1.14.24 Don’t Try to Change the World: Just be faithful.
Be faithful in the Hard Times
In 1972 a plane carrying 45 mostly young people, crashed in the Andes mountains.
12 died immediately and over the next 72 days more died from exposure, starvation and avalanches.
In late Spring two of the men climbed a 15,000-foot mountain without any gear, then hiked ten days to find help.
16 remaining survivors were rescued…they had only been able to survive because of cannibalism…that is enough detail to understand the horrors of their ordeal.
In one scene in the movie, based on the book, “Society of Snow” written by a friend of many of the survivors…several of the young men had an honest conversation about the meaning and purpose of their suffering and of their lives…they questioned if there is meaning in any of it.
Most, if not all, of the young men were from Roman Catholic backgrounds.
One devout young man asked a friend about the status of his faith after all that they had endured.
He replied “My faith has never been stronger, but it is not a faith in your god. That god tells us what to do at home, but he doesn’t tell us what to do out here on the mountain. My faith is in us.”
I don’t judge that then young man for that statement…I can’t imagine enduring what he had been through.
I quote him because it is not an uncommon sentiment.
It has been voiced in concentration camps, hospital rooms, basements…in many other dark nights of the soul…I have had friends voice it to me…maybe it has been in your heart and mind.
God may be there, but he doesn’t have anything to say to me in this suffering.
Scripture is full of human suffering from the fall of man in the Garden, to a brother murdering a brother, a world-wide catastrophe, war upon war, slavery, exile…on and on it goes.
God’s word to his people was mostly written during times of great difficulty and suffering…because that is mostly what human history has been about.
Times of great discovery, beauty, joy, celebration…but running on a parallel track with human misery.
These young men suffering in the mountains had been taught (or had understood to have been taught) that faith in God was divorced from real life…or at least from real life when it became really hard.
Now in the mountains, watching friends die, suffering tragedy after tragedy…for some, the faith as they had understood left them when they most needed it.
What do we believe that God has promised us?
What do we believe that God expects from us?
Has he promised us health and prosperity and a mostly trouble-free life now?
Has he promised only things that will be experienced in the life to come, and we cannot trust him to bring any real good in this life?
Has he promised us nothing, really.
God is going to do what God is going to do…I can do nothing about it.
I can’t expect anything from him…proven by the fact that in my darkest hour…he didn’t come through for me.
If I can expect nothing from him, how can he expect anything from me? Especially love or commitment.
I know he is there, but why pray…he is stronger than me and he isn’t asking me for my opinion about how to run the world or my even about my own life.
I will yield, what choice do I have…but I will not love or trust him.
I suspect this is what that young man suffering in the mountains was saying…”God hasn’t answered our prayers, we are on our own out here.”
If we are on our own out here, then we are on our own everywhere.
He had become a functional Deist…God is powerful, in charge but he is impersonal and univolved.
He made the cosmos, and he made us…and now, we are of little to no interest to him…we are on our own.
Today is week two of a three-week series from the book of Daniel entitled: “Don’t try to change the world, just be faithful.”
Last week: Be faithful in the small times.
Today: Be faithful in the hard times
Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the world’s then superpower, Babylon, had conquered Judah and taken the people into exile.
Daniel was among a select group of gifted and motivated young men who had been taken into the King’s government to train for positions of leadership.
He had passed the first test of navigating faithfulness to God while remaining in the good graces of a government hostile to his faith…this is no small task.
Now, a much greater test was looming.
Chapter 2, in the second year of his reign, at about age 38 the King had a troubling dream.
He ordered all his wise people to tell him his dream and what it meant.
They said, “Tell us your dream and we will give you an interpretation.”
Either the King didn’t know the details, we can forget dreams as the days go on (he just knew that it was troubling) or he didn’t want them making up a meaning for it.
Making up meaning for dreams is easy to do, just ask Sigmund Freud, he became famous doing it.
These guys lives were on the line…and the King demanded that they tell him both the dream and what it meant.
5 The king said “My word is final: If you don’t tell me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be made a garbage dump. 6 But if you make the dream and its interpretation known to me, you’ll receive gifts, a reward, and great honor from me.
They answered a second time, tell us the dream and will tell you what it means.
“I see that you are up to”…the king said…”Kill them, kill them all.”
The decree was issued that the wise men were to be executed, and they searched for Daniel and his friends, to kill them.
