Two days ago, I was meeting with a couple of friends of mine to study the book of Daniel. We’re taking our time and going through the book chapter by chapter, and we had gotten up to chapter 10.
One of the things we noticed is that Daniel was fasting and mourning for “three full weeks” (Dan 10:2). Daniel, who was by now a very mature saint, over eighty years old, had been foregoing any pleasant food or personal care for twenty-one days. Despite being a well-respected ruler, and having access to any amount of pleasure he liked, he mourned for twenty-one days. While the text doesn’t explicitly say what he was mourning for, he was most likely distressed over the current condition of his people.
For three solid weeks, this eighty-something year old man gave himself to fasting, prayer, and mourning. The kicker is that during those three solid weeks, he had no answer from heaven. Nothing. Zip. Later in the chapter, the story comes out that the messenger angel had been spending the whole time hacking his way through the principality over Persia. From the moment Daniel began praying, an answer had been sent forth — but it took three weeks of spiritual warfare to get the message through.
I don’t know how that all works, but I can imagine being in Daniel’s shoes for those three weeks. The last time he gave himself in a uniquely focused way to praying for Israel, he received an angelic visitation and a profound revelation of things to come (chapter 9). This time, there was nothing. No word from heaven. As far as we know, there was not even a warm fuzzy feeling. Day after day passed. He probably craved some good food and a nice long bath. He had no way of knowing that an angel was fighting at that very moment to get through to him. He did not know that the angelic activity which was set off because of his prayer would shift the course of history, ultimately bringing down Persia and making the way for the rise of Greece. All he knew was that he was mourning, and heaven was silent.
What would have happened if Daniel had quit at day twelve? Seventeen? What if he said, “You know, Lord, I’ve been at this for twenty days now. I’m hungry. I smell funny. This sackcloth is making me itchy. I’ve prayed everything I can think of ten times through, and You still don’t seem to be interested in answering me. Tell You what; if You ever decide to say something, You’ll know where to find me.”
We don’t know what would have happened. Would the angel have still showed up? Would this prophecy (Dan 10-12) ever have been released? We can only take a guess, and it’s not particuarlly fruitful to draw too many speculations. But the point is that those twenty-one days of silence were not so silent after all.
This causes me to examine my own prayer life a little bit. For instance, here at the IHOP-KC NightWatch, we’ve been asking God in a really focused way to release healing in our midst. It’s been a little over a week now. We’ve seen some partial healings, and we’ve had an obvious sense of the presence of the Lord showing up a couple of times, but we haven’t seen the wholesale inbreaking that we’re asking for. There are several individuals in particular that I really want to see healed, who seem to be about where they were when we started praying a week ago.
I can tell that my own heart is very prone to growing weary in this struggle. And I know from looking around me that I’m not the only one. But we will do well to learn from the example of Daniel and to keep pressing onward, even when the heavens are seemingly sealed shut.
The lesson we walk away with is not that we have to pray really super hard in order to drag the thing into existence. When (not if) God releases healing in this city, it is not going to be a matter of our great faith, but of His great mercy. None of what we are doing will buy or earn us a thing. God will never be obligated to us. But He does ask us to ask. He, in His desire for partnership with human beings, hinges quite a bit on the prayers of His people. “If my people… humble themselves and pray” (2 Chr 7:14). “Ask the Lord” (Zech 10:1). “Ask… seek… knock” (Matt 7:7).
So far so good. But what about all those things that we’ve asked for and have not yet seen? What about things that are clearly in the will of God — things like healing, salvation of lost friends, revival, etc.? What happens — well, when nothing happens?
The question would then be, is nothing really happening? We don’t know. Who knows what angels moved when you lifted your voice tonight and asked God for a breakthrough in your own life? Who knows what was set in motion when you asked for revival in your city? Who knows what softened in your friend’s heart when you asked again for their salvation?
Of course, this is not a dial-a-prayer guarantee. There are no set time frames and no set formulas for getting the answer you want from God, because He didn’t make us all with a cookie cutter and so does not deal identically with every one of our hearts. I know that many people have been praying and waiting for a lot longer than Daniel’s twenty-one days. But I also know that after only eight days, my own heart is getting weary and bored and wanting to move on to something that doesn’t cause me pain over my own barrenness. Thus, it’s time to take a hint from Daniel, who was one of the most faithful intercessors ever to live. It’s worth sticking to it. It’s worth pressing through the silence. Because even when those prayers haven’t had their desired result, it is never the case that “nothing happened.”
So keep on praying, peoples. It’s worth it. God hears. He is good. And His heart is always moved. Who is to say what creative way He has of getting through to your heart as you come before Him day after day?
I say it again: it’s worth it. Keep it up!