I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:2-3 ESV)
Daniel had been an exile in Babylon for nearly seventy years. Jerusalem sat in ruins, long ago laid waste as God’s punishment upon His unfaithful people. Daniel had come to Babylon as a young man, served with great distinction under Nebuchadnezzar, and witnessed the succession of kings in Babylon. Now in his eighties, Daniel saw the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians. But Daniel did not forget God’s plan for his homeland.
Daniel had in his possession a copy of the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah recorded the Lord’s promise that, after seventy years, Babylon would be punished and the exile would end (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). Daniel recently witnessed Babylon’s punishment; surely the return to Jerusalem would soon follow.
So what did Daniel do as he observed the Lord’s prophecy nearing fulfillment? He prayed. “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy” (Dan. 9:3). The prayer that follows in Daniel 9 is marked by Daniel’s earnestness in offering confession for sin, in acknowledging God’s righteous works and character, and in asking God to act for His glory. Daniel’s prayer concludes with this:
O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. (Daniel 9:19 ESV)
We know how soon this prayer was answered and prophecy was fulfilled when, in his first year, Cyrus decreed that the Jews return to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:3).
This brings us to our question: Does prayer matter? Does it matter if we pray for that which God has purposed to do according to His will? Daniel thought so. He prayed earnestly, as if his prayer mattered. Even though he knew from Scripture that God’s plan was in the process of coming to pass, he did not wait idly, but he poured out his heart to God, asking Him to act. It appears that Daniel was actually spurred to fervent prayer because he knew the Lord’s will would soon be accomplished.
And so it should be for us. Like Daniel, we believe in a sovereign God who will accomplish all his purposes, and that many of His purposes are drawing near to their fulfillment. Like Daniel, we should respond with earnest prayer. For even though we know that the Lord’s will is certain, Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt. 6:10).
Our prayers do matter. God has ordained our prayers as a means to accomplish His ends. So much so that, as John Whitcomb notes, “It may be safely asserted that nothing of significance happens in God’s program on earth apart from the persistent and believing prayers of His redeemed ones” (Daniel, p. 122).
The outworking of God’s providence incorporates the prayers of His people. Ask Elijah, who prayed and no rain fell for 3 1/2 years and then prayed again and the rain fell (James 5:17-18). Just as God had planned.
Do not let the knowledge of God’s sovereign purposes discourage you from prayer. Rather, let it encourage you, like Daniel, to pray all the more earnestly for the Lord’s will to be done. For you know the Lord will hear and act and answer. And you will see the reality of this truth: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).