There are a number of memorable prayers of repentance in the Bible. Psalm 51 is obviously one of the most famous. But there are other inspiring prayers of repentance. One very powerful prayer – and one which seems so very appropriate today – is found in the book of Daniel.
Daniel 9 has the record of Daniel’s prayer of repentance on behalf of his people. It seems so very apt for God’s people today. The very sins which Daniel mentioned are so very much the sins of the church today. The things the ancient Israelites were guilty of are also the things we are guilty of today.
Of interest is the fact that this prayer is the result of Daniel reading Scripture: the book of Jeremiah, as we are told in v. 2. His desire for intercession and confession came from spending time in God’s word – in this case written a generation earlier.
We read in verse 3 that Daniel “turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes”. That is a terrific place to begin. He clearly humbled himself and saw himself in need of also properly addressing God.
In vv. 4-18 we have the prayer itself. It is well worth printing here:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we 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 ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame —the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, LORD, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
There is much that can be said about this prayer. Notice how Daniel so very greatly cares about God’s people. And notice how he so very much cares about God and his reputation. These twin foci should certainly always be a part of our prayers and intercession.
Indeed, his prayer begins with God – as it should. He emphasises God’s faithfulness and covenantal commitment to his people, and he contrasts that with the complete lack of faithfulness of the Israelites. So the prophet has to intercede for his people, confessing their collective sins.
He makes no excuses for this sin, and instead acknowledges God’s fairness in allowing them to be exiled for their sin and disobedience. God was quite just to send them into exile, as warned about in Deuteronomy. But in that book we also learn of God’s plan to rescue his people and restore their fortunes.
So here we find a good model for a prayer of repentance: first, God is invoked, acknowledged and praised. Then, a time of confession, where specific sins are mentioned and dealt with. Third, a time of petition, seeking God’s favour and especially seeking to uphold his honour and glory.
And of interest, we find that while Daniel was still praying, an angel of the Lord breaks into the scene (v.20ff). Talk about a fast answer! Of course we may well not expect such an angelic visitation when we offer a prayer of repentance, but we can expect God to show up if we really mean business with him.
And lest it seem that Daniel’s prayer is not all that relevant to the church today, read it again. It is fully applicable: “we 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…”
How many sins are modern day Christians guilty of? Plenty. Start with our compromised and lukewarm Christianity, in which we seldom if ever even mention the name of Christ to others. We will remain silent to all around us about our Saviour and Lord. Yet we will scream ourselves hoarse at a football game.
We will spend countless hours a day watching TV, playing games, and amusing ourselves, but we are doing well if we read one chapter of the Bible a week. We are addicted to consumerism, greed and materialism, while the poor all around us try to figure out where their next meal is going to come from.
We are awash with pornography, divorce, abortion, and every other sin found in the world. The church is hardly any different from it – no wonder it is so unattractive and so uninviting. Why would any non-Christian want to become a Christian and they seem to be living lives exactly the same as they are? Good question indeed.
We have so very much to repent of. But for most churches it is business as usual. They would not dare to bring up the topics of sin, repentance, confession and holiness. That would keep the numbers down – and worse yet, it would keep the income down.
Therefore many churches today are quite content to offer people just what they want to hear: a completely me-centred gospel, which makes no demands, costs nothing, and offends no one. Such churches will always be popular of course – but they will also be spiritually barren – if not spiritually dead.
But it is silly of me to keep writing here. We all should simply read this prayer of confession, and read it again. Indeed, we should keep reading it until God breaks through and we get out of our spiritual deep freeze, and we see God begin to move again.
We need to do this corporately and individually. Yet such prayers of repentance must start with ourselves. With me.