The Book, the Prayer, the Fast
February 20th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE BOOK, THE PRAYER, THE FAST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-20-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Book, the Prayer, the Fast. In our preaching through the prophecy of Daniel, we have come to chapter 9. And I feel as thought we are entering a holy of holies as we begin the exposition of this chapter. It is one of the most significant of all of the chapters in the Bible. It is a veritable keystone in the prophetic revelation of the future. Without it, so much of the prophecies in the Bible would be dark and enigmatic; but with it we have a key to so many things that God reveals in the Scriptures concerning the future.
Now the chapter begins in a holy and heavenly, humble, contrite appearance before God on the part of this prophet Daniel. I read the first few verses:
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, the man who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;
In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments;
We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from Thy precepts and from Thy judgments:
O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces,
We have sinned against Thee.
O Lord our God we plead for mercies and forgivenesses.
[Daniel 9:1-5, 7-9]
Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of Thy servant, and his supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
O my God, incline Thine ear, and hear; open Thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by Thy name: for we do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousnesses, but for Thy great mercies.
O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God: for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name.
When I read that, don’t you feel the veritable blood drops of the heart of this noble man and statesman? That’s why I say that when we come to this ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, I feel as though we are entering a holy of holies.
First, the Book; that is, the Bible. "In the first year of the reign of Darius . . . I understood by books" [Daniel 9:2], that is, the scrolls of the Holy Scriptures whereby the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. He had been reading the twenty-fifth chapter and the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, whereby God said that Jerusalem and Judah would lie in waste for seventy years. But after the seventy years God would open the door and His people would have opportunity to return home [Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10].
So when Daniel read that, he set his face unto the Lord to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes, a soon answer to that prayer and promise [Daniel 9:2-3].
You know, as I hold this Book in my hand, I am sometimes led into a double reverence for the page, remembering the eyes that have looked upon these sacred words. Daniel says that as he read the Bible, in this instance the prophet Jeremiah, he learned from God the glorious promise for His people. Did you know when I hold this Book in my hand, the eyes of Jesus, our blessed Lord, the eyes of our Lord have looked upon every syllable of this Holy Scripture? All of it.
Do you realize that when I look upon these pages, I am looking upon the same words, though I in English and the apostle Paul in Hebrew and Aramaic, I am looking upon the same message that the apostle Paul looked upon. In his last letter to Timothy he said, "Timothy, when thou comest, bring me the cloak that I left in Troas with Carpus, for this Mamertine dungeon is cold and damp and it is wintertime. Bring the cloak that I left in Troas, the heavy coat, and bring the books, but especially the parchments" [2 Timothy 4:13]. And the parchments were the scrolls of the Bible. "Bring me the Bible." These are the pages that the saints of all of the ages have looked upon, and these are the pages that Daniel has been reading. And as he read, there came to him that wonderful promise that after seventy years God would open the door and let His captive people return home.
Now the reason that he set his face to seek by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes [Daniel 9:3-4]; the reason that he set his face in the studying of the Word of God was he could not determine the exact time when the seventy years had commenced.
Did the years begin in 605 BC when Daniel was taken a captive? [Jeremiah 25:1-7; Daniel 1:3-6] Then the time had come, for this is 536 BC, the time had come for God to visit His people [Daniel 9:2]. Daniel had been a captive in Babylon seventy years. And the seventy years were complete if they began in the captivity of Daniel. Or the seventy years could have begun when King Jehoiakim was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar in 598 BC [2 Kings 24:11-14, 25:1-4]. Or the seventy years could have begun in the destruction of the temple itself, which was in 587 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21].
But whether in his own captivity when he was carried away into Babylon, or whether in the captivity of Jehoiakim the king, or whether in the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, Daniel knew that the time was drawing nigh, and he felt that God would keep His promise. Do you feel that way? These words that God hath written in the Bible, all of them to encourage us, Daniel felt that God would keep His promise and be merciful unto His people. So believing that, he set himself in prayer, in fasting, in supplication, in sackcloth and ashes to determine the time when the seventy years were done and the people could go back home.
Now, do you notice poignantly so, movingly so, tenderly so, do you notice his approach to God in such reverence and contrition and humility? "I set my [face] unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God" [Daniel 9:3-4].
You see, as much as he could learn by studying the Bible, he also, as we, could learn by prayer and supplication. I often think had Daniel prayed less fervently, he had been less favored in the prophecies that God laid before him, but in his praying, in his supplicating, he drew light from heaven and the present and the future became luminous before his eyes.
