The book of Daniel contains one of the most revealing truths in the Bible regarding the nature of prayer. Understanding the unseen spiritual reality that affects prayer as revealed in Daniel is essential if we want to correctly interpret the reason(s) behind unanswered prayers.
WILL GOD SAY YES OR NO TO OUR PRAYERS?
God doesn’t answer every prayer with a yes. The book of James tells us that sometimes we don’t receive from God because we ask with the wrong heart intentions, i.e., selfish ambitions, greed, and so on (James 4:2-3). We are invited to make every day life prayer requests, including our wants and desires such as obtaining the job or the house we think we want (Psalms 37:4), but the answer may end up being a no.
But on the other hand, we also find prayers that God promises to answer with a yes.
– We are instructed to pray and ask God when we are lacking wisdom (James 1:5-8). And from this passage we are promised that God will grant our request with an abundance of wisdom when we ask in faith.
– I John 5:14-15 says that, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.“
– Jesus says multiple times in the gospel of John, that if we ask, we will be given whatever we ask for (John 14:12-14, 16:23-28).
– And lastly, in the Gospel of Luke chapter 18 verses 1-8, Jesus shares a parable that encourages us to trust in God, believing that He will respond to the prayers of those who ask in faith—and that He will respond quickly!
So, there are, clearly, plenty of examples in the Bible where we are instructed to not simply hope or wish, but to expect answered prayers. From these examples we see that expecting an answer to a prayer should be the same as believing that the bedroom light will go on when we flick the switch. That is how strongly the Bible tells us to expect God’s faithfulness in answering certain prayers.
What we find in the book of Daniel is the curious story of a righteous man who set his heart to pray to God for wisdom—a prayer that the Bible puts forth as a type of request that God will always provide an answer to.
Daniel has two different experiences with prayer, and his stories bring us tremendous insights into this mysterious realm. The revelation that these stories provide can be easily overlooked, so let’s take out the magnifying glass and examine what the scripture records.
DANIEL’S FIRST PRAYER
In chapter 9, the narrative places us in a scene where Daniel is seeking God for wisdom. Daniel wants to know what will be the timeline for some of the judgements on the nation of Israel to come to pass (Daniel 9:1:3). Daniel’s invocation is found in verses 9-19. (If one reads the prayer out loud, it would take only a minute to complete.)
While Daniel is smack in the middle of his prayer, an angel interrupts and appears to him saying:
“O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.”
I underline some of the angel’s words to highlight this point—the angel says that from the beginning of Daniel’s prayer—not the end of his prayer, and not hours and hours later, not after he cried and cried and twisted God’s arm—but from the very beginning, God heard and sent the angel Gabriel to respond and provide Daniel with an answer.
The answer to Daniel’s prayer came immediately.
There was no wait-time in getting God to hear the request or to respond. Daniel did not fast, pray hard and long, say a lot of spiritual words, or lie in sackcloth and ashes in order to motivate God to answer. God’s answer came right away, because Daniel humbled himself before God, and God always hears those who humble themselves before him (James 4:6).
Now let’s look at the contrast found in very next chapter in Daniel 10.
DANIEL’S SECOND PRAYER
In the very next chapter, Daniel is found to be seeking God in prayer once again (10:1-3). But this time something is different. Daniel prays, but the minutes, hours, days, and weeks go by with no answer. It appears as though God has not yet answered Daniel’s prayer, or at least isn’t responding to it.
However, at the end of three weeks of prayer Daniel is once again visited by an angel.
What this angel reveals is absolutely profound, and the fallout from his words will force us to reevaluate many of the common assumptions we have about unanswered prayers. The angel reveals one of the foundational keys to understanding how the kingdom of God operates in regard to prayer:
“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.” —Daniel 10:12.
The scripture records that both in this prayer, and the prayer from chapter 9, God responded to each prayer request immediately. Here in chapter 10, just as in chapter 9, the angel says that God heard the prayers and His answer went out right away.
But what is different with this second prayer is that it took over three weeks for God’s answer to arrive to Daniel. God gave the answer right away and dispatched an angel to deliver it, but it took three weeks before the message was received: mind-blowing!
How could this be? Why wouldn’t God’s answer come to Daniel right away, especially since both passages say that God heard and responded to the prayers instantly? Isn’t God sovereign over all creation? Isn’t true that God can do whatever He wants to do whenever He wants to do it? Shouldn’t He have been able to get His response to Danial instantaneously if He wanted to? Maybe God had a good reason for the delay. Maybe God had a greater heavenly purpose behind the wait.
Yet what we will see is that the story of Daniel’s second prayer leads us to no other conclusion that yes, God answered the prayer, but there was something in the way that prevented and limited God’s immediate answer to the prayer. The answer to what hindered God’s response is revealed in what the angel says next:
“Do not be afraid, Daniel,” he said, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision concerns those days.” — Daniel 10:12-14
Are we to believe that physical kings, or the human prince of Persia was fighting this angel? Were earthly rulers restraining an angelic being? Of course not. But what this angel was referring to were spiritual forces of opposition.
