Drew's Blog: Nov. 16, 2016

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Taken into exile, Psalm 137 records the Israelites’ response to what would have felt like a permanent and irreversible defeat: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept… How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” In other words, in this place of feeling completely overwhelmed by life, how can we stay connected to God?

Through Daniel’s story, God gives us three very practical tools for remaining connected to Him through the toughest of times. We are encouraged to:

1. Expect and identify God’s kindness and favor. Daniel and other select young Jewish men find themselves at the very core of the most powerful and aggressive nation on the face of the earth. Their lives hang by a thread. This is a terrifying ordeal where one wrong word will result in death – their own, their friends within the palace and the Jewish community in exile on the other side of the palace walls. And yet, even in such a dark and dangerous place, we read, “Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel…” (Daniel 1:9). There are 40 express references in the Old Testament alone to God’s unfailing love. Daniel is taking God at His word and we are encouraged to do the same. In the darkest, bleakest of times, we should expect and be able to identify fresh expressions of God’s favor and kindness in our lives. Maybe not at first, but as the dust settles on whatever predicament we find ourselves in, watch for the Lord’s kindness. I am not suggesting a magic wand to make our pain all go away, but He will show us, if we are looking, that He is right there with us and He is going to bring us through. For God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

2. Choose wisely where to stand. The prophet Isaiah gives us this warning from the Lord, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9). Daniel is surveying his predicament, identifying that God is with him, and now Daniel takes a deep breath and a firm stand. What we also see is a tremendous amount of wisdom about exactly where Daniel is going to make that stand. The king had ordered that Daniel and his friends eat from his table and Daniel says no. Daniel resolves “not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” (Daniel 1:8). Why draw the line here? Daniel and his friends have moved into the palace, they are sleeping on Babylonian beds, turning up for Babylonian classes, sharing in the work of the palace, and have even taken on the Babylonian names given to them (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) – plenty of opportunities to put their foot down. Why now? To begin with, food is determinative of identity. Declining King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to eat from his table is about Daniel maintaining his identity with a people who have marked themselves out (to themselves, before others and before God) as belonging to a special people committed to the one true God.

3. Be confident that, despite outward appearances, God is working His plan. Daniel never gives up trusting that God is still at work. To be in the hand of Nebuchadnezzar is not to be put out of the control of God. At chapter 1:17-20 we are told: “To these four young men [that’s Daniel and his three friends] God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. … The king talked with them, and he found none equal to [them] …In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” The God whom Nebuchadnezzar was seeking to eliminate is triumphing. The cream of the Israelite community has been taken into the service of the Babylonian king and Daniel has now found himself in a position of extraordinary leadership and influence in the largest empire on the face of the earth. Far from eradicating the God of Israel, the king of Babylon is now taking his cues directly from Him.

In our bleakest times, Daniel’s example would encourage us to expect and identify the favor and kindness of God (reminders that we are not alone). Second, take a stand – but we should be wise and not feel we have to do this on our own. And finally, trust that even in the face of what appears to be abject defeat and failure, the Lord is still very much at work. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19)