So Daniel, reading the Bible, sets his face unto the Lord [Daniel 9:3]. I am supposing that that that was towards Jerusalem. Open the window as he had in days past and prayed unto God with his face toward the Holy Land and the Holy City [Daniel 6:10]. "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and fasting, in sackcloth and ashes; And I prayed unto the Lord, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God" [Daniel 9:3-4].
What do you think about that? Let me ask you. How does it feel in your heart when people assume familiarity with the great and mighty God? Another "hail fellow well met." "O buddy, buddy God, my old pal God," like my dog or my horse. How do you feel about that? Nobody ever taught me, nor has anyone particularly said anything to me about it. But there is something about a man’s familiarity with God that does something to my soul. I think that when a man who is made out of the dirt of the ground approaches the great, high and mighty God, he ought to do it in deepest humility and reverence and contrition and confession.
I don’t know of any other spirit than that in the Bible. As the saints of God, and Daniel was a noble man, thrice did God refer to him as a man greatly beloved [Daniel 9:23; 10:11; 10:19]. He was honored and exalted as minister of state in the Babylonian kingdom and in the Persian kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar and by Cyrus. He was a noble statesman. But when he approached God, he bowed in humility and in contrition [Daniel 6:10].
I think our approach to the Lord, the great and mighty God, ought to be like that. And I do not know of any other spirit than that in the Bible. When Abraham stayed in prayer before the Lord, this is what he said: "O Lord God, behold I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee, I who am but dust and ashes" [Genesis 18:27]. When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1], he said, "Woe is me! for I am undone . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts, and I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" [Isaiah 6:5]. Micah said, "How shall I come before the high God, and how shall I bow myself before the Lord? With thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" [Micah 6:6, 7].
In the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul said, "For this cause I bow my knees before the Lord God" [Ephesians 3:14]. And in the first chapter of the Revelation when John saw the exalted and glorified Christ [Revelation 1:9-16], the Revelation says and John writes, " I fell at His feet as one dead" [Revelation 1:17].
For us to rush into the presence of God, and to speak of Him familiarly as we were on the same plane and level, to me approaches the blasphemous.
When Daniel approached the Lord, he did it in sackcloth, in fasting, in ashes; "And I made my confession and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God" [Daniel 9:4]. And always there should be about us in public service, in private supplication, that same awe and humility as we who are made out of dust [Genesis 18:27] approach the great mighty Jehovah in heaven.
And then look at the way that he does it. Isn’t it strange? With fasting and sackcloth, and ashes" [Daniel 9:3]. You know, as I studied and prepared this message, there is not a commandment in the Bible to fast, not one; neither in the Old Testament nor in the New Testament. The only thing that might approach it in the Old Testament is in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus. There was one day when – and even there, Moses wrote that people were to afflict their souls. It was the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 23:27], sometimes referred to as the fast, in modern Jewish ritual called Yom Kippur. That’s the only thing in the Old Testament that would approach it by way of commandment. But it doesn’t even say there, to fast.
And in the New Testament the only thing that might approach it is when some of the Greeks came to the disciples of Jesus and said, "Why did John’s disciples fast often but you don not fast at all?" Then the Lord said, "While the bridegroom is here they cannot fast, but when the bridegroom is taken away then shall they fast" [Matthew 9:14, 15].
And then in the passage in the sixth chapter in Matthew, the Lord wrote, "If you fast this is the way you are to do it" [Matthew 6:16-18]. You are not to appear to men to fast as though you look disheveled and unkempt. But if you fast you are to comb your hair and put on your finest clothes and the best smile that you have, that you appear not unto men to fast but unto God alone. For you see, the Lord was teaching us that it is the spirit of the contrition and humility of soul and supplication that God blesses and not the mechanical act or the outward ritual.
Do you know that has been one of the curses of the church? We have taken the extremities and we have taken the externalities and have endowed them with efficacy and grace and holiness. For example, the early church after the apostolic days, and the church of the medieval era in years, they gloried in corporeal chastisement and laceration and flagellation and torment of the body. It’s the old Gnostic heresy that there is something evil inherent in matter in the body, and for the nobler, loftier elements of the soul to be emancipated the body must be tortured and persecuted.
That is the diametrical opposite of the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures. Not by anything that we eat or don’t eat are we sanctified, and not by the torment and torture and trial of the body are we made holy.
