Quite recently, I heard a message from Pastor Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands and he was preaching from the book of Daniel. The message got me thinking quite a bit. While this is not a reproduction of his message, many of these thoughts were catalysed by that sermon and I want to give due credit to that.
Daniel and his friends were captives in Babylon and they were placed in a culture and system that was diametrically different from Israel’s. If a parallel could be drawn, it’d be that of the culture of the Kingdom of God and the culture of the world. In many instances, we become the product of the culture that we’re immersed in; but for Daniel and his friends, not only were they not sucked into the culture of Babylon, they thrived and succeeded in it. It’s as Jesus said, “We are in the world, but we are not of the world.”
This is what’s needed in the Church today. The culture of the world is increasingly immoral and unrighteous. How can we live lives that are so different from the world and yet thrive and succeed? Perhaps by looking at how Daniel and his friends did so, we can glean some keys for ourselves and our people.
1. A Change of Name
It’s interesting that the first thing the Babylonians did was to give new names to Daniel and his friends. That’s what the world does – rob us of our God-given identities and make us someone else. The original names of Daniel and his friends were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The new names that were given to them were Belshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. Their original names were beautiful names related to God’s call on their lives. The new names they were given were the names of pagan gods.
The intention of the world is to always cause us to forget that God has a plan and purpose for our lives and instead make us slaves to the systems of the world. One of the most crucial battles we’ve to contend in, is to help people discover their God-given identities. It’s to understand that we’re all uniquely-created with a destiny and purpose.
2. A Change of Diet
The next item on the agenda was a change of diet. The Jewish young men were now required to consume food that was not kosher. There’s a feeding that’s more important than the physical food we eat – it’s the things that we feed our minds and our spirit.
The world is constantly bombarding us with things through our senses – whether it be through the movies and shows we watch, the songs we listen to, or through the influence of articles and books. It’s of utmost importance that we teach our people to maintain a staple diet of God’s Word. Romans 12:2 is of great application for us here that we should have our minds renewed so that it does not become conformed to this world. This happens primarily through the diet we feed ourselves with.
3. A Challenge to Compromise
Daniel and his friends were pressured to compromise by consuming the food that was taken from the king’s delicacies and his wine. They were told in no uncertain terms that they had to conform or there would be repercussions.
Following Christ will inherently come with a challenge to compromise. It can come from peer pressure or from societal norms. We’re told to fit in and do what everyone else is doing in order that we may not be singled out. All-in-all, there’s always a price to be paid in order to follow Christ. Nonetheless, when we choose not to compromise, there’s also a marvellous deliverance that comes. Because of their stand for God, Daniel and his friends were not only healthier than their peers, they were also given knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom. God will always turn our disadvantages around and equip us with divine skill and gifts.
4. A Check on Competence
Finally, when the time came, Daniel and his friends out-performed their peers. On the one hand, God endowed them with knowledge, skill and wisdom. At the same time, I believe that as Christians, it’s our responsibility to always display excellence in all that we do. We must always put in the best piece of work that we can produce and excel in our conduct, ethics, integrity and quality of work. When we display diligence, a willingness to learn, and various qualities befitting a believer, we become a testimony to those on the outside. On top of that, we’ve divine help.
As pastors and leaders, we need to learn to equip our people to flourish and thrive in the marketplace. Too often, we teach them how to excel in church, when what we really need to teach them is how to excel in their workplaces. It’s there where the non-Christians are. That’s where the harvest field is. May we raise up many strong followers of Jesus and release them to make an impact in the world.