Ever Felt Like a Spiritual Charlie Brown?

Text: Daniel 9:1-27

“We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” —Daniel 9:18

When my wife and I were newlyweds, I tried to impress her with my baking skills—I use that word very loosely! Without going into all the details, let’s just say that my lemon cake was an epic fail. I learned that having all the ingredients doesn’t necessarily lead to success. My lemon cake, it turned out, looked nothing like what was billed on the box cover at the store.

Have you ever assessed your prayer life and thought: My results look nothing like those billed in the Bible?

I have to admit that when I read the Bible and study history, and see the effectual outcomes of men and women who prayed with such seeming power, I sometimes feel like my prayers are just producing botched lemon cake. Perhaps you can identify. Maybe your prayer life has felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick field goals. You always miss the uprights and end up on your back. We don’t have to settle for the Charlie Brown effect because one of God’s greatest promises to us is that even when we are feeble and feeling anemic with our prayers, Romans 8:26 assures us “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Oh how many times I have leaned into this grace!

In our devotional series through the book of Daniel, we would be remiss to not learn from Daniel’s effectual prayer life. In many ways, Daniel’s Prayer in Chapter 9 is a model of intercession for those longing to see God restore a wayward people. Daniel’s intensity, his fervor and sincerity, and the manner in which his prayer really got God’s attention, is striking. Think about it, while Daniel was still praying, the Lord interrupted him by sending Gabriel with a very important message—that famous prophecy about the seventy sevens and the prediction of the coming Messiah. The accuracy and precision in which Jesus Christ fulfilled this particular prophecy is indisputable evidence that the Holy Bible is not just man-made contrivance, but sacredly inspired by God, Who alone holds the future. Sir Isaac Newton once wrote a discourse on this topic, saying we could stake the truth of Christianity on that prophecy alone, which was made five centuries before Christ.

One of the aspects we can learn from Daniel’s prayer life is that he got into God’s Word and grabbed a hold of the promises of God. “Our prayers never exist in a vacuum,” says Ray Pritchard. “The prayer that touches God’s heart must be rooted in God’s Word. As Luther said, we ought to take God’s promises and fling them back in his face. ‘Lord, you said you would do this. You made a promise. Now, Lord, do what you said you would do.’ Spurgeon noted that, ‘God loves to be believed in.’ … The prayer that changes the world begins and builds on what God has already revealed.”

Because Daniel’s prayer life is rooted in God’s Word, Daniel has God’s agenda in mind and not his own. This is what Jesus modeled when he taught his disciples how to pray “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” When we are not abiding in God’s word, we tend to pray self-serving prayers with the wrong motives. This is what James warned about in his epistle (James 4:3). Scores of people are praying today, but far fewer are praying God’s word, His agenda, and His kingdom come. What if our prayers became less about our desires and more about His glory?

It’s also important to recognize how Daniel approached the Lord. His confidence wasn’t on the eloquence of his words, the passion in his voice, or the repetition of his pleas. Daniel’s poise in the prayer chamber wasn’t found in his own character or his current hitting-streak; His boldness emanated solely on the basis of God’s character:

“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Notice the ingredients that shaped Daniel’s prayer life: Your great mercy… Your own sake… Your city… Your people… Your name…” We don’t find Daniel begging God for self-serving outcomes. He wasn’t focused on how the circumstances would affect him personally, but what it meant to God’s glory. We need to pray as Daniel did, not because God needs our prayers to accomplish his purposes, but because we need to submit ourselves to His plans. This is more evident today than conceivably ever in our lifetime. We need His kingdom agenda over our own plans! The world needs His agenda over our own plans. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, teach us to pray your kingdom come and your will be done. Help us to be so saturated in your word that our prayers are nothing less than your promises and your words. Guard our hearts from carnal prayers that leave us manipulative, anemic, and focused on self-preservation rather than your kingdom glory. If we pray rightly, boldness will come naturally as the words will flow from your character and not our own desires. Our confidence in your throne doesn’t come from our goodness, but from the righteousness of Christ alone. In His name we pray, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. If God would grant you one request, what would it be?
  2. What did Daniel come to understand in the first year of the reign of Darius (Daniel 9:1-2)? What did Daniel’s study of the Scripture lead him to do (Daniel 9:3)?      
  3. What was the nature of Daniel’s confession (Daniel 9:4-6)? What was the substance of Daniel’s petition (Daniel 9:15-19)? Why did Daniel receive such a prompt answer to his prayer (Daniel 9:23)?
  4. Why is confession of sin important? On what basis do you make requests of the Lord?
  5. In what specific ways do you need God’s grace and mercy in your life right now?

