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Daring, defiant and disciplined – Daniel’s pattern for the modern prayer life

In Australia, a good proportion of local councils still engage in prayer before meetings. To the glory of God, in most cases (91%), it is a Christian prayer. In 2019, a survey was conducted which revealed the proportion of councils that pray. The results are as follows:-

· New South Wales – 56%

· Victoria – 53%

· Queensland – 45%

· South Australia – 33%

· Tasmania – 28%

· Western Australia – 8%

However, not everyone seems pleased with including Christian prayer at the beginning of meetings. A group of councillors in Victoria recently wrote a letter to the state government and human rights commission wherein they said they “object to being compelled […] to participate in a religious ritual as part of their role”. Others said they believe it is unfair and inconsistent with multiculturalism to favour one religion over others while some also hold the view that governmental bodies should be “neutral in matters of religion”.

The British seem to have faced this issue for some time now. Back in 2012, the National Secular Society took Bideford Town Council to court, seeking to put a stop to prayer at council meetings. The court issued a ruling indicating that it was not lawful for the council to allow prayer at the commencement of their meetings! Consequently, British Parliament later had to pass laws which expressly permitted councils to hold prayer. Australian councils face the same legal conundrum – there is no law allowing councils to require prayer at the beginning of meetings and many have been warned that they face risk of legal claims in the event they continue with the practice.

In the city of Adelaide (capital of South Australia) the city council changed meeting procedures back in April 2023 so that a Christian prayer is no longer read aloud by the council’s Chief Executive Officer at the start of the meetings. Instead, the prayer is printed in the council agenda and Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith directed councillors to silently “read the prayer as printed or reflected in a manner appropriate to their beliefs on these issues”. The prayer reads as follows: “Almighty God, we ask your blessing upon the works of the City of Adelaide; direct and prosper its deliberations to the advancement of your glory and the true welfare of the people of this city. Amen”. However, at council’s meeting on 13 June 2023, councillor Henry Davis refused to remain silent and read the prayer aloud, which resulted in a sharp rebuke from the Lord Mayor. The matter then came to a head at the meeting on 8 August 2023 where Mr Davis was temporarily expelled from the chamber for reading the prayer aloud once more.

At present, the Adelaide City Council is considering replacing the aforementioned prayer with a “multifaith prayer”. Some of the proposals are:-

  • Holy One, known by many names and beyond all names—Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love, Spirit of Community, Spirit of Justice: We ask your blessings on the people who have been called to lead the community in which we live and work and play.

  • GOD OF MANY NAMES: Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, The One, the Tao, Spirit of Life, God our Father and God our Mother, come to us all and be a vital presence in the work of all the community of faith. Be present in the work of all the community of faith.

  • We pray that we may be loving and able stewards of this world. We pray that we acknowledge our differences as we seek out our common ground, each of us working toward the good of all.

  • We pray for wisdom to provide good governance for the City of Adelaide in the service of our community.

  • May the work we do in this place be conducted in a spirit of service to the life of the people of this city, and to the land it is built upon.

  • May the decisions we make advance this spirit, and the prosperity and true welfare of those we serve.

In moments such as these when government authorities order us to stop praying, we cannot help but think of Daniel. In fact, the very name of Daniel provides us with a level of clarity over who we should obey in those moments. You see, in ancient Hebrew, the name is often spelt Daniyyel. “Dan” means “judge”; “iyy” means “my” and “el” means “God”. God is my judge! He not only bore that name, but his life shouted that fact to the world – “God is my judge, not man!” We must remember that it is the Lord who will evaluate how we lived our life. No pauper, premier, president, prince or pope will evaluate us. It will be the Lord Himself. Therefore, because God is our judge, we should seek to please Him alone. Sometimes that will mean offending man. That is a fact we need to become more comfortable with because it is only going to get worse. For Daniel, that meant a life of daring, defiant, disciplined prayer. He did not act in ignorance – he acted in full knowledge of the law and the consequences of breaking it. Still, he chose to obey God. That is a radical commitment to prayer. In effect, Daniel was saying, “you will have to take my life before you take my prayer”. I wonder – do we have that same attitude to prayer?

Dare to be a Daniel – dare to stand alone and testify to the world that God is our judge, not man.

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