Stalin did this kind of thing to his political and military leaders after WWII…but just because he was a totally evil beast who ruled through terror.
Nebachenezzar, reasoned that what good is having a bunch of wise guys if they can’t even tell me about my dream?
Then Daniel responded with tact and discretion to the captain of the king’s guard,, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon. 15 He asked him, “Why is the decree from the king so harsh?”, Then Arioch explained the situation to Daniel. 16 So Daniel went and asked the king to give him some time, so that he could give the king the interpretation. 17 Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends about the matter, 18 urging them to ask the God of the heavens for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men. 19 The mystery was then revealed to Daniel in a vision at night, and Daniel praised the God of the heavens.
Then Daniel went back to the King, gave full glory to God and told the King the dream and its meaning.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell facedown, worshiped Daniel, and gave orders to present an offering and incense to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Your God is indeed God of gods, Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, since you were able to reveal this mystery.”
48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many generous gifts.
So far, so good.
Next test passed; they are all promoted.
But their lives had been on the line…and they would be again…this was high stakes.
This was not just, he barely missed getting fired, he barely missed being killed.
If Daniel had not acted with humility and tact and had not done the work to build a trust relationship with his supervisor he would be dead.
If God had not given him wisdom beyond his ability, he would be dead.
Grace and Grit in action again.
Daniel’s response to all of it was gratitude to God, as should be the case.
He did not share the credit with God…”thanks for the intel on the dream, couldn’t have done it without you, but I will take the credit for my own choices in this outcome, you couldnt have done it without me.”
May the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him. (2:20)
He took responsibility for his actions…but he did not take credit for the good outcomes.
Keep this in mind…it is key to living a faithful life.
Next up Daniel’s friends are tested with a life-threatening test, the famous fiery furnace, and God rescues them.
Somehow Daniel avoided this round of testing,.
The next major test (that we know of) for Daniel was when he was in his 80’s.
Babylon had been conquered by the Persians.
Darius, who is also known historically and biblically as Cyrus (Sire us) becomes ruler of the largest empire the world had yet seen.
Daniel is now taken out of what probably was a kind of retirement and put back to work.
He was appointed as one of three administrators over the entire vast nation.
His reward for excellence in his work was to be given even more responsibility
Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. (6:3)
In case you are thinking…see, Daniel is experiencing nothing but success.
I’m not sure an 80-year-old man, after his second experience with a foreign nation hostile takeover would think being forced into this exhausting work was a great blessing.
Especially when he knew he was going to make powerful enemies in the process…and that is exactly what happened.
The administrators kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy…5 Then these men said, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.” (6:4)
They formed a plan to set Daniel up for failure.
They convinced the King to sign into law a ban on praying to anyone other than the king for 30 days.
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 immediately knew that he had been framed.
He continued his lifelong habit of prayer as his accusers knew that he would.
Even if he took some protective action they would have found another way to frame him, and he was not about to betray God whom he had served all these years.
His faithfulness was going to prove the faithfulness of God.
These windows were small and high with a wooden lattice in place of glass.
A breeze could get in, but robbers could not enter, and it was difficult to see in.
So, it’s not that Daniel was flaunting his prayer…he didn’t climb up in front of a big picture window and blatantly disrespect the king.
If he had that attitude, he would not have been so well respected.
He was caught because he was being watched…he was set up.
He was simply at that point…being faithful to his conviction…he wasn’t trying to be a contrarian.
11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel petitioning and imploring his God. 12 So they approached the king.
“Hey, about that law you signed, the one that cannot be revoked.”
“Yeah, what about it”
“Daniel has broken it.”
Immediately the king was remorseful.
The king had a sort of constitutional commitment to his own law…he could not go back without losing all authority.
He was obligated to have Daniel executed, to his great distress he had Daniel thrown into a pit with hungry lions…this was an especially cruel form of death by torture.
To die this way would not be quick or easy.
You know the rest of the story…Daniel is saved, the King gives glory to God.
His accusers and their families suffer the horrible fate they had planned for Daniel.
God is honored throughout the land.
It can seem by the outcome that this story contradicts my thesis that the world is not changed by the extraordinary.
Daniel’s story is certainly extraordinary.
My thesis is not that God doesn’t use the extraordinary…it is that we are not to seek the extraordinary.
We are to seek to be found faithful.
