“I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed…” Daniel 9:4 (NLT)
It’s been a week since the 2017 National Day of Prayer. Many Americans assembled in prayer in front of courthouses, as well as in houses of worship, such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. All convened on that day to pray for change and revival. This year our “national prayers” were offered up “For Your (God’s) Name Sake! Hear Us…Forgive Us…Heal Us!” While I believe in both the power of prayer and the need for spiritual healing and restoration, I don’t believe that our approach—an annual prayer day—is what Daniel had in mind when he prayed for his people (Daniel 9:19).
In a recent article entitled, Do We Need a National Day of Prayer? I found someone who, like myself, was distressed with this country’s fascination with this annual invitation to collective prayer:
“There will be a breakfast, prayers offered, and perhaps a sermon or two calling “America back to God.” And afterwards, if history is any guide, politicians will go back to their offices to continue business as usual. I’m not opposed to praying on May 5th. I’m pretty sure I will be saying a prayer on that day, along with many others who practice such a spiritual discipline. I’ll be praying before and after that day as well, but it won’t be because of a bill passed by Congress and signed by the President. It shouldn’t be the government that calls people to pray. It is the church’s job to call people to pray. The church doesn’t need the government’s sanction or admonition to pray.”
In Daniel 9, we get a glimpse into the past “misbehavior” of Israel before their subsequent captivity and deportation to Assyria and Babylon. While these deportations extended over thirty-six (36) years, Israel’s patterns of sin and defiance were clearly warned against by many prophets who came as God’s representatives to warn of the end result of their rebellion (Daniel 9:5-6). While it was God’s desire that Israel repent, His message was (and still is) clear:
“But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, “then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. (2 Chronicles 7:19-20)
Daniel’s prayer for the people began with the one thing that seems to escape our nation, in general—the need to confess our collective sin. If we compare the history of Israel with that of our nation, there are frightening similarities. Both were once nations “under God” but who gradually and ever so imperceptibly began to question and ultimately rejected God’s commandments and precepts. As blessed and favored nations, they both began to do what felt “right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; Prov. 3:7). They “professed themselves to be wise and became fools, changing the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:22-25).
Also read: The Subtly of Sin
Real change for individuals and nations does not lie solely in intercessory prayer. Prayer that changes hearts and minds, transformational prayer, must begin with confession followed by a sincere commitment to turn away from sin and turn to God (2 Chron. 7:14; 1 Kings 8:35-36). Should our 2017 theme instead have been, “Forgive us…heal us…then in Your mercy hear us”?
Envision what our country would look like if we returned to a nation that truly “trusted in God” versus the plans of politicians and social reformers. Imagine if we loved others more than we loved ourselves. Wouldn’t it be radical to act on the belief that “we are our brother’s keeper”? (Gen. 4:9) Instead of a national day of prayer, let us strive for a “national lifestyle of prayer”: prayers of confession, prayers of forgiveness, and prayers for wisdom, discernment, and enlightenment.
The Apostle James had this observation about life in the 1st century. Perhaps there are lessons in his words that can inform us in our future planning for the 2018 National Day of Prayer.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3, NLT)
More on prayer next week.
SELAH: Read Daniel 9:4-7 for the next three days. Each day ask the Holy Spirit to show you how He wants you to pray on that day for our nation and our world.