Give God Your Attention (Daniel 9)
Confession time: I think I got a speeding ticket on Thursday. I’m in that horrible waiting time when I expect to get a photo of myself in the mail sometime in a few weeks, but I can’t be certain. It was an innocent mistake, as yours was I’m sure, I was paying attention to everything: the road, other cars, the turn, the hill, the weather, the steering wheel, the radio, my own thoughts, but I wasn’t paying attention to my speed. I glanced down and noticed I was a few kms over, I tapped the brakes, but as I looked up again I saw the speed camera was already there with me in its sights. If only my attention was on my speed.
It’s hard to keep our attention on everything, all the time. The same can happen with people in our lives. We get busy, or someone else occupies our time, and before we know it we haven’t given real attention to a struggling friend, to one of our kids, to our spouse.
And I think some of you know what I’m about to say next, it’s easy to forget about God in the midst of our lives. It’s easy to neglect that relationship. It’s easy to find our attention is everywhere else, and our attention isn’t turned to God.
Daniel had his attention not only on his job and the things around him but more importantly on God.
God wants us to turn our attention to him.
We know so far that Daniel was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar, in his early teens and taken to Babylon in exile. During his life he has won the trust of the king and rose to great favour and was put in a high position in the kingdom. We see him loyal to God, a faithful man who was steadfast throughout his entire life, he didn’t waver in his trust for God even when he faced death. We see Daniel turning to prayer over and over again and it was something he did right from a very early age.
We are coming towards the end of his life when he was probably about 80 years old and had been living in Babylon for a long time. Daniel chapter 9. It says in the first few verses the Daniel was reading the prophecy of Jeremiah and was moved to prayer.
He knew that the Israelites were going to be in captivity for 70 years and we see Daniel turn to God in prayer and repent for the sins of Israel on behalf of all the people. The prayer of Daniel 9 is about 67-68 years into their captivity. So there’s only a couple of years to go until their time in exile is up.
Daniel knew the reason for the 70 year Babylonian captivity was because of Israel’s sin and rebellion against God. The disobeyed God and turned to false idols and they were taken into captivity so that Israel would understand their need for God and repent.
All of this is going on in his head. His very busy life and job. The big picture burden of being a captive, in exile. His heart for his people and his homeland. And still Daniel turns his attention to God.
Daniel prays to God and this prayer gives us an insight into his prayer life: how he prayed and what he prayed and we can learn from it and be encouraged in the way to turn our own attention to God.
Daniel 9: 1-2
“It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians. During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.”
We can break down Daniels prayer into two parts. We see him come before God in confession of sins and acknowledging both guild and sin. Through the disobedience of the land and disobedience of the prophets.
His heart in this prayer is amazing. If you look at the passage Daniel owns the sins of the people even though he has followed God his whole life and has not worshipped idols or betrayed God. He owns the sins of the nation and doesn’t make excuses for them but comes before God with a repentant heart.
…We (not the nation Daniel is including himself here) have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. (Daniel 9:5, 6)
The second part of the prayer v15-19 we see a plea of mercy. He makes his plea based on the righteousness of God and not Israel’s. He knows that God is a forgiving God. He knows that God is a just God and a loving God and pleas to God because of his character.
19 “O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name.”
He comes to God with a repentant heart, putting aside everything and appealing to the nature of God. He wants to see the nation freed to worship God and only God and for Gods name to be proclaimed great among the nations.
I want to focus this morning on verse 3. As i was preparing this message this verse really stood out.
3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.
Daniel turned to the Lord and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting.
What does it mean to turn to the Lord?
For Daniel here is was a physical act of actually positioning himself where he was facing Jerusalem because in the Old Testament the temple was the dwelling place of God and he wanted to physically turn his attention and remove distractions to turn the the Lord.
But it wasn’t only a physical act. For Daniel turning to God was much more. It was inwardly turning around and forsaking everything that was himself and coming to God in repentance and seeking Him with all his heart. Taking away the distractions of the world to focus on God.
If you read through the whole prayer, you can see that Daniel prayed from his heart. God doesn’t need lots of words, he just wants us to pray what we are thinking and feeling.
He gave God his attention
Prayer it not about getting Gods attention – its about giving God our attention
God doesn’t need our attention. He is God.
But he wants our attention, he created you to have a relationship with you. He wants to share his joy, his peace and his comfort with you. He wants to show you how much he loves you.
He can’t do that if we don’t give our attention to Him. We know that any relationship whether its husband wife, parent – child, friend – friend will eventually fall apart if we don’t spend time together just talking and sometimes not even talking but being in each others presence.
How is it any different from our relationship with God?
