how often God’s servants have only got themselves into greater difficulties by trying to grapple with something that was too much for them, too strong or too subtle, when the very presence of a lie in the situation could have warned them that this needed not carnal but spiritual weapons. This is not a matter of opinion or judgment—we all make mistakes—but of an untruth in the realm of facts. What do we tend to do when we meet such a lie? Usually we want to fight it, to argue about it, to try to deal with it by our own actions. What did Daniel do? He went straight back to God, got on his knees and found a place of spiritual authority over it. He dealt with it all in the place of prayer.

That is where it was all done. The rest was simply the outworking. A painful outworking if you like, for it did not relieve him from the necessity of going down into the lions’ den, to the great distress of his friend, Darius, who spent a wakeful night worrying about him. He need not have worried. His own power had failed to deliver Daniel—human power always does fail in the face of spiritual opposition—but the man on his knees is the man in touch with the Throne. We are not told what sort of a night Daniel had, but it may well have been one of great inward rest. And this not because he had prayed about himself, but because he had devoted himself to the Lord’s interest and could therefore afford to leave his own needs in the Lord’s hands. He did not pray because he was faced with an emergency; he prayed because he was a praying man. He believed in the supreme power of prayer, and he practiced what he believed. If only we would do the same!

Daniel had had to pray in order to obtain his vision. A man is no prophet unless he is first a man of prayer—”...he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee...” (Gen.20:7). But that was only the beginning. We must not think that revelation as to the will of God is an end in itself; it is but the first phase of prayer. When Daniel had prayed through to an understanding of the ways of the Lord, he then set himself three times a day to persevere in prayer for their fulfillment. His prayer took him into the lions’ den, but it also brought him out again, and he was able to see the thing right through to its glorious end. “So this Daniel prospered...” (v.28). So—by praying through, unmoved and undismayed by plots and threats—this Daniel prospered. THIS Daniel—not Daniel of the presidential office, but the Daniel of the lions’ den—this Daniel prospered, not only in the reign of Darius but also in the reign of Cyrus the Persian, who was the liberator and restorer of Jerusalem.

This all happened in the last years of his life. That may be because the time of Jerusalem’s liberation was at hand, and satan then more fiercely attacked the man who was standing for it in prayer. If so, there is a special message for us, who surely have our testimony to give in the closing days of the dispensation. The kingdom for which we labour in prayer is not earthly, but heavenly; it concerns “the Jerusalem that is above” (Gal.4:26). Let us therefore encourage one another not to be moved by the things which threaten to quench or divert our prayer-life. And let us remember that his very experience was the way by which Daniel was brought to his appointed advancement. He went to the Throne by way of the lions’ den. Our Saviour ascended to the Throne by way of the Cross. We can only reign with Him if first we suffer with Him.

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