I’m confident Daniel did not have as a life strategy for making God known…to be miraculously rescued from being eaten alive.
In fact, we know from the response of his friends, who shared his faith, that Daniel had no expectation of being saved at all…he didn’t know what God would choose to do.
Back to Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego…they were about to be burned alive and were told they had one last chance to deny God or die.
17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
The outcome was God’s choice. They didn’t know what it would be…faithfulness was their choice.
Daniel had no way of knowing whether God would choose to save him or allow him to die in that moment.
We do know this…God did eventually allow Daniel to die, probably he died of old age…which is very often not in itself an easy death.
What do we expect of God?
That he keeps all trouble from us? That we get to choose the kind of trouble? Imagine how that would go.
Can we expect rescue from fire and lion or death by fire and lion?
We don’t know…it’s his call.
Is it okay if God gives me 60 or 90 years…but not okay if I only get 30 or 10?
Why did so many die on the mountain in 1972 and so few survive?
Why did that one die and that one survive?
Perhaps it’s all a cosmic roll of the dice…all pure chance.
Their death is without meaning…which means so is your life.
What does God expect from us?
He doesn’t expect us to figure him out…in fact, it is discouraged that we try.
He does expect us to trust him and to obey him…he wants us to love him.
He wants us to know him as he has revealed himself to us…and to trust with the secret things.
He wants faith fueled faithfulness.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the hard times.
We are told we are going to have them by God in Scripture.
We have seen it all around us, in the news, in history, in our lives and in the lives of others.
But we are not made of steel are we?
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Hard pressed on every side sounds really hard.
Perplexed means we don’t understand…we are totally confused by what is happening…that is unnerving.
Persecuted is a terrible experience…means people are coming after us.
Struck down…hurts…to be smacked to the ground.
If we were steel pots, if we were impervious to all this…God would not get glory.
The treasure is in jars of clay, so the glory is his not ours.
We are not crushed, we do not give into despair, we are never abandoned, and we will not be destroyed.
But it will be close at times…and the outcome will feel like it is doubt sometimes.
Back to Daniel and what we can learn from God’s work in his life.
I will use the hook of “grace and grit” again because they are a helpful two-word summary of what faithfulness looks like in practice.
God’s grace is THE story…of Daniel, the Bible, human history, of your life.
-He choose Daniel, he gave him wisdom, he gave him favor, he gave him life to start with
*God, not Daniel is the only hero in the story…Daniel knew it
We need to make sure that we know it as well.
Daniel’s Grit must not be missed in the story.
1:8 Daniel resolved, Daniel asked
1:17 Daniel urged, Daniel praised
1:24 Daniel went (to the king’s executioner) then to the king.
2:49 Daniel requested that his friends be made key leaders
4:17 Daniel was terrified by his thoughts…but he kept going.
5:17 Daniel said, you can keep your gifts and give your rewards to someone else
6:3 Daniel distinguished himself…he was unable to be corrupted and was trustworthy
6:10 Three times a day he got on his knees and prayed, as he had always done.
So, let’s focus on Daniel’s grit…the choices he made, that made him faithful that revealed God to others.
1. He lived decided not deciding
He had determined that he was going to honor God with his life.
He passed the early and easier tests…this helped his faith muscles grow for later tests.
He did not decide as he went whether he stay faithful…he had decided, he did not live deciding.
Of course, he sinned, of course he failed…but his life direction was that of a decided not a perpetually deciding person.
This is a crucial point and one we must think deeply about for ourselves…to live the decided, not the perpetually deciding life.
We will fail…that is different from deciding as we go…whether we are “in” or “out” in following Christ.
2. He lived a life full of trouble and yet he remained faithful.
we think…”I could be faithful too if I saw the cool stuff that Daniel did.”
or “I had that persons life”
Stuff like living through a siege of Jerusalem where people were dying all around him, forced marched to Babylon as a POW, and living under the constant threat of death.
“Yeah, but he had some cool dreams and visions…I wouldn’t mind that.”
After one of his cool dreams Daniel said, “I was exhausted and lay ill for several days.” (8:27)
After a vision Daniel said, “I mourned for three weeks.”
When Daniel had this vision he said even the men with him, who didn’t even see it, were overwhelmed with terror and ran and hid…the ambiance of the vision terrified them.
He said, “I was left alone gazing at this great vision, I had no strength left, my faced turned deathly pale, and I was helpless.”
