Not all prayer is equal
Some prayers are diminished on their way to heaven by a husband's lack of consideration towards his wife (1 Peter 3:7). The prayers of uncaring husbands are weak.
Other prayers are powerful, however.
Before Daniel had even finished one of his evening prayers (Daniel 9) an angel was sent swiftly to tell him God had not only heard but answered the prayer as he began it! (9:23)
Steps to powerful prayer
What made Daniel's prayer so effective in heaven? Here are seven steps to powerful prayer:
Powerful prayers are serious
Daniel puts on itchy sackcloth, uncomfortable ashes, he fasts and he pleads with God (9:1-4). Some of this may be Old Testament attire, but the seriousness is for all believers.
Powerful prayers are planned
Daniel was a busy government worker who, because prayer was so important, had to schedule it into his life (6:10), three times day. This prayer was the third one of the day, it seems (9:21). We schedule into our lives all sorts of things we deem important: so too should we with our prayers and intercessions and petitions.
Powerful prayers arise out of Scripture
Daniel was "claiming the promises" of God. God had promised to restore his people to Jerusalem soon, Daniel prayed for it to happen. Daniel's prayer arose out of the writings of Jeremiah (9:2). He reasoned "God has promised it, I shall hold God to his promises". Powerful prayer, therefore, starts in heaven, comes down in Scripture to earth, and returns to heaven on the lips of his people. God could have planned history to miss this weak human dimension out, but he has willed that his promises shall be fulfilled through the prayers of his people. So when we are praying for loved ones, for example, rather than making up prayers, we could say to God, "It is not your will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), please save my son/daughter/wife/mother..." How can God not do what he has expressed is his will?
Powerful prayer is filled with adoration
Daniel's prayer is shot through with expressions of the greatness of the God to whom he comes, "the great and awesome God" (9:4), "the one who keeps his covenant of love" (9:4), the "Lord our God who brought your people out of Egypt" (9:15). Daniel is echoing what Jesus taught us to do, include in our prayers "hallowed be your name."
Powerful prayers are passionate for God's glory
What causes Daniel so much grief is not so much the poor condition of God's people in Exile, not the destruction of Jerusalem, not the broken up temple, but what all of these say to the surrounding nations, "Israel's God is pathetic." The honour of God's name is what disturbs this holy man most of all, "O Lord, hear and act. For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because the city and your people bear your name." (9:19).
Powerful prayer is penitent
Nothing is more prominent in this particular prayer than confession of sin, since it was the people's sin that led them into trouble. What is most notable of all, however, is that Daniel confesses the sins of his people corporately. Did Daniel really commit the long catalogue of sins he lists? No. But Israel's sins are "our sin" not "their sins." Jesus taught as much, "forgive us our sins" he taught us to say.
Powerful prayer is specific
Daniel does not ask God to "bless us", not that that would be inappropriate at times (Numbers 6). He asks for very particular things, that God would not be angry anymore (9:16), would restore his temple (17) and forgive his people (19). The sharper the arrow, the more effective it is.
It is possible to improve in the school of prayer. It is possible for our prayers to become more effective, for us to grow in prayer. And here, Daniel shows us how.