Its easy to read these passages in the old testament and find it difficult to relate it to our culture today. You might be thinking that for Daniel to turn to the Lord and give God his full attention is much easier in an ancient culture that it is today and you might be right.
But we do know that where he was living was a very ungodly place and an ungodly generation of people that worshipped idols. Babylon was actually probably a very beautiful place. If you look up the seven wonders of the ancient world you’ll find that was a garden in Babylon called the hanging gardens which was majestic and beautiful. It was a city of great size and was know in its splendour in the ancient world. This place was quite a beautiful place to live a place of wealth and a very easy place to compromise. A place to get easily distracted by beauty wealth, idols and a ease of living.
We live in a beautiful part of the world, we have the reef we have rainforest. I would pretty much say we can make similarities to Australia today. We are a wealthy country a beautiful country and we live in an ungodly generation. It would be very easy to be swept up in the culture around us and to compromise to be distracted by those things around us.
Think back over the last few weeks…Maybe you’re at school and the teachers are really pressuring you with NAPLAN preparation, on top of that you have 6 assignments that are due and homework deadlines. You’d love to have time to have distractions like Instagram and Facebook, like hanging out with your friends but school is never ending and the work keeps piling up and the pressure is on because you need good grades to get into that uni course. How on earth do you find time in all of that to turn your attention to God amongst all of that. To take time out and focus wholly and solely on him?
Or maybe it was at home with the kids. Its just been one of those days where the housework feels like it is all consuming and the kids are doing a really good job of making extra work for you and on top of that you are on the defence all day because there you are outnumbered and it feels like they are out to break you. You are distracted and how can you possible think about coming before God in prayer.
There was a crisis at the office and all day you worked to solve it, your whole focus was on the problem at hand and pretty much everything else was forgotten. There are deadlines to meet and if not your job could be on the line. How can you set aside time during days like these where it literally feels like there is no space to even think about having lunch. I know we have all had days at the office, at home, at school or where ever you are that are consuming.
Daniel had a very high office in Babylon, in chapter 2 it says that Daniel was made ruler of the entire province of Babylon and place in charge of all the wise men. This is like 2IC, he was running the province. Anybody in a position like this knows how time consuming and demanding the Job is and the weight of responsibility that he carried.
I can imagine people coming to him all day demanding his attention and then more importantly every decision he made he was answerable to the king. He had all the reason in the world not to take time out and turn his attention to God and yet he did it anyway. He could have worked ridiculous hours and given his whole devotion to the king, but he chose not to. In his busyness he chose to take time out and pray. To seek God and build his relationship. He faced deadlines like we do today and his his job for the king could have been communing but I really do believe that it is a choice to turn our hearts to God.
It is a choice to take that lunch break at work despite the deadlines to go for a walk and pray and spend time with God
It is a choice when you are home with the kids to even lock yourself in the toilet for 5 minutes to have a chance to turn your heart to God and give him your attention.
It is a choice to get up 30 minutes earlier and spend time with God, so you don’t have the distractions of the day.
Its very convicting writing a sermon like this. So much of what I am saying God wants to work on in my life.
How do we give God our attention?
give your attention to God in the car
give your attention to God in the shower
give your attention to God as you are sitting down with your coffee
give your attention to God as you are going for your morning run
give your attention to God as you are watching your kids play at the park
give your attention to God as you are cooking dinner
Daniels prayer just didn’t happen – he planned for it
Real prayer, is in fact, as vital to the believer as breathing is. Daniel took his prayer life seriously, and he planned before he prayed.
Daniel turned his attention to God. On purpose. Every day in prayer
Daniel knew that prayer was powerful and important – relationship through prayer gave him strength and God answered his big prayers and his little prayers.
Prayer is a discipline and sometimes it is really hard to be motivated and we’ve all heard sermons telling us we don’t really have an excuse. Time is not an excuse because we all can make time to do the things we love. We know this stuff and sometimes its can make us feel really guilty that we aren’t prioritising our time. It is hard sometimes. All relationships are hard sometimes.
We put in the time and energy with our spouses, with our family with our friends when we really don’t feel like it because we know for the sake of our relationship we need to. Its healthy even in those moments when it really does feel like hard work. But its not always like that. Its easy to focus on the negative times but what about all the great times when our relationships are really rewarding.
What about the times when you sit back for a second and want to take in the moment because you feel so at peace with where you are at. You’ve had a really awesome day with your family, one to treasure and remember. You’ve had a dinner with your friends where you have laughed non-stop and your soul feels energised.
Those times with your kids when you think. Wow! this moment is the reason I love putting in the time and effort and investing in their lives because you are watching them thrive.
