A Lion of a Prayer

March 9, 2014

It’s one of those phrases that you
hear every once in a while but I’m not always sure that those using it are aware
of the context.   It often involves
someone who is in a tough spot and they will say “I felt like Daniel in the
lions den.” 
But it is just something they
say?  I wonder if they actually know who
Daniel was or why he was in the Lion’s den? 
Or if it’s just something that’s said. 
In Australia people would sometimes say “It’s a bit of a sticky wicket”,
which originated from the game of cricket, which if I tried to explain here
would take up more time than I have this morning. 
But you are in luck, because this is
week four of Old School Sunday School here at Cornerstone So far we’ve had to
opportunity to learn about Jonah and the Whale, David and Goliath and last week
we looked at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s adventure with the fiery
furnace.  And this week our lesson will
be “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” 
Most of us are at least somewhat
familiar with the concept of Sunday School, perhaps you attended as a child or
you know someone who did.  But how many
of you know that it was started in 1780 by a Jesus follower, named Robert
Raikes,  as a means to teach children of
common people how to read and write.  In
that day and age children worked 6 days a week and his dream was to give them
an opportunity on the seventh day to learn regardless of how much or how little
they had.  Five years from it’s beginning
it is estimated that there were 250,000 children enrolled And within 50 years
we are told that there were 160,000 Jesus Followers teaching 1.5 million
children how to read and write and how to love God with all their minds. 
And while we are seeing fewer and
fewer Sunday Schools thirty years ago they were the primary outreach of
churches.  We had contests to encourage
children to bring their bibles and their friends.  If your church was any type of church at all
it had a fleet of old school buses that drove through neighbourhoods picking up
kids and driving them to Sunday School. It was called the “Bus Ministry”.  And there was a virtual army of volunteers
who kept that ministry alive, driving and maintaining buses, going door to door
inviting kids to come to Sunday School. 
Hillside Wesleyan Church in Cole Harbour was recognized as the fastest
growing Sunday School in Nova Scotia in the late 70’s and it was primarily
because of their bus ministry, they had seven buses and a crew of 30
volunteers. 
Imagine today, a stranger coming to
your door and inviting you to put your kid on a bus that had been bought at a
surplus auction to take them to a church you may never have attended.  And it worked, back then.  As proof of that one day in 1974 a young
couple came to a house in Lawrencetown and invited a couple to put their kid on
a bus and send her to Sunday School, and they did.  And eight years later I married her. 
One of the highlights of Sunday
School were the songs, full of action and enthusiasm.  The songs were printed in song books and song
sheets and eventually they went high tech and the person with the best printing
would write them on a transparency for the Overhead Projector. 
And I’m going to invite Pastor Jason
to come back up and lead us in Deep and Wide.
But Daniel in the Lion’s Den isn’t
just something we say, it’s got a story behind it, and  for those of you who were brought up going to
Sunday School you might be familiar with the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den,
it really is a great story. 
It begins when Israel is
conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and many of the people are taken
into captivity as slaves.   We pick up
the story after Nebuchadnezzar returns home with the captives and he’s looking
for personal attendants to work in the palace and we read in  Daniel 1:4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he
said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted
with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace.
Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.”
Last week our lesson was about
three of these young men and how they took a stand for righteousness and
refused to bow down to the Idol set up by King Nebuchadnezzar.  But that was last week. 
This week we are looking at
another one of those young men who was selected to be groomed in the courts of
Babylon and he is the hero of our story Daniel. 
Except he’s no longer a young man. 
Now I know that’s how we often picture him, in his late teens or early
twenties, as a matter of fact many of the classic paintings show Daniel in that
light.  But while that may be perception
it’s not reality.   
You will recall that the king who
captured Jerusalem and took the young men as slaves was King Nebuchadnezzar. 
And King Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C. and we know
that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 and it was then that Daniel was taken into
captivity. You OK? 
And we know that Nebuchadnezzar died in
562 B.C. about 25 years after Daniel had been taken captive. Now let’s fast
forward to the King in this story, we are told that his name was Darius and
many scholars believe that he reigned around 539 B.C.   Which if we do the math, 587 – 539 =
48.  So this happened at least 48 years
after Daniel was taken captive.  So if
assume that Daniel was say 15 when he was taken captive he would be at least 63
when the story took place and maybe even older. 
That was what is technically called a “Tangent”. 
So, Daniel has risen to position of
influence with King Darius and  those who
are jealous of his rise decide that enough is enough.  They knew that Daniel was a devout God
Follower and the times he spent talking to the his God were very important to
him, so they convinced the King to pass a law that would make it illegal to
pray to anyone other than the king for thirty days.  And the penalty for breaking the law would be
to be fed to the lions. They really didn’t mess around.  