The hindrances the angels fell victim to were anti-God, demonic, spiritual agents that were in high places of spiritual rulership over particular geographic areas of the earth. They were somehow hindering this angel from responding to Daniel. The angel’s explication wasn’t because God wanted it to go down this way all along, but that the delay was due to an attack from Satan’s kingdom of darkness.
The scripture is clear: God heard Daniel’s prayer both times and both times God responded immediately. But on Daniel’s second attempt there were spiritual forces of wickedness that delayed the answered prayer.
Take a minute and think about that.
GOD IS NOT DIVIDED
We know from Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 12:22-32 that God’s kingdom is not divided—arguably the greatest of teaching on the problem of evil in the entire Bible. Jesus taught that God does not employ evil or demonic agents to carry out heavenly tasks. God does not put demons in the way of angels only to sit back and watch them fight it out for His entertainment. God is against Satan and every evil work on earth. He opposes every instance of evil and does not endorse it in any way imaginable. And what these two chapters from the book of Daniel force us to conclude is that the delayed answer that Daniel experienced with his second prayer was not God-ordained. The delay was not God’s will. It did not happen for a higher, heavenly purpose. The delay was a result from the long-running, ugly, cosmic battle that God has had with the devil since the devil and his angels rebelled against Him at the beginning of creation—a battle that was created when these demonic entities started using their God-given, non-revocable gift of free agency to purse their own evil agendas.
Yes, God is sovereign and first-in-rank over all creation. He is all-powerful. He is absolutely almighty.
Yet in what could be the most defining aspect of the world we find ourselves created within, God has decided to create beings who would have the ability to say no to Him. He doesn’t force or determine their choices. Nor does He will them. And in that kind of reality, God’s plan requires Him to create a space for the choices of free agents to be born out—including the free choices of Satan and demons.
Free choice is real, and God created a world in which the consequences of our own rebellion can become a reality even though they are apart from His will. But by the same measure, God has also created a world in which free choice toward Him can produce a world flowing and outpouring with an abundance of His other-oriented love. The risk of love and evil is then proportionate to the depths of how evil a thing can be is met by the same proportionality of how beautiful a thing can be.
But choosing God’s love must not be coerced, otherwise it would not truly be free will. Therefore, until the time of Christ’s second coming, these rogue spiritual agents, and the natural consequences of our own collective free choices, will continue to be able to interfere with God’s ability to bring the goodness of His kingdom to pass at the speed at which we and the world might want it. We will need to continue to fervently press into the promises of God while simultaneously knowing that there are spiritual forces out there that maybe be pressed up against us who are fighting to interfere with the kingdom of God.
For some types of prayer, then, we must understand that we cannot interpret God’s silence as meaning that God is choosing to not respond or hasn’t answered our prayer, but that there are real players in the universe that can genuinely effect God’s will from coming to pass. God might very well be 100% behind you request, but the answer may not arrive due to demonic activity, and perhaps there are even other variables that hinder our answers from God that we don’t know about. The book of Daniel only reveals this one aspect regarding unanswered prayers.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR US
The foundational key from chapters 9 and 10 in the book of Daniel, and a key that I think is worthy enough to listed as “#1” in my foundational key series, is this: if we are humbly asking God for things that are in accordance with His will, then we need to believe that God is fully behind us and has answered our prayers—even from the very moment we ask them. If we do not receive the answer or desired results right away, we can be sure that the problem is not with God. The problem could be something with ourselves, it could be a demonic or a spiritual hinderance, or something else we don’t know even about occurring within the heavenly realm. But the one thing we can be sure of is that God is not to blame. Our job is to trust in God’s faithfulness, stay braided and fastened with Him, and listen to His Holy Spirit as we actively seek out His will on earth. God answers prayers that are according to His will faithfully, every time. However, God is not the only player in the universe that determines how and when His answers come into manifestation. The free will and unfettered agency of moral agents plays a part.
When we ask God for wisdom, believe that God has heard your prayer and do not doubt His faithfulness (James 1:5-8). If you are sick, pray, and call those who are strong in faith to pray with you and believe to be fully restored to health (James 5:14-15). Believe that God has answered your prayer from the moment you set your heart toward Him (Mark 11:23-24). If you are working toward overcoming a particular sin or temptation in your life, then pray and know that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13-15) and that He is working along with all the angels in heaven to bring about your freedom. When we pray for justice, we can be sure that God is fully behind us. Stay steadfast like Daniel did for those twenty-four days. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Do not let your heart be troubled as you wait.
On a personal note, I have things I have been believing God to bring about in my own life for years, even decades. And just as any human being does, I too have my share of discouraging times. But the story’s of Daniel’s prayers, along with the testimony of God witnessed in the incarnate Christ, compels me to press on and continue to believe in God’s faithfulness. My prayers have been answered, and I am resting in the knowledge of God’s goodness and Jesus’s finished work on the cross—and I am ready to fight against any notion that would try to convince me to the contrary of what the Bible reveals as the truths behind prayer. And it is certainly gonna take more than anything the gates of hell can throw at me to throw me off the course of the goodness of God.
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!