My oldest girl gave a speech that was bursting with righteous indignation.
Her class had misbehaved in the school lunchroom.
These fifth graders had been out of their seats, standing up on the little round chairs attached to the lunch tables.
They had been loud and obnoxious.
So they were punished.
It wasn’t just the misbehaving few, though, who bore the load of consequences. Oh no, the whole class had to write a letter of apology to the lunchroom monitors.
And that wasn’t fair, my daughter said.
Why should she apologize for the bad choices of others, for their immaturity and out of control actions? She had sat there quietly eating her lunch.
Yet, she had to write, “I’m sorry.”
So, she devised a plan: Write a letter that absolved her of responsibility. “I’m sorry that others in my class were out of control. I’m sorry that other students were so bad.”
That kind of thing, the kind of line-in-the-sand distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous, the right and the wrong, the worthy and the unworthy, the good and the bad.
We’re experts at these kinds of distinctions. We draw lines politically. We draw lines socially. We draw lines at work and maybe at church more than anywhere else.
Our prayers are “us” versus “them.”
“Lord, please forgive those people who sin. Please forgive those who really aren’t following you.”
We know those prayers don’t include us, of course, not the good and holy ones who clearly have earned God’s favor.
Yet, I challenge my black-and-white, rule-following, fairness-and-justice-demanding daughter with a prayer from the book of Daniel that’s a shock to pride and self-righteousness.
Israel had committed idolatry.
Not Daniel, of course, but masses of people had been traipsing after foreign gods and stone idols for generation after generation.
Israel had disobeyed the law and dishonored the temple.
Not Daniel, of course, but so many others had turned their backs on God, choosing blasphemy and rebellion instead.
God finally declared, “enough is enough!” He disciplined his people by allowing them to be conquered, the temple destroyed, His people taken away from their homes.
Now Daniel was in Babylon, one of the first to be carted away from his home and taken into captivity in a foreign land.
He was now a subject of pagan kings, living and working in an environment often hostile to his faith.
Daniel bore the full weight of God’s punishment for his people, but he hadn’t done anything wrong.
He was a sinner, of course. We all are. Yet, he hadn’t committed idolatry. He hadn’t defiled himself. He hadn’t sacrificed children to Molech or bowed down to Baal.
Still, when he prayed for his people, Daniel said this:
“Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6 Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets… (Daniel 9:4-6).
We have sinned.
We have disobeyed.
We have not listened.
I share this with my daughter and I ask her to consider what it would look like if she apologized for the “We” and not the “Them.”
She didn’t do anything wrong, yet could she humble herself enough to set aside the ‘fair’ and ‘just’ and choose the low and the merciful and the heart of intercession?
“I’m sorry that our class caused such a disruption. I’m sorry that we didn’t behave in the lunchroom.”
Could she make that choice like Daniel did?
When we pray for others and when we pray for our nation and for our churches and our communities, our husbands, our kids, our family, our friends, can we choose to pray with them instead of praying while looking down at them?
Not, “Lord, please forgive my husband for not praying like he should and leading our family like you want him to.”
Not, “Lord, please forgive my friends who gossip.”
Not, “Lord, please forgive the people in our country who are messing it all up.”
No, like Daniel, we drop down on our face before God and cry out, “God forgive us!! We have messed up. We have sinned. We are unworthy.”
And we know this truth, that God doesn’t wash us clean because we deserve it, not because we’re good enough or holy enough or righteous enough to merit grace.
Daniel said it:
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy (Daniel 9:18 NIV).
How could this change the way we pray for our marriages, families, churches and nation?