For example, Paul will say in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink" [Romans 14:17]. And in the eighth chapter of the first Corinthian letter he writes, "But food commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse" [1 Corinthians 8:8]. There is nothing holy or sanctified in torment of the body or deprivation of the corporeal, anatomical frame in which you live. The Pharisee prayed by himself and said to God, "I fast twice every week" [Luke 18:11-12]. It has nothing to do with sanctity or piety or holiness.
Well, then why in the Bible do you find fasting? The answer is very obvious. There are times, when in the bowing of the soul before God, you don’t want to eat. Ah, how many times do you find that in the lives of God’s people and in your own life?
Do you remember the story of Hannah? God had shut up her womb [1 Samuel 1:5]. And Peninnah castigated her and belittled her because she could not bear a child [1 Samuel 1:6]. And the first chapter of Samuel begins with Hannah crying before the Lord, and she would not eat. And Elkanah her husband said, "Why do you not eat? Am I not better to thee than ten sons?" [1 Samuel 1:7-8].
There is a wealth of meaning in that we don’t realize. And Hannah fasted before the Lord. She would not eat. Her son that God placed in her arms [1 Samuel 1:20], Samuel, when he called all Israel together after they had been under the heavy iron hand of the Philistines for twenty years, Samuel called all the people together, and they fasted and prayed [1 Samuel 7:5-6].
Do you remember the story of Esther? She sent word to Mordecai her uncle and said, "Tomorrow I will go into the presence of the king unbidden. Will you call all the Jews of Shushan together that they fast and pray, and I and my maidens will fast and pray"? [Esther 4:15-16]
Do you remember the story of Nineveh when Jonah came and preached, "Forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed"? [Jonah 3:4] And from the king down to the lowliest servant in the palace, they sat in sackcloth and ashes, and they fasted before the Lord [Jonah 3:5-6]. Jesus fasted forty days, tempted [Matthew 4:2]. Paul refers to fasting often, and the church fasted and prayed in the thirteenth chapter of Acts and the fourteenth chapter of Acts [Acts 13:3, 14:23].
There are just times when there is such a burden of soul and such an agony of spirit, such contrition and confession before God that you don’t want to eat. And that’s the fasting of the Bible. And that is the fasting of Daniel. "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes" [Daniel 9:3], in contrition, in bowing, in humility.
Now, the prayer. I read a part of the prayer a moment ago. May I point out some things that are not in the prayer and then some things that are in it? Things that ought not to characterize prayer, and then some things that should.
First, the things that ought not to characterize our praying. One: it ought not to be an exercise in extremities. It ought not to be just in a crisis. This of course is a great crisis, a critical juncture in the life of God’s people. And Daniel set himself before God to pray. But I ask you, is this the only time that he prayed? Is this the only time that he set his face to the Lord God? Is this the only time he interceded and supplicated? No. For in the sixth chapter of the Book of Daniel it says that three times every day he opened his windows toward Jerusalem, and there prayed [Daniel 6:10]. That’s the way we ought to be. Not an exercise in a crisis and then lay it aside. But it ought to be, as Paul writes to the Thessalonian church, "Pray without ceasing" [1 Thessalonians 5:17], make everything a matter of prayer [Philippians 4:6]. Take it to God, not just in a crisis. That’s one.
All right, a second thing here: the prayer is not a penance; it is not atonement or expiation. He pleads before God and he says, "For we do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousness, but for Thy great mercies" [Daniel 9:18]. There is no expiation of sin. There is no atonement for wrong in praying. You don’t do penance in prayer, getting rid of sin. There is only one way that God forgives sin and that is in the atoning blood of the Crucified One [Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22; Revelation 1:5]. And there is no atonement and there is no expiation in prayer, never, never.
All right, a third thing the prayer is not: it is not a recital of his own virtues and meritorious goodness. He says, "O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces" [Daniel 9:7]. When we come before God, never ever should there be a parading before the Lord of our merit, or of our worth, or of what we have done, or what good we are; never.
Now, some things that do characterize the prayer. First: it is an exhibition of infinite need. "O God, we have sinned, and we pray for mercies and forgivenesses. Lord, we lean on Thy kind arm. Helpless we are, may we find help in Thee. Weak we are, may we find strength in Thee. Without answers Lord, may we find wisdom in Thee." A confession of need.
