I need to be honest. It’s not that hard for me to pray comfy prayers for myself and those I love. I want our lives to run smoothly, painlessly, without bumps in the road or obstacles on the path. I would never actually dare to say “Do this for our glory, Lord” – and yet, what exactly do you call it if my prayers revolve mainly around the contentment and ease of me and mine?
I’ve been studying Daniel recently. In chapter 9, I notice that Daniel brought a very different attitude to prayer. His people were in exile. They were banished from their home and away from God’s temple. In Babylon, they had endured a series of pagan, sometimes brutal kings. They were surrounded by a culture that did not honor God and did not like His people.
What would I pray in a situation like that? What would you pray? Am I right in guessing that you would pray kind of like I do? “Get us out of this godless place, Lord! See our suffering and rescue us! Take us back home, please, and please do it quickly!”
Want to know what Daniel prayed? I’m glad you asked. Daniel prayed for God’s glory. He recognized that Israel was in this predicament because of their own sin. So he confessed the ways they had rebelled against God. He acknowledged clearly that they deserved suffering they were experiencing—God had warned them to repent, but they had ignored His warnings.
And then he did something surprising, I thought. He turned the focus entirely onto God.
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name (9:17-19, emphasis added).
Instead of telling God how oppressed and scared everybody was, he asked God to bring glory to Himself. He showed concern for God’s name. He reminded God that answering this prayer was for His sake. God’s reputation was at stake. God had promised to watch out for His people and to forgive them if they repented. He had told them that they were His special treasure, chosen out of all the other nations to bless Him and to be a blessing. If God abandoned His people, His own reputation would suffer. If God’s temple continued to be desolate, His own name would be tarnished. In the truest sense, God’s punishment of His people was hurting Him even more than it hurt them.
So I’ve experimented with this idea as I’ve been praying these past few days. How can God receive glory through His answer to the prayers I typically pray?
For example, I pray for a number of young people. How can God get glory from the requests I make for them? How can His reputation advance? It’s not just about them doing well on tests or making friends, although it’s fine to pray about those things. It’s about the plans God has for these young people. What path does He have them on? Will doing well academically or enjoying close relationships help them to be more the people He has designed them to be?
I also pray for people who have physical needs. How will relief from symptoms renewed health help to make a name for God? WIll His care for them cause others to see His goodness? Does their patience in suffering gladden God’s heart because He sees their trust in Him?
Sometimes I pray about work situations. I can ask God, “What are You doing in this stalled objective? What are Your purposes for me, for us, for the project?” I don’t always get an immediate answer—but just asking the questions, being willing to submit my momentary stress to the greater goal of His glory, has been good for me. It grows my faith, and helps me to depend on Him. And that, I realize, brings honor to His name.
Ultimately, every prayer God answers, He answers with Himself. He is the ultimate answer to my every need. So, when I start putting my prayer requests through the grid of, “How can God answer this for His sake, how might this bring Him glory?” my focus changes from me to Him—which is a very good thing indeed!