About Me

I'm somewhat introverted, I'm a voracious reader, and I love a good conversation. My interests and activities can be found on the right side of the page. My life goal is to use the gifts and talents God has bestowed on me to glorify Him and benefit others.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Daniel is Such a Great Example of Christian Living

I typically don’t discuss current events in my online posts. But this time I will, because I’ve been inspired to draw a parallel between what I’ve been learning in my Christian walk and certain political happenings. I will start with the current events and then segue into the parallel to what God has been teaching me. Whatever your political affiliation, I hope you will benefit from this.

For a long time now there has been serious scholarly study as well as political discussion about the emergence of China as a global superpower and possible contender for America’s hegemonic status. On www.Forbes.com, in an article titled “Yes, China has fully arrived as a superpower”, Shaun Rein states “44% of Americans now believe China is the world’s leading economic power, only 27% of Americans believe the U.S. is.” He takes his statistic from a study done by the Pew Center. While China remains communist in a strict sense, economically it has been experimenting with free-market principles to the point where its government can now be described as state-run capitalism. While the chasm between the rich and poor is still very wide, China has the fastest growing economy in the world.

Now here’s the scary part. In her book China: Fragile Superpower, scholar Susan L.Shirk writes, “China loans most of the dollars it earns from trade to the U.S. government, which uses the money to cover its large budget deficit. If Washington imposed sanctions on China and China retaliated by selling off some of the billions of dollars of American government debt it owns, American interest rates would shoot up, our economy would slow to a crawl, and a global recession could result.” Our economy is in bad enough shape already; just think about what would happen if China decided to sell our debt. Now, critics of this argument say “Oh, but China’s our biggest trading partner! They wouldn’t sell off our debt because they depend on us for trade.” Well, that hypothesis is starting to be questioned. China has actually begun to cut down on its imports. According to the New York Times, “In December, as measured in dollars China’s imports were down 21.3%.” This is especially scary when you consider our government’s plan to boost the economy. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama said, and I quote, “We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America.” Sorry to state the obvious, but if China controls a huge portion of the world market, and they’re cutting down on imports, it’s kind of dubious that increasing our exports will boost our economy.

So here we are. Unemployment is at, what, 10%, and many people fear China’s emergence as the next world superpower. What do we do? Most importantly, how should we as Christians live in response to these happenings? What’s our response to the political upheaval and disturbing events that are unfolding all around us?

Lately, God has led me to read the book of Daniel. I personally think that Daniel is one of the best models of appropriate Christian living period, and I believe his example is especially noteworthy when we as Christians try to respond properly to current affairs.

First off, let’s start with a brief history lesson. The book of Daniel records the account of Babylon’s conquest of Jerusalem: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar (or, if you prefer the veggie tales version, Nebby K.) king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand…then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility…He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians…they were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. Among these were some men from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach, to Mishael, Meshach, and to Azariah, Abednego.”

Their nation has just been conquered. Their countrymen and families have been slaughtered, they’ve been deported to a foreign country, and their identities as citizens of Judah have been erased. Boy, I can’t wait to turn the page