Daniel 9:8-9, 18 (ESV)
 To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.  To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him
 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.
When believers, who are well versed in their Bibles, think of Daniel 9 they often think of the last paragraph that contains a prophecy of the restoration of Jerusalem and of the Abomination of Desolation that Matthew 24 makes reference to. It is a passage that dispensationalists hold as important in understanding End Times prophecy. But, there is so much more to this chapter.
Daniel’s prayer is especially revealing. First, Daniel prays for the restoration of Jerusalem because he found in the writings of Jeremiah that there was to be 70 years between the destruction of the city and its rebuilding. Daniel’s prayer was based on God’s revelation. Our prayers too ought to be based on God’s Word, not our wish and our will.
Second, Daniel’s request is not based on what he thinks God’s people deserve, but on the mercy of God. Too often we approach prayer as though it were a bargain with God. “God, I’ve been good. Please grant me this wish.” It sounds a lot like a child on Santa’s lap. “Have you been a good little boy or girl? What do you want for Christmas?” But Daniel understands that a petition grounded in our goodness is pointless. Rather, he honestly acknowledges the sin of God’s people, and then asks for restoration based on the mercy of God. “For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy” (Dan 9:18).
Evangelicals would give their lives for the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, not of works (see Eph 2:8-9). Yet when it comes to living out their faith, and especially when it comes to their prayer life, they tend towards a works based belief system. We so easily slip into the theology of Job’s comforters. We begin to believe that bad things happen because we are bad. Prayers are not answered because we do not have enough faith, or because we have not been good enough. But prayers are never answered because we are good enough. Prayers are answered because we served a gracious and merciful God. And how much faith equals that of a mustard seed? Surely not much. We deserve nothing, yet God has granted us more blessings then we can count.
Johnson Oatman Jr. published a song in 1897 that comes to mind: Count Your Blessings. Our blessings are more than we can count even in the darkest hours. When we live in a theology of works, we fail to see and acknowledge the great blessings of God’s mercy and grace. When we believe that God hears us because we are good, or because we have enough faith, our eyes are constantly on us. We are looking to see if we are good enough. We are trying to muster up enough faith. But the mature believer knows that our eyes are to be fixed not on us, but on our Savior. It is his mercy that grants us innumerable blessings. It is his grace that accepts us and invites us into his throne room. And it is his peace that surrounds us not because of who we are, but because of who he is.
“We do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy” (Dan 9:18). So, let us be honest about our weakness, our brokenness, and our sin, and let us turn our eyes to Jesus, “The founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). I love the lyrics of the old Irish hymn written somewhere around 14 centuries ago:
Be Thou my Vision
O Lord of my heart
Nought be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy presence my light
It is not about us. It is about Him.