'Onward Christian soldiers.' 'Fight the good fight with all thy might.' 'I may never march in the infantry, ride with the cavalry, shoot the artillery ... but I'm in the Lord's army.' 'O church arise and put your armour on.' One of the great metaphors for the Christian life is that of a soldier. This morning, as we look together at Daniel 10, we will hear the call to be a part of of a great battle.
1. Enlisted in his service
It is the third year of the rule of Cyrus, king of Persia. That means it is 537 BC. Remember God's covenant people had been taken into exile by the Babylonians. However when the Persians replaced the Babylonians as the world's superpower they permitted the exiles to return to Jerusalem. 50,000 Jews had returned, but not Daniel. Daniel is now at least 86 and is serving God in his role as a top official for the Persians.
But things are not going well in Jerusalem. The people are been opposed in their rebuilding of the city and the temple. This fact grieves Daniel and causes him to fast and pray. At that moment in His unfolding plan God's purposes centred on that city. Daniel might not have been present in person yet his prayers contribute to God's purposes. Now God's plans centre on the church of Jesus Christ, the international community of people who are gathered into his family, and our prayers play a vital part in forming this church.
Daniel is given insight into the spiritual realities that affect earthly events. In this chapter he gets to see behind the scenes at the interplay between heaven and earth. God has given us the privilege of being his partners as we witness and pray. We pray 'your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' God hears and God answers. As has often been said, 'more things are wrought through prayer than this world ever realises.' There really is such a thing as prayer-warriors. We are to be amongst their numbers. We have been enlisted for service. Are we in the battle?
2. Encircled by his glory
God's people who were trying to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple at that time faced earthly opposition but there were also spiritual powers warring against them. As the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians, 'our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms' (Ephesians 6:12). But the prayer warrior does not stand alone!
Hebrew 12 reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses, the faithful who have gone on before us, who cheer us on along the way. In 2 Kings 6, as Elisha is surrounded by an army of horses and chariots, his eyes are opened to see an angelic army that is on his side, full of horses and chariots of fire. In this chapter Daniel gets to see something of such heavenly realities operating behind the scenes.
A man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold around his waist, and the appearance of lightening comes to him. This scene is very like the encounter the disciple John has with the risen Jesus on the island of Patmos in the book of Revelation. Is this Jesus that stands before Daniel? I am not sure! After all could Jesus be delayed by the king of Persia and need the help of the archangel Michael? I think it may be best to see this heavenly man as a messenger who reflects his master's glory!
But who is the king of Persia that delays the heavenly man in reaching Daniel? He is an evil angel connected to the Persian empire of that day (see also Deuteronomy 32:8-9). Indeed the presence of evil powers standing behind earthly regimes helps explain some of the demonic-like activity that is seen in events like the Nazi holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda. In prayer we rage against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
But how do we conduct this spiritual warfare? I know a pastor who thinks you can map the spiritual influences in an area. He believes that the demonic influence around his village begins and ends at a particular fence. But these verses tell of demonic influences over regimes rather than geographical areas. My pastor friend is also into strategic gestures like blowing a horn over the village and praying in high places. But I think that such things can be a distraction.
If you want to counteract the demonic influences that rage against us then pray. If you want to counteract the demonic influences around us then live a life of light in the darkness. If you want to cause demons to flee then speak the truth of the gospel. A young couple went as missionaries to Kenya. Witch-doctors were very influential in the village where they were sent. But they didn't try to figure out what strategic gestures were needed. Instead they got on the with task of praying for the people around them, living lives that commended Jesus, and preaching the good news of freedom in Christ. That place saw transformation.
3. Enabled by his touch
Some students in a Christian college in America were having a hard time trying to figure out how to understand the book of Revelation. They decided to take a break from their studies and have a game of basketball. There in the corner of the hall was the elderly caretaker reading.
'What's that you're reading Joe?', one of the students asked.
'The book of Revelation,' he replied.
'Oh, you can't understand that,' the patronising student responded.
'Yes, I can,' said the caretaker, 'it's quite simple: Jesus wins!'
When Daniel was praying for Jerusalem he was praying 'your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' The rebuilding of Jerusalem was a part of the unfolding plan of God. The sacrifices of the temple were looking forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Now the kingdom focuses on the risen saviour and the people he is gathering to himself. Our prayers play a part in building this kingdom. And though we face opposition in both the physical and the spiritual would we know that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, that God is in ultimate control of history, that the devil has been defeated at the cross, and it is only a matter of time until Jesus returns and puts a stop to all evil. indeed, our prayers even contribute to the coming of that day, as we pray 'come, Lord Jesus.'
Daniel knew that God's people would face many difficulties and opposition. As we await Christ's return we are told that we will face trials. But be encouraged. Look at the messenger's words of comfort. God will enable us for the battle! Three times the heavenly messenger tells Daniel that he is highly esteemed (or greatly loved); if you are living in relationship with Christ then be assured that nothing that happens in this battle can separate you for the from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord - persecution, or famine, or danger or sword will not separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35). Twice Daniel is told not to fear; do not worry, God will never leave us nor forsake us. You might die as a martyr but you will be welcomed into eternal glory. Twice the messenger tells him to be strong; the Holy Spirit is our comforter and enabler. Three times the messages touches Daniel; the living Lord dwells with us and will be with us.
In fact sometimes when Christians and churches begin to take prayer more seriously they find things actually get uncomfortable for them. That is because they are more of a threat to the powers of darkness and become a focus of their attention. But remember the love, words and touch from Jesus. He will be with us always, to the very end of the age. He has given us all we need for a life of faithful service. He is the one with the final power and authority.
In 1986 the Billy Graham Association organised a conference in Amsterdam for itinerant evangelists from all around the world. As the delegates were gathering an African man was praying, kneeling on the concrete floor of the Europa Hall. People were passing buy watching him. He was there for about half an hour when the arrangements organiser, Norman Sanders, passed by him. Fifteen minutes later Norman noticed that he was still there. After a further twenty-five minutes Norman noticed the man was till on his knees praying.
Norman decided that he would not disturb the an from his prayer but he did go in the check out the prayer room that was just a few yards away. There in the room were four of the western deflates, all of hem asleep.
Is that a picture of the difference between the church in the apathetic, distracted, materialistic west verses the vibrant church that can be seen in other parts of the world? Is the fact that the church struggles in Western Europe the result of our lack of prayer? When we became Christians we were enlisted in an army, we are soldiers. But are we avoiding the battle? Will we be prayer warriors? Will we pray fervently for transformed lives? Will we pray for the five people we committed ourselves to pray for daily? Will we pray for our families, schoolmates, work colleagues, neighbours and friends? Will we pray that our church would become more and more a community of light and love? Will we pray for the witness of our fellow churches? wiWill we pray for the great, lost city of Limerick and its surrounding areas? Will we be warriors in prayer who are in the battle against the powers of darkness?