In his [Daniel’s] upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. – Daniel 6:10
Surely the goodness of God has been the same to us as to the saints of old. Let us, then, weave His mercies into a song… Let our souls give forth music as sweet and as exhilarating as came from David’s harp, as we praise the Lord whose mercy endures forever. – Charles Spurgeon
Was it training, respect, or longing that caused Old Testament Daniel to open his window every day toward Jerusalem when he prayed? Or as is true in life, is the answer all three? Often I find that my motives are usually layered.
For instance, take church. I attend because I was taught at a young age I should go. I attend because I long for fellowship with other believers. And I go because I believe it’s a way to respect God. Oh, wait, did I mention guilt? Yes, I’ve gone because I felt that God and his people might think less of me if I didn’t. Perhaps because some of them have told me so.
A church in my neighborhood left its doors unlocked as a gesture to the public to come and to seek refuge quietly in their stained glass sanctuary. An open invitation to pray. I found it settling to stop in and had visited on a number of occasions. In fact, even though I was alone, I could hear music as I sat quietly. It might have been from my memories of years of churchgoing; it could have been from my heart, where God has been writing new lyrics for me to sing; or maybe it was the sparrows in the small courtyard outside the church doors; but whatever the source, it was lovely.
Recently ruffians robbed the generous, tiny church, causing the congregants to rethink their open-door policy. And causing me to rethink my safety. I haven’t been back since. Sad how enemies take us captive through intimidation.
As I pondered the lionhearted Daniel, I observed his stout heart in the midst of his enemies.
I wondered if I had been a captive, even one in an influential position, would I have been so faithful to pray with Daniel’s frequency, fervency, and gratitude, despite threats?
When Daniel threw open his window coverings, the view was of his captive land surrounding him. Homes filled with jealous enemies crowded in like so many militant soldiers. Yet Daniel purposed to dismiss that perspective and, with a grateful heart, direct his thoughts toward home and his visionary prayers toward Jehovah. I wonder if sparrows and doves came to his window and sang songs from his homeland?
I don’t do well in hostile environments. Why is it some folks such as Daniel flourish spiritually in the midst of dissension?
While, truth be known, I can wilt at the first signs of others’ displeasure. I guess I’m too tied to others’ opinions, rely too much on their approval, and have at times allowed others’ treatment to define my worth. I want people to like me, and when they don’t, I feel defensive and insecure. I allow those two emotional jailers to keep me locked out of gratitude and locked into my ragtag humanity.
I note in the beginning of Daniel’s story (in Daniel 1) he was an exceptional young man. Well, it really wasn’t the beginning of his story because we don’t have access in Scripture to details regarding the specifics of his childhood, but we are introduced to him as a teenager. He is a Jewish lad taken captive by the Babylonians. He was chosen by his enemies for his intelligence, character, and good looks. Wow! What would they have done with me? As a teen I was loud, moody, and rebellious. Besides that, my looks were complicated by an ever-changing array of hairdos from the fifties: ponytails, beehives, and flips. My coifs alone would have been enough to get me locked up. I think I might have been a throw-away-the-key type of captive. But not Daniel. He was definitely a keeper destined for greatness. It pays to behave… but not always in the ways we imagine.
You would think with Daniel’s squeaky-clean behavior that he would have deserved an easy existence. That’s the way we think, isn’t it? A friend recently told me that upon hearing the news of a family member being diagnosed with cancer, the first words out of his mouth were, “Why her? She’s the one who sings in the choir, teaches Sunday school, takes care of the sick and the elderly. She didn’t deserve this.”
It’s human nature to think that if we do right, all good things will come our way. Yet we could each jot down a list of good people who have suffered greatly. What’s that about?
It’s human to wonder and wrestle. Give yourself permission to pray your doubts and despair. God isn’t offended by our frailty. No one knows better than God that we are dust.
There’s no denying it: we live in a fallen world, and no one gets out of it without suffering. Some greatly. The Fall left distortions in our windowpanes, our viewing places, our perspectives.
So perhaps we have to learn to do what Daniel did when he focused his vision on Jehovah and prayed… every day… three times a day.
I’m not suggesting this is a formula to avoid bad things happening to good people. We can see in Daniel’s story that although he survived his enemies, he still was criticized, plotted against, and lied about. Prayer doesn’t necessarily rescue us from all evil intentions or diabolical schemes, but instead it gives us a resource for comfort, wisdom, strength, and unexplainable joy in the midst of the ravenous lions of life. And when we lose our joy, the Spirit replaces it with endurance, that indestructible, internal insistence to keep on keeping on.