These moments most likely happen more than we recognise.
I believe thats the same with our relationship and our prayer life with God.
Sometimes it does feel like it really is a discipline to take the time out with God. But what about those moments when you are praying and you feel God’s presence. You hear him speak. You are sitting in a prayerful moment with God maybe not even speaking but you are with him.
Relationships and especially our relationship with God always has these moments and we need to recognise and remember. Even record in a journal the highs, so when we do enter those moments of struggle of not wanting to pray, of not prioritising prayer we can go back and remember our encounters with God.
Our prayer life isn’t meant to be a one sided conversation. We do not worship a mute God, a God who is incapable of interacting with us, communicating with us. We worship a God who speaks, who brings life and wants to share his secrets with you. He wants to love you. He wants to talk to you and he wants to answer you.
We see throughout Daniels life in the book of Daniel that God answered Daniel is so many different ways. His little prayers and his big prayers.
He answered him through dreams
He answered him through his friends
He answered him through the word of God
He answered him through an angelic messenger
That is the same with us. God will talk to us, he will answer us. We need to take the time to be in a place where we allow God to do that in our lives. We live in the New Covenant times and we know that God gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us to speak to us and instruct us. And that is a very rewarding side of our relationship with God. God can speak to us in so many different ways, its exciting and amazing when you think the creator. The one and only God wants to speak to me.
Are you open to having the kind of relationship where the conversation with God is not just one way. You have God’s attention, does he have yours? Its not about feeling guilty because you struggle to pray its about wanting to have a rewarding relationship with your creator. The God who knows you intimately, deeply and is waiting patiently for you to seek him to turn your heart to God.
We don’t have to come to God with lots of words. God has each given us personalities and love languages and ways we communicate best. Talk to God in your unique style. Don’t try to copy others. I know for me that when I pray I don’t use lots of words. I think about when I was studying my bachelor. I always struggled to meet the world limit that was required. I don’t use a lot of words and thats how I pray to God. I don’t need lots of words to communicate what I’m thinking. But some people do.
My prayers are more smaller sentences, they’re not wordy and long. But thats how I communicate to the people around me. If i try to pray with more words its hard work and feel like i’m not being genuine with God and that’s how God has wired me
You may love to pray with lots of words and thats awesome because thats how God has wired you and created you, but if you don’t don’t feel like your failing. Its not about that. Pray to God in the way he created you, just be you!
Let God be God as you are you! In those times simply enjoy him in prayer.
And Daniel prayed with a posture of humility and repentance.
He understood that in turning to God it meant getting rid of all distractions but repenting of things that come between our relationship with God.
We see him here fasting and wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes. Someone wanting to show his repentant heart would often wear sackcloth, sit in ashes, and put ashes on top of his head. The thing I love about Daniel is that no one was watching. He didn’t have an audience so doing these things wasn’t a show for anyone. It was a genuine act of coming before God and repenting of his sins and the sins of the nation.
I think its human nature to not have an attitude of repentance. I remember as a child getting my older sister and my younger brother into trouble, and apparently I would do this all the time but be so sneaky about it that I would make it look like I was the innocent party, I didn’t ever want to say sorry and I didn’t repent because as a child I thought it was great fun to get them in trouble and I really wasn’t sorry.
Sometimes we can be like that before God. Its easy to shift the blame and not take ownership and come to God and repent, to say sorry. We do stuff all the time that damages our relationship with Him. All God wants us to do is take ownership and say sorry, He has already made it possible to forgive us! And even more, if you have already trusted Jesus he has literally already forgiven you! But he still wants you to take ownership and say sorry. because when we do that we Get rid of all the distractions that are in the way of our relationship and its just us standing before God.
We can all understand that in the sense of our relationship around us. If I never say sorry to Geoff, if I’ve upset him or done something to hurt him, there is an invisible barrier in our relationship. It might look like to people around us that we’re going great but I know and he knows that there is an invisible wall between us and we can’t have a great relationship until that wall is gone.
Have a posture of humility and repentance like Daniel, and your relationship with God will explode. Get rid of anything in your life that is cause an invisible barrier between you and God come to God and just let it be you and him.
Daniel had a specific role to play in interceding on behalf of the nation. When we intercede we stand in the gap for others. You can’t save them. But you can spiritually stand with them.
Turn to God and get rid of other things that steal attention away from him.
Ask God to give you a passion to turn to him
As God to help you get rid of distractions
Set your face to the Lord God, let Daniel be an example in your life. His story is in the Bible to learn from not to put him on a pedestal or to think we can’t reach that same level of relationship that he had with God. His story is in the Bible to encourage us in our walk with God. To help us turn to God.