He was in shock for three weeks.
Okay, you get the point…he was faithful because he choose to be faithful.
God is the hero…he gets the glory.
Daniel was faithful…his faithfulness, revealed God’s glory.
“So, let me get this right, what I hear you saying is that if things are terrible and we are suffering we are to trust God and give him thanks and if things go well after we have been faithful we are to give him glory?”
Yes, that’s right.
“When do we get to take credit.”
“When does God get the blame.”
“Okay, you lost me there.”
Let’s go Daniels’ to the dreams and visions and more than that, to the actual history they revealed.
If we have Daniel’s perspective, we will be better positioned to do what he did…be faithful and give glory.
We are not going to read Daniels dreams and visions; you can do that this week if you want.
To summarize they speak of a train of human kingdoms that will rise and fill God’s world with violence, then they will be brought down by God.
This train of kingdoms will continue until God’s kingdom brings a final judgment and God’s rules the world with justice.
He has visions where in symbolic fashion Persia becomes a superpower, then Greece takes over and destroys Persia.
Then a power greater than Greece rises up.
There is endless debate about this power:
-The murderous Syrian King Antiochus, or the Roman Empire, or a future King at the end of this age.
The final kingdom is left indistinct probably because it would apply to all future kingdoms that will rise up and set themselves against God.
Hitler’s 1000-year Nazi reign lasted 12 years…he died a drug addled mad man at his own hand.
Daniel is given to all of God’s people to offer hope and inspire faithfulness.
If you are living under a tyrant…it doesn’t matter if it is Stalin over the Soviet Empire, or a local village despot…hope can flee, darkness seems to be winning.
This can be true if you are living under the tyranny of personal struggles and darkness.
In all cases hope is found in the fact that God controls the flow of human history…even mine
We are perplexed but not undone.
Daniel was faithful…so can I be.
God was faithful…he always will be.
God is controlling the entire sweep of human history…he knows the beginning from the end.
His kingdom will reign forever and ever.
I have to live life day by day, minute by minute…I can lose sight of God’s Lordship over all of human history.
So we gather and turn to the WORD of God to gain perspective…we leak.
Jesus is God’s kingdom come…we live in the middle of the last days.
Christ has come, Christ will return…human beasts will rise and fall…but they will fall.
Followers of Christ, in these last days, have just one calling…be faithful.
Look at Matthew 26, Jesus has been betrayed and is soon to give his life for the sins of the world.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?” He is worthy of death,” they answered.
Why did he see this as blasphemy?
Back to Daniel, chapter 7
13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
This priest knew the ancient prophecies…he knew that Jesus was saying, “I am the son of man, I am the true King, and my kingdom is a lasting kingdom.”
I am that final kingdom…that will bring final justice and peace.
Jesus was God made human…he gave his life and to him is glory for ever and ever.
How does having Daniel’s perspective help us be faithful?
How does it empower us to take responsibility and give glory?
He saw God not the human king standing in front of him, he saw God not just the scheming liars plotting against him, he saw God not death by wild animal.
We take up a couple square feet of space, for a very small amount of time.
We are easy to hurt and kill…we are dust.
He is the Ancient of Days…he answers to no one, he needs no one and nothing.
Of course, are responsible to be found faithful and of course he deserves all the glory.
We will yield to him; we have no choice.
But will we love him? Will we trust him? Will we be faithful to him?
There we do have a choice.
How did Daniel get to this place of seeing God in the midst of his manifold troubles?
Again, we have a few clues.
Remember his faithfulness with food…a small choice on a small day…lead to big faithfulness on a bigger day.
What if Daniel had not trusted God and been faithful, what would he missed?
He would missed seeing God be faithful, he would have missed the chance to grow his own faith.
And let’s go to the place where old Daniel showed us how life habits shape us and prepare us.
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Three times a day, for so many days, this now 80-year-old man, had gotten on his knees and prayed…giving thanks to God.
God’s grace, Daniel’s grit…a faithful life.
Will you train your heart to trust God…or will you train your heart to trust you?
Your heart is being trained to trust…make sure that who you trust is in fact ultimately trustworthy.
Don’t miss the movement in the moments…God is at work, now, today…get on your knees and give thanks.
That simple choice, like so many others, is what faithfulness looks like and is how you train to see the eternal in the temporal.