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This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Thanksgiving Lessons from Snoopy

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Text: Philippians 4:4-9

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
—Psalm 136:1

A Peanuts cartoon depicted Charlie Brown bringing Snoopy his dinner on Thanksgiving Day. When Snoopy looked at his bowl and realized it was just his usual dog food, he began to grumble. “This isn’t fair,” he griped. “The rest of the world today is eating turkey with all the trimmings, and all I get is dog food. Because I’m a dog, all I get is dog food.” He stared at his food for a while and then finally conceded, “I guess it could be worse. I could be a turkey.”

Throughout the Bible, the idea of thanksgiving is rendering back to God the sacrifices of praise and worship as an expression of gratitude for His good will toward us. Scripture exhorts us to give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). But let’s be real. Sometimes it’s hard to choose gratitude when we feel like things are working against us rather than for us. Yet it’s in these times that thanksgiving must become more than a superficial feeling; it must become an earnest demonstration of our faith—a faith that God is indeed good and He works all things together for the good of those called by Him (Romans 8:28).

The “first Thanksgiving” in the United States was a simple gathering of friends who united to give thanks to God for sustaining them in a very difficult season. Following the Mayflower’s arrival at Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims suffered the loss of 46 of their original 102 colonists. With the help of 91 Indians, the remaining Pilgrims survived the bitter winter and yielded a bountiful harvest in 1621. In celebration, a traditional English harvest festival, lasting three days brought the Pilgrims and natives to unite in a “thanksgiving” observance.

In 1789, George Washington proclaimed it a National holiday, calling on citizens to praise “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

During one of the darkest chapters of our country’s history, the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated in 1863, proclaiming that our country had been blessed with “gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” The president invited fellow citizens to observe the day “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise” to God while calling on prayers for the “Almighty Hand to heal the wounds” of a bitterly divided nation.

True thanksgiving doesn’t wait for circumstances or seasons to change. As Snoopy realized, thanksgiving is a matter of perspective. In every season of life, we get to choose whether our focus will be on the goodness of God or the gravity of our circumstances; thus determining whether our heart will be filled with gratitude or grumbling. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl came to the powerful revelation that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

twitter-64In every season of life, we get to choose whether our focus will be on the goodness of God or the gravity of our circumstances.
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It seems that the Apostle Paul would agree. From a prison cell, while in a dark season of persecution himself, Paul could look beyond walls of incarceration and say, “Rejoice in the Lord always… The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV).

Paul attributed an anxiety-free spirit to a lifestyle of prayer and thanksgiving, thus making a correlation between our perspective and our inner peace. The key to this peace is found in what we choose to focus on (Philippians 4:8-9).

What might our lives look like if we learned to rejoice in the Lord always—no matter how good, bad, or unfortunate the circumstances may be in the moment? A.W. Tozer said, “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.”

Think about that as you abide in Him this Thanksgiving week.

Want to know more about what it means to have a “saving” faith? Discover how to have a personal relationship with God.

For further study: Luke 17:11-19, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 136

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What is one of your favorite Thanksgiving Day memories/traditions?
  2. In what seasons of your life have you found it difficult to choose gratitude?
  3. When has God ever given you a shift in perspective about being thankful?
  4. From a prison cell, Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How would this apply to your life right now?

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Leadership Lessons: Charlie Brown and Snoopy

The Peanuts gang taught us a great deal about life and laughter. They also reveal some great perspectives on the art of leadership.

1. Persevere Through Adversity

No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away, Charlie Brown keeps coming back. He simply dusts himself off and tries to kick it again. Charlie Brown’s baseball teams rarely won a game. Losing doesn’t define anyone. Persevering, paying the price to improve, and enjoying the growth process are the things that matter. You learn a lot more from failure than winning. You shouldn’t get comfortable with losing—but accept it as part of the journey. Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Walsh said, “Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure’.” Just keep traveling—and keep growing!

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