Well, when Daniel heard about the new
law, he did what any of us would do I’m sure, he went home to pray about it and
his enemies spied him praying and reported him to the king.  And the bible tell us that this bothered the
King because he really liked Daniel, but he was bound by the law and ordered
that Daniel be thrown into the Lion’s Den. 
Thus, feeling like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The bible tells us that the
King couldn’t sleep all night and rushed to the den in the morning to discover
the fate of his friend, but instead of finding Daniel dead he found him safe in
the midst of the Lions.  And as a result
he had Daniel’s enemies fed to the Lions and declared that everyone should
worship Daniels God. 
So what do we learn from the story
of Daniel in the Lion’s Den?  Well, I
think it’s important that we look at the prayer that got Daniel in all the
problems.
Daniel 6:10-11 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he
went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open
toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had
always done,

giving thanks to his God. Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house
and found him praying and asking for God’s help.
The first thing we discover is that Daniel’s Prayer Was A Prayer of Habit  We are told that he knelt down as usual,
and he prayed three times a day as he had always done.  He didn’t have to think about what he was
doing, he just did it.  He made a point
each day of talking to God, it was his habit. 
We all have habits, and usually when we use the word we think of bad
habits, the things that make up our New Year’s resolutions and then three
months later we talk about giving the same things up for lent. 
But there are good habits and bad
habits, they are simply the paths that we have trod through life that are easy
to walk.  I’ve always done it that
way.  When I mow my lawn, I always do it
the same way, when I clear my driveway I always do it the same way.  I have a friend who always eats the same way,
he positions his plate in a particular manner and then eats all of his
potatoes, then all of his vegetables then all of his meat.  It’s a habit.
Mortimer
J. Adler who was an American educator wrote,   “Habits are formed by the repetition of particular
acts. They are strengthened by an increase in the number of repeated acts.
Habits are also weakened or broken, and contrary habits are formed by the
repetition of contrary acts.”
And what are your spiritual
habits?  You understand that they are
formed by what you do, are you in the habit of attending church?  The more you do it the easier it gets.  But when you get out of the habit it gets
harder to do.  How about reading your
bible?  Do you have a certain time that
you do that?  Nice thing about using a
plan in youversion on your computer, phone or tablet is that it will actually
remind you to read, it helps with your habit.  I discovered very early in my Christian life
that this worked the same way with my giving to the church, if I did it every
week, if I made it my habit it was a lot easier, otherwise I was forever
playing catch up and feeling guilty.
Aristotle said  “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence,
then, is not an act, but a habit.”
And so Daniels habit was that
he prayed three times a day, not a bad habit to have, start the day with
prayer, pause in the middle of the day to touch base with God and then finish
with a word of prayer before you go to bed. 
We are told in Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.   You catch that?  Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer;
it was his habit to find a quiet place where he could talk to his father.  And time and time again Jesus taught people
to pray and he always seemed to begin with the words, “when you prayer”.  His assumption was that prayer would be their
habit.
And the great thing is that
making something a habit is a choice, it is something we can choose to do.  We can choose to pray, we can choose to read
God’s word we can choose to make church attendance a habit. 
Ben Franklin had it right when he
said, “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what
remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”
So what will your net spiritual worth
be when you subtract your bad habits from your good ones?
Daniel 6:10-11 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he
went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open
toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always
done, giving
thanks to his God.
Then
the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking
for God’s help.
Daniel’s Prayer Was A Prayer of Thanksgiving  Let’s pause for a
moment and reflect on Daniel’s life at this particular moment.  The first thing we need to recognize is that
he was a slave.  His country had been
invaded, he had been taken captive and while he might have a better life then
many of the others who had been taken captive at the same time he was still a
slave, he did what he was told and he lived at the whim of his master.  Then he has his religious freedom taken away,
he was told that he could not pray.  Not
that he could not pray in school, not that he couldn’t pray as part of the
opening of parliament or the legislative assembly, he was told that he could
not pray, period.  And now because he was
willing to disobey the decree not to pray he was facing the death penalty.  And what is the first thing he does?  He gives thanks to God. 
Maybe he thanked God that his life had
been spared during the invasion, maybe he thanked God that he was a palace
slave and not a field slave, maybe he thanked God that in a time when many
people would have died young he was a relatively old man or maybe he was simply
thankful that he had a relationship with his creator. 
We don’t know what Daniel was thankful
for, all we do know is that he prayed as he always did giving thanks to his
God.  . 
  
Time and time again the Bible tells us
to give thanks to God.  And we have so
much to thank God for, if we are only willing to stop and reflect on it.
