There is an interesting story about prayer and spiritual warfare in Daniel 10. This story was the inspiration behind the Renaissance artist, Raphael’s, painting titled, “St. Michael Vanquishing Satan,” in 1518 (pictured left). The painting is housed in the famed Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Allow me to summarize the story from Daniel 10.
Around 547 BC, Daniel (85 years old at the time) had a vision about a “great war” (v. 1) in Babylon (Persia). This dream greatly troubled Daniel. For three weeks, he mourned. For three weeks, Daniel neither ate nor bathed. His emotional turmoil over what he had seen made him physically sick. For nearly a month, Daniel prayed for an explanation about his vision. But no answer came. Daniel was perplexed. He was a prophet of God. He had received many visions. He had prayed many prayers. He had seen God do supernatural miracles. But this time, for some unknown reason, God seemed to not hear his prayers.
One day, while standing by the Tigris River, Daniel looked up and saw a man. He describes the man like this: He was “dressed in linen, with a belt of finest gold around his waist. He body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (vv. 5-6). The men with David ran for cover, leaving him alone.
David fainted (v. 9).
The man, an angel, helped David to his feet and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Them Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (vv. 12-14).
Daniel was speechless. Finally, he was able to mutter, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless” (v. 16). The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed…Peace! Be strong now; be strong” (v. 18).
While it is not safe to take what happened to Daniel and make it a norm for unanswered prayers in our life, I do think it is safe to say there are times when our prayers are delayed, not because of anything we have done, or because of a lack of faith on our part, but because of a battle going on in the spiritual realm. A battle we cannot see, nor comprehend. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Three Keys to Answered Prayer
Have you ever felt as if your prayers are going unheard? Have you ever felt as if your prayers never rise about the ceiling? Have you ever felt as if God is ignoring your prayers? Daniel’s story insures us that God instantly hears our prayers, but there are reasons why answers are delayed. In this life we may never know all the reasons.
In Luke 18:1-17, Jesus uses three parables to teach His disciples the importance of prayer. In these three parables, we find three keys to answered prayers. By “keys,” I do not mean a “formula” you can use to manipulate God to answer your prayers. God cannot be manipulated by our prayers. He is sovereign over all. These keys are meant, not as a guarantee, but as an assurance that God hears our prayers and will answer according to His will.
The first parable is about a widow who doesn’t know when to quit. Luke says that Jesus told his disciples this parable “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). The parable goes like this: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought” (Luke 18:2). There are two motivations for showing mercy: (1) Fear of God. (2) Respect for human dignity. When a person in power does not believe in those two fundamentals, justice will not be done. Right away we are told that this judge was a crooked judge and possessed neither of those two motivations.
Jesus continues, “And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary’” (Luke 18:3). Apparently, this widow was all alone. There were no male members of her family to help her. In that day women did not have equal standing in the court of law as men. Thus, the cards were stacked against her. The odds of her receiving justice were slim. But the widow did not give up. She kept petitioning the judge for justice. “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” (Luke 18:2-5) This was a case of “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Through persistence, the woman received what justice.
Here is the application: “And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:6-8).
The first key to answered prayer is persistence. Far too often we pray a prayer one time, and then we forget about it. But prayer is spiritual warfare. Prayer is hard work. Prayer is an everyday commitment. Don’t pray and walk way. Pray until something happens. Yes, God could answer our prayers right away. Yes, God could answer our prayers after the first time. But there is something about praying over and over again for the same thing that purifies our hearts and increases our faith. There is something about continual prayer that is more powerful than a single prayer. It is perfectly acceptable to pester God with your prayers.
The second parable is a contrast between a religious person’s prayer and a righteous person’s prayer. Luke says, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector’” (Luke 18:9-10). Don’t miss the contrast! It’s another radical reversal. The “Pharisee” was a well-respected, religious leader in the community. He is the one who should know how to pray. He is the one people would ask to pray for them. The “tax collector,” on the other hand, was pond scum. The implication is that the tax collector was a Jewish person, like the Pharisee, and a Jewish tax collector was considered a traitor and was not allowed inside the temple. More than likely, the Pharisee walked through the main door of the temple with great fanfare. The tax collector, on the other hand, snuck in through the back door. The contrast between these two gentlemen could not have been more extreme. And their prayers could not have been more different!
Jesus continues, “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector (the worst in the entire list). I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12). The Pharisee was full of arrogance and pride. He was not thankful for what God had done for Him. Rather, he was thankful for not being as bad as everyone else. We all, if we are not careful, have a tendency to think we our sins are not as bad as someone else’s sin. All of us prefer confessing other people’s sins instead of our own. Instead of offering up a prayer, the Pharisee was offering up his resume. God should be happy to have the Pharisee on His side.
On the other hand, “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:13). Standing far away from the altar, looking down, and beating his breast, are all signs of sorrow and repentance. The tax collector knew he was not worthy to receive anything from God. In humility, he simply asked for forgiveness.
The second key to answered prayer is humility, and a major part of humility is repentance. God doesn’t hear our prayers because we are good. He hears our prayers because He is good. God doesn’t owe us anything. If He chose to never answer our prayers He would still be God and worthy of our praise. But He does hear our prayers, and He is always ready to grant us mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Jesus says, “I tell you this man (the tax-collector), rather than the other, (the Pharisee), went home justified before God” (Luke 18:14a). And now the punchline. Another radical reversal. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14b). You can either humble yourself, or be humbled by God. My counsel is to humble yourself.
The third parable is a parable shown, instead of a parable spoken. It was not a story, but an example. Luke continues, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hither them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:15-17).
Remember, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. As He gets closer to the city, He encounters more and more people. Now, people with children, are crowding Him, wanting Him to bless their children. The disciples try to stop people and their kids. Jesus rebukes them and says to bring the children to Him. There is something pure and authentic about the faith of a child. A child’s faith is a simple faith. Thus, the third key to answered prayer is simplicity.
We over-complicate things. We want to figure everything out. We want to have an answer for everything. But Jesus says the faith He looks for is the faith of a child. It’s not a blind faith. But it is a simple faith. When we pray, we need to pray with simplicity, believing our heavenly Father wants what is best for us and will do what is best for us. When you pray, don’t pray like a preacher. Instead, pray like a preschooler. Don’t pray like a theologian. Pray like a toddler. Don’t pray like a scholar. Pray like a school-child.
Every summer a team from our church travels to Honduras for a week of ministry. One of the things we do is pour concrete floors in people’s homes. The homes are small, wooden shacks. The poorest of the poor still live and sleep on dirt floors. On one of our first trips to Honduras we poured a concrete floor for a lady in her 90s. She had lived on dirt floors her entire life. To this day I still remember her because of her uncontrollable joy at the site of her new floor. She told our team that every day, for 60 years, she had been praying for a concrete floor and she was confident that God would one day answer her prayer. She testified to the faithfulness of God.
As I reflected on this passage over this past week, I kept thinking of this elderly lady. Her prayer had all three keys. She was persistent. Every day for 60 years she prayed for a floor. I would have quit after day two. She prayed with humility. She wanted the floor, not for her, but for her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her prayer was simple. Just a concrete floor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Jesus asked if He would ever find faith on earth (see Luke 18:8). Well, such a faith exists in a small hut in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Do you have such faith?
Have you been praying about something for a long, long time?
Does God seem far away?
Have you given up on prayer?
Don’t give up!
Do use the right keys to unlock your answer.
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16, New Living Translation).
 Parenthesis added for emphasis and explanation.