Second: there is in the prayer an awesome intensity and earnestness. Oh, as I read that passage, "O Lord God, incline thine ear and hear; open Thine eyes, and behold [Daniel 9:18]. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do, O my God, for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name" [Daniel 9:19]. I can just feel the earnestness and the intensity of that supplication before God.
That is real praying. And nothing else is. Glib words and indifferent spirit and attitude is never real prayer. Real prayer is always like that, in deepest earnestness. "O God, bow down Thine ear to hear. O God, look down from heaven and see." Every real prayer is just like that. When Moses prayed before God after the golden calf [Exodus 32:1-10], he said, "O Lord God, if Thou wilt forgive the sin of this people," and then a long dark dash, "and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy Book which Thou hast written" [Exodus 32:32]. Paul was like that. "I could wish myself accursed for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3]; the earnestness of prayer.
Now again, he prayed for temporal as well as spiritual blessings. He was praying for the reconstruction and the rehabilitation and the restoration of God’s house, the temple there in Jerusalem, which is a very material thing. He was praying for the rebuilding of the city, which is a material thing. And he was praying for the return of his people, which is a very material thing [Daniel 9:17-19].
And you know, I’ve always felt that way about real prayer. Reading the Bible and trying to understand its spirit, I think it is as holy and as righteous and as pious as acceptable in God’s sight to pray for all the materialities in your life as it is to pray for the spiritualities of your life. I know its right to pray for your heart and your soul. I know its right to pray that God will bless you in grace and mercy and forgiveness. But it is no less pious and no less holy and no less acceptable to God to pray for all of the externalities that concern your life: your house, your work, your job, your daily living, your walking, your coming in, your going out. He was praying for the temporalities as well as the eternities.
Now may I close, hastily? May I add to the message? Now as a Christian, this thing of how we ought to pray: for since the days of Daniel – he was an Old Testament saint, but since the days of Daniel there have been many centuries and a further revelation of God.
There are three things that the Christian ought to remember when he prays. One: we ought to pray to God, our heavenly Father, as the Father. We are not to come before God as a criminal, and look up in dread and foreboding and wrath to the great Judge who sits upon the throne. But when we come before God we are to come before Him as our heavenly Father, and as unworthy as we may be, we are to look upon Him as "our Father who art in heaven" [Matthew 6:9].
Second: we are to come before God in the name of Jesus Christ. That is we are to plead His word and His blood and His merit and His atoning grace. We are to come for His sake and in His name. He is our great Mediator and Intercessor, and He is the one who takes our prayers and before God will answer from heaven. That’s why the letter to the people of the Hebrews, the letter to the Hebrews, that’s why it says:
Therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find mercy, grace to help in time of need.
Anybody can come. The Lord is so much like that. He was born that way, not in a palace. Anybody could come to a manger [Luke 2:16]. His ministry was like that. The lowly Jesus, even the humble woman felt she could touch the hem of His garment [Matthew 9:20-21]. And now that He is in heaven, His heart is not changed. He is still the same lowly Jesus [Hebrews 13:8]. And we are to come in His spirit and in His name, pleading His worth and His merit [Matthew 11:28-29].
And last: we are to come in the wisdom and the strength of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans,
And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for His people according to the will of God.
Lord, I don’t know why and what to ask for, and I don’t know quite how to frame the sentence, and I don’t know quite Lord how I should do. But may the Holy Spirit make the supplication, and may God, who searcheth the hearts, knowing the mind and the spirit, answer according to what is best for us.
I have a little motto out there at our house and this is what it reads like: "God always gives the best gifts to those who leave the choice to Him." Master, there are so many things I don’t know. But God knows. And there are so many answers that I don’t have. But God has them. And there are so many things, Lord, that are to be chosen, and I am not able to choose. Lord, we cast ourselves upon Thy mercies and upon Thy goodnesses; and Master, give what is best for us.
That’s the way we ought to pray, and that’s the way God will answer: with His riches and finest remembrances, and endowments, and benedictory gifts from heaven.
Now we sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, giving your heart to Christ, coming into the fellowship of the church; as the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, would you come now? In this balcony round, somebody you; on this lower floor, you; down one of these stairways, into the aisle, and here to the front, "I am coming now, pastor, and here I am." Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
BOOK, THE PRAYER, THE FAST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The Book
II. The fast – the spirit of contrition, confession
A. Not by study alone
B. "Great dreadful God" attitude toward deity
C. Nowhere in Scripture is the command to fast
III. The prayer
A. What it is not
B. What it is