1
Thessalonians 5:18
Be thankful in all
circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
Did you catch that?  It doesn’t say be thankful for all your
circumstances, it says to be thankful in all your circumstances.  And there is a difference.  You don’t have to be thankful because you are
sick, but you can be thankful when you are sick.  You don’t have to be thankful because you are
broke, but you can still be thankful when you are broke.
One of my favorite stories involves a
Preacher from the 1700’s named Matthew Henry.  The story goes that
when travelling between preaching points that he was robbed and later he wrote
in his diary, I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before;
second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third,
because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I
who was robbed, and not I who robbed.
So let’s go back to the
story.   Daniel 6:10-11 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he
went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open
toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done,
giving thanks to his God. Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house
and found him praying and asking for God’s help.
Daniel’s Prayer Was A Prayer of Petition  So Daniel, started by giving thanks to
God for all he had and then he got down to business and asked God for help.  He knew that he only had two options, he
could capitulate and not pray.  And that
seemed to be smart but not right.  Or he
could continue to do as he had been doing and keep praying regardless of the
outcome.  And that seemed to be right but
not smart.  So he decides to check with
someone smarter than him, God.  And
that’s still a good option, it’s why we are told in  James 1:5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it
to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
Throughout the bible
we are told to ask God for help when we need it, Isaiah 55:6 Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call
on him now while he is near. And in Psalm 91:15 we
read the words of God Psalm 91:15 When they call on me, I will answer; I will
be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honour them. And God’s promise to David was the same as God’s promise to
us, Psalm 50:15 Then
call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me
glory.”
But ultimately this has to go back to
the habit thing, Daniel wasn’t just praying to ask for help, instead while he
was praying he asked for help.  Too often
we skip the first two points.  We don’t
pray because it is our habit, and we don’t pray to give thanks, instead the
only time we pray is when we need help. The kids are sick so we pray, our
marriage is in trouble so we pray, we lose our jobs so we pray and hope that
God recognizes our voice. 
Now understand , it’s not wrong to ask
for God’s help, but that shouldn’t be the only time we talk to him.  I am a pastor, people call me all the time,
but for some people the only time they call is when they need something, or
want something or want to express their displeasure over something.  And when their name comes up on the call
display, I cringe.  Does that make me a
bad pastor?  They never call to thank me
for something Cornerstone has done for them, they never call to ask about my
day or to tell me they are praying for me and for the church, they call to ask
me to do something for them or to solve a problem for them or to fix something
for them.
I hope that God never looks at
the call display and cringes and thinks “I wonder what Denn wants now?”   God wants us to ask him for things, in the
Lord’s prayer we are taught to ask for our daily bread, that is our daily provisions.  But that comes after we’ve have expressed our
adoration for God and after we have acknowledged his sovereignty in our lives.  Remember, Matthew
6:9-11
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is
in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
Don’t be afraid to ask God for
help, as our heavenly father he expects to help and he wants to help, but it
needs to be a part of a relationship. 
Prayer isn’t just a red phone that we pick up when there is an
emergency. 
So let’s go back to the story
Daniel
6:12
So they went straight to the king and
reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty
days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your
Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?” “Yes,” the king replied, “that
decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be
revoked.”
And even though Daniel was a
favorite of the King’s, Darius felt he had no choice and he ordered that Daniel
be thrown into the den of Lions.  Now
understand, regardless of whether the law was just or unjust Daniel knew that
it was unlawful to pray and he knew what the penalty would be and he still
prayed.  Martin Luther King often wound
up in jail for disobeying the law. Nelson Mandela wound up in prison for
disobeying the law.   Even if the law was unjust it was still the
law, and you may be willing to disobey a law that you don’t agree with but in
doing that you have to be willing to pay the price.  And it goes back to the scripture that we read
last week when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were ordered to bow down and
worship the statue of the king, Daniel 3:17-18 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we
serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But
even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will
never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
So what happened to
Daniel?  Let’s go back to the story.  Early the next morning the King rushed to the
Lion’s den, but to his surprise he discovered Daniel alive and well, the bible
says not a scratch was found on him.   
Daniel’s Prayer Was A Prayer that was Answered    Daniel prayed for God’s help and he received it.  You might be thinking “But it doesn’t always
work that way, sometimes you get eaten by the lions.”  I’m not even sure that this was what Daniel
prayed for, perhaps when he prayed for help he was praying God would help him
die well, maybe he was praying his death would be quick, or that Darius would
intervene.
If we keep reading in
the book of Daniel we discover that Daniel was used by God after he was saved
from the lions, so perhaps the answer to Daniel’s prayer was simply that God’s
will was done.  Because as Christ
Followers shouldn’t that be our prayer, that God’s will be done in our lives?