Confessional Prayer

Read Daniel 9

I am privileged to serve the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. Situated in an established Richmond neighborhood, the church has been involved in a process called “Pursuing Missional Faithfulness.” The aim of the process is that we ponder our current setting and discern God’s will for out future course of ministry.

The opportunities are numerous – so much so that we often find ourselves asking not: “What should be do?” but rather: “What should we do first?

The scripture from Daniel 9 offers an answer – though not an easy answer. It teaches us that prior to any act of mission, ministry, programming or planning, there must first be a time of confession. There must be an understanding of God’s goodness, an admission of our weakness and need, and a realization that without God, we can do nothing.

The Sins of the People and the Righteousness of God (Daniel 9:3-14)

Daniel’s prayer began with the acknowledgment that God was “great” and “awesome.” Let’s not rush past this point without acknowledging that this is more than simple pleasantries in prayer. Daniel recognized that the God he worshipped was a truly incredible God. This is a God without limits. This is a God never held back by the things that so easily beset us.

Now this is incredible to realize. What makes it even more “awesome” is that this God is intimately involved in the lives of human beings. This “great” and “awesome” God is passionately in love with His creation.

This love, Daniel points out next, is revealed through loyalty to the covenant. This love is so great that it continues despite the fact that Daniel and his compatriots had “sinned and done wrong,” acting wicked and rebellious. They had not obeyed God’s commandments or heeded the warnings of God’s prophets.

Daniel made it clear that God was justified judging the people. Daniel confessed agreement with God regarding his sin and the sins of the people. This is far different from many of us who offer only excuses and justifications for our sin.

A Plea for Restoration (Daniel 9:15-19)

Still maintaining a humble attitude of confession, Daniel pleads for God’s mercy to be shown to Israel. The motivation for this request was not made, however, because he believed the people deserved God’s mercy – they didn’t! They had sinned, and God’s judgment was just!

Instead, Daniel appealed for restoration based on the nature of God. He wanted God to restore the people as an indication of God’s power, and as a sign of God’s mercy. Daniel prayed: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay because your city and your people bear your name.”

God’s nature is LOVE – and this is what prompts Daniel to pray. God would be justified to bring condemnation. Since love, however, is the DNA of God, Daniel appeals to God to have mercy as a reflection of that love.

The Response of God (Daniel 9:20-27)

While praying, Daniel received a visitation from Gabriel – God’s messenger. Gabriel told Daniel that God had sent him in response to Daniel’s prayer. Gabriel explained Daniel’s present situation, assuring him of God’s sovereignty. While Gabriel’s statement is far too involved for commentary in the space provided, the ultimate message is clear: The powers of evil would be defeated, and God would restore Israel. This revelation strengthened Daniel’s hope and guided his future action.

Gabriel’s appearance reminds us that the effect of prayer goes beyond simple self-therapy. The efficacy of prayer is that it helps us recognize that God really is active and present in our lives. The state of affairs in Daniel’s life did not change. Instead, Daniel’s heart was changed because he was able to discern God’s presence in his life. As Mother Teresa once wrote, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself.”


For Daniel, actions (ministry, missions and prophetic pronouncements) did not arise primarily from planning and preparation but from confession. The first step in the growth of any church is not to establish objectives, goals, plans and structures. The first step is confessing God’s greatness and our need for God’s loving presence and grace (mercy, to use the word from Daniel’s prayer).

What would happen if such confessional prayer became the foundation for our ministry? What would happen in our churches if we began each church council meeting and congregational business session with a time of confessional prayer; acknowledging God’s greatness; admitting our need of God; celebrating God’s mercy, and waiting for the Spirit of God to instruct before we attempt to act?

Perhaps our congregational decisions would no longer be based on dictatorship or democracy or consensus building but rather, by the discernment of God’s voice. Perhaps God would dispatch angelic guides to instruct our churches in their future courses of action.

Well, I don’t think PERHAPS is the right word. In fact, I believe God has already dispatch MORE than angels. God has come God’s Self – and in that revelation we know we are loved, accepted, and empowered to bring good news to the world.

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