In the twenty-first century, the faults and foibles of the church have made individuals, both within and without the church, jaded and cynical about the church and institutions in general. There is no question that the charlatans and hypocritical leaders have in many ways caused a black eye to the church’s reputation. There is the gut reaction to dissociate oneself and move on; after all, we all have our own problems and issues.
We find in Daniel’s prayer, however, an example of not dissociating from a church that is messing up. Instead, the first half of Daniel 9 reveals a stunning identification with a church that is in crisis. Rather than moving away and being indifferent to the church in crisis, Daniel moves toward it and identifies with it on a profound level. Daniel’s prayer portrays a vivid example of how we can respond to a faulty church.
The church was in crisis. Because of their unfaithfulness to God, the people of Israel had been taken into Babylonian captivity for almost seventy years, as predicted by Jeremiah. Daniel’s life stretched over the entire seventy years of captivity, and he knew that the time period was about to come to an end. As recorded in Daniel chapter 8, he heard a time prophecy of 2,300 years and feared that the captivity would be extended beyond the seventy years. Daniel chapter 9 is his prayer to God for his church in crisis.
The longest prayer in the book of Daniel is on behalf of his church. Daniel’s prayer was an example of how we are to respond to a church in crisis.
Daniel responded by praying for his church.
Daniel’s attitude was not “me”; it was “we.”
Daniel responded by reaffirming the necessity of heeding God’s prophets.
Daniel responded with personal self-denial––fasting.
“I prayed to the Lord my God” (Dan. 9:4). Daniel did not slander the church in private conversations or in public discourses; he interceded in prayer to God on behalf of His beloved church.
“We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws” (Dan. 9:5, emphasis supplied). Daniel identified himself with the people of God; He did not dissociate himself from the church. Though a righteous man, he identified himself with the sins of the church. He did not take the position of superiority over his people (the church), but rather came from the posture of being with his people.
“We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name” (Dan. 9:6). Daniel’s prayer brought out that the solution to the church’s plight was to go back to following the Word of the Lord as given by God’s prophets. He acknowledged that the current condition of the people of God had come as a result of rejecting His prophets.
“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3, NIV). Daniel was all in on his prayer for the church, in that he was willing to practice personal self-denial in the form of fasting. Daniel was so fully invested in his burden for his church that it affected his physical life as well as his spiritual life.
What is the point of praying for the church if God already has a vested interest in His church?
God will not infringe on our free will without our permission. This is true for ourselves but it is also true for others. Intercessory prayer for others gives God permission to move above and beyond what He would otherwise do. Our prayers are authorization for God to move. In Daniel chapter 9, you see God answered Daniel’s prayer in giving him prophetic revelation for not only his present church but also the church until the end of time.
What role does fasting play in the Christian experience?
It is important to remember that fasting gains no “points” with God. Fasting is not to impress God or to earn our acceptance with Him. Some people cannot fast for medical reasons. Nonetheless, fasting has great benefits. An important aspect to take note of in the Sermon on the Mount is that fasting is equated with giving and with prayer. Christ used the same wording when He spoke on these topics: “When you give alms” (Matt. 6:3); “And when you pray” (Matt. 6:5); “Moreover when you fast . . .” (Matt. 6:16). Notice Jesus does not say “if” you fast, but “when” you fast.
Fasting brings the physical nature into agreement with your spiritual desire by correlating the dependency on physical food with dependency on Christ. When fasting, one experiences a physical humbling that is correlated to a spiritual humbling before God. Fasting changes us, changes our attitude toward God and others.
Different types of fasting can involve the eating of simple food or no food. Ellen White states, “Now and onward till the close of time the people of God should be more earnest, more wide-awake. . . . They should set aside days for fasting and prayer. Entire abstinence from food may not be required, but they should eat sparingly of the most simple food” (Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diets and Foods, 188).
Daniel’s prayer encapsulates the spirit of Christ’s love for His embattled church. Daniel intercedes on behalf of his people even as Christ intercedes on our behalf before the Father. Daniel asks for the mercy of God on behalf of his people even as Jesus pleads mercy on our behalf. Daniel identifies himself with God’s people’s sins; Jesus becomes sin for us and identifies Himself with us.
The church is portrayed in Scripture as the bride of Christ. Though it has its faults and shortcomings, it is still the apple of God’s eye. As Ellen White states, “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts” (White, The Acts of the Apostles, 12).
Daniel exhibits the spirit of Jesus and gives us a picture of the love of Christ on behalf of His church. It is the same spirit that we, as Christians living in the end of time, are to have as the church goes through the final crisis.
“Has God no living church? He has a church, but it is the church militant, not the church triumphant. We are sorry that there are defective members. . . . While the Lord brings into the church those who are truly converted, Satan at the same time brings persons who are not converted into its fellowship. While Christ is sowing the good seed, Satan is sowing the tares. There are two opposing influences continually exerted on the members of the church. One influence is working for the purification of the church, and the other for the corrupting of the people of God. . . .
“Although there are evils existing in the church, and will be until the end of the world, the church in these last days is to be the light of the world that is polluted and demoralized by sin. . . .
“There is but one church in the world who are at the present time standing in the breach, and making up the hedge, building up the old waste places; and for any man to call the attention of the world and other churches to this church, denouncing her as Babylon, is to do a work in harmony with him who is the accuser of the brethren. . . . The whole world is filled with hatred of those who proclaim the binding claims of the law of God, and the church who are loyal to Jehovah must engage in no ordinary conflict. . . . Those who have any realization of what this warfare means, will not turn their weapons against the church militant, but with all their powers will wrestle with the people of God against the confederacy of evil.
“Those who start up to proclaim a message on their own individual responsibility, who, while claiming to be taught and led of God, still make it their special work to tear down that which God has been for years building up, are not doing the will of God. Be it known that these men are on the side of the great deceiver. Believe them not.”