“Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, urging them to ask the God of the heavens for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men.”Daniel 2:17-18
Americans are doers. Conquerors. Explorers. Inventors. Innovators. Entrepreneurs. We tamed the Wild West, sent humans to the moon, and lead technological advancements in medicine. Figuring stuff out and solving problems is a part of our cultural identity and heritage—for better, or for worse.
Many times this positive can-do-ism is helpful. Sometimes, it is not. From a spiritual perspective, often our American confidence in our ability to solve a problem results in sinful self-reliance. How should we respond when we face a problem, challenge, or trial? Pray first.
We see this modeled for us in the book of Daniel chapter 2. Daniel and his friends were newly installed advisors to the Babylonian king Nebudchadnezzar. They were living in exile, far from home, and yet found themselves in high positions, rubbing shoulders with the many other advisors to the king.
Long story short, Nebudchadnezzar was demanding something impossible from his advisors—he commanded that they tell him what dream he had dreamed and provide the interpretation. Babylonian wise men were trained in the latter; no one could do the former. The result was the king commanded the execution of all the advisors, including Daniel & co.
Their lives were in danger. It was an urgent crisis, demanding an immediate solution. But what is remarkable in Daniel 2 is what Daniel does first.
“Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, urging them to ask the God of the heavens for mercy concerning this mystery…” -Daniel 2:17-18
We face all kinds of problems: financial, emotional, educational, vocational, familial, political, and many more. When we face them, we often respond as Americans—I can solve it. But this attitude misses a fundamental truth: we are dependent on the sovereign God of the universe for everything.
The solution for Daniel could only be provided by God, but even in circumstances where we can solve the problem by natural means, pray first is the best strategy. Consider James 4:13-16, and beware of a godless approach to planning and problem solving. Pray first.
What happens when we pray first?
We are reminded that God is sovereign (even in Babylon). Praying first helps prevent panic. The irony of Nebudchadnezzar’s request is no one on earth could grant it, yet Daniel had access to the God of heaven and earth. His reign has no limit.
We are reminded that God is merciful. I love that in Daniel 2 Daniel asks his compatriots to ask God for mercy. Prayer is, in effect, throwing ourselves at the feet of God and asking for mercy in a particular situation.
We are reminded that the the future is under God’s providential care. When we pray first, ideally we submit our concerns to God with a recognition that God may not grant us what we want. Even so, he is trustworthy and the universe is still his.
We prevent rash, sinful responses to crises. Praying first helps us say no to ungodly reactions to our problems. We might be tempted to rush here or there, but after seeking God by faith, such sinful gut reactions are less likely.
We are reminded that because of the gospel, we are safe no matter what. Praying first reminds us that if we are believers, we are always safe in God’s care. By faith in Jesus we are entirely dependent on God for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Our future is secure.
We are reminded that God’s glory is the center piece of the universe. Praying first helps reorient us to what matters most: the displaying of the glory of God. This means our comfort, survival, healing, or success must take a back seat.
We pray first because we belong to the Lord. Dependence on God is at the heart of the gospel, and therefore prayer is a hallmark of the life of faith. Yes, we need to respond with acts of obedient faithfulness when we face trials. But don’t forget to pray first.
These reflections on prayer in response to crises apply to anyone who has repented of their sin and put their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. If you are reading this and you have not yet become a Christian, I invite you to consider that self reliance is not a viable option for entering God’s kingdom. Consider this possible first prayer of genuine dependence: “God of heaven and earth, I am a sinner and in need of salvation. I repent of my sin and put my faith in Jesus who died for me and rose from the dead. Please forgive me because of Jesus’ work on my behalf, and help me now to live a transformed life in dependence on you.”