I pray every day. My prayers usually are conversational, ones in which I talk to the Lord and He kindly listens. Sometimes I sense His presence; other times I pray in faith, believing in what I can’t see or feel. I pray for people in my life, for some more than others. At times I shoot emergency requests like arrows, hoping to pierce the compassion of Christ. And sometimes I sit silently and wait for God’s Spirit to counsel me. I wish I were better at that kind of prayer because during those times I gain the ability to survive the injustices and inequities of this life with more grace and holy ingenuity. I’ve noticed the more acute my ear becomes to identifying the Lord’s voice from the ongoing racket in my head, the more sensitive and discriminating my “knower” is.
Many great books on prayer are on the market by folks such as Hallesby, Foster, and Yancey that can help answer our unspoken questions on this sometimes ethereal topic. Of course, David’s songs, journal entries, and prayers in the Psalms are a great place to listen in on the angst of a struggling heart.
Talk about mood swings and injustice; David has been there and done that. Yet, as far as we know, he never retired his harp or halted his worship, even when his infant son died. David had stayed on his face before the Lord, praying and fasting for the life of his child, until word came the baby had died. Then David rose up, washed his tearstained face, and carried on with his life.
That isn’t to say he didn’t grieve, but once David knew the outcome, he seemed to have the courage to accept it as part of God’s baffling yet sovereign plan. I believe that even though David learned to breathe deeply again, he walked out the rest of his life with a shard of pain in his heart, inscribed with that baby’s name across it. A long song of sorrow nested within him that colored his heart with mercy and his memories with regret. That’s just how loss impacts humanity.
We carry on; we never forget. Not a baby… ever.
After the death of Papaw, my grandmother, whom we called Mamaw, lived alone as a widow for thirty-five years. She carried on. Her dependence on prayer to companion her, to calm her, and to protect her were inspiring.
Mamaw’s spiritual commitment guided her gait throughout her years and then into God’s presence. She loved church, radio preaching, singing old hymns, reading her Bible, and praying. A cracker crumb never passed Mamaw’s lips without first a word of thanksgiving to the Lord. She was disciplined, neat as a pin, and quite proper. There would be breaks in her reserve when she would get “happy in the Lord.” Then you would see joy light up her deep creases; she would clap her vein-drenched hands and tap her narrow foot with the spiritual vigor of a young woman.
Mamaw married Papaw when she was very young, and they went on to have four children. She lived to bury them all. I can’t begin to understand the impact of that kind of multiple loss; yet she wasn’t a woman given to complaints or despair. She seemed to have a determined heart, a David heart, to live out her life and losses with poise.
One of my favorite memories of Mamaw was when she would drag the wooden kitchen chair to the window, pull out her big-print Bible and a magnifying glass, and sit to read her Sunday school lesson with her bifocals tenaciously perched on her nose. Mamaw read each word in whispers and pored over them like newly discovered photos of her family. She would tip her face into the warmth of the sunlight, close her cataract-veiled eyes, and repeat God’s words into her prayers.
Mamaw lived in her little four-room house (five hundred square feet) on East Broadway almost her entire life, and she never wavered in following Christ—the last being her greatest legacy.
One way we can extend our legacy and increase its richness for future generations is to write out and leave our prayers.
We were designed to pray – whether short or long, simple or complex – by the very fact that our internal default is to cry out to God. When we’re at the end of our ropes, it’s a human response to implore in a whisper, a shout, or a tremble from our interior, “Oh, God, help me.” And many a life conversion has transpired in just that manner.
“Oh, God, help me” remains a powerful way to begin and end our prayers. Holy bookends. Four words that say, “I acknowledge You, God, and I recognize my need of You.”
There are many ways to pray. You might pray like Daniel, three times a day, or like my grandmother, at a window with your face warmed by the sun, or while in a dark closet, prison cell, or hospital bed. You might pray free-form, spilling out the detailed contents of your heart, or structured, succinct, or with groans. Style doesn’t matter. Participation does. Lean in, listen, and respond.
Oh, God, help me. Amen.
PS. I think I’ll stop by that church in town to see if the door is unlocked.
Excerpted with permission from Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy Clairmont, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2011.
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“Oh, God, help me.” That simple, beautiful sentence is a powerful bookend to our prayers. No one escapes this life without some elements of stained glass — pain and beauty, suffering and joy. I would imaging that you join me in desiring to have a determined heart, a David heart, to live out life and losses with poise, focused on Jesus. Today, take a moment to come before our King Jesus and ask for the grace to leave a powerful legacy of faith and prayer! Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you. ~ Laurie McClure, FaithGateway Women