This may or may not surprise you, but pastors don’t have all the answers–even when it comes to what the Bible means and when it comes to how we apply Scripture to our present day lives and circumstances.
But sometimes it’s just as important to ask good questions as it is to provide good answers.
Case in point. One evening when my family and I were doing our Advent devotions, the story we read was from Daniel 6. At this point in the story, Daniel–who was an exile in pagan Babylon–had become very important to King Darius and was about to be placed in a position of even greater authority. But he had also made some enemies. These enemies conspired to trap Daniel by convincing the king to sign an edict which stated that for 30 days prayers could only be offered to Darius. Anyone caught praying to any other god would be thrown into the lions’ den. Essentially, they wanted to catch Daniel praying to the God of Israel in order to have reason and opportunity to get rid of him. Here is how Daniel responded to the situation:
When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before.Daniel 6:10
The passage strongly implies that after learning of the edict, Daniel proceeded to pray as he had always done: at his window which faced the city of Jerusalem. Whatever edict Darius had signed, Daniel was going to practice his faith exactly as he had always done.
My family had quite a discussion about this passage. Since that evening I’ve not been able to get this story out of my head. In particular, I was left wondering whether Daniel could have prayed differently. Did he have to pray in front of the window? Is that how he was found out? Did he do so knowing he could be caught and be thrown into the lions’ den? Were his actions not only an act of faithfulness to the God of Israel but also an act of defiance in relation to the nation of Babylon? Could he not have prayed differently, out of view?
Unfortunately, the text doesn’t seem to tell us. And my limited commentary selection indicates that Daniel–who was probably around 80 years of age by this time–knew what he was doing. Daniel faced a dilemma: be faithful to God or obedient to Babylon. And so he knelt in front of the window in his home facing Jerusalem and prayed three times a day just as he had done before.
Perhaps doing it any other way wouldn’t even have occurred to Daniel. And if it did, he clearly chose to go ahead anyway and pray just as he had done before.
Here are some questions that have been on my mind because of this passage.
Could Daniel have prayed faithfully without engaging in the specific physical posture of kneeling before the window? Why or why not?
Is it only explicit calls by governing authorities to deny what we believe–that is, deny that Jesus is Lord and Savior–that we are called to disobey? Or is it also possible to deny our Lord via our actions? How do we know when that is happening? Can I deny Christ with my body as well as with my beliefs, thoughts and words? Under what conditions do we, like Daniel, practice our faith just as we had done before?
Plenty of Bible passages and historical liturgical practices point to the physicality of worship, to postures and actions that are assumed to be inseparable from the beliefs which underlie them. There are also direct commands in Scripture to lift our hands, to bow, to kneel, to sing, and to come together in fellowship. Is it always possible and right to separate our worship from our bodies? What connection exists–and should exist–between our faith and our physical actions?
Put another way: When do we pray at the window?
Those are my questions. I’m not sure how to answer them. Maybe you don’t agree that all of my questions are relevant or fair ones to ask. Maybe you have more clear answers than I do. If so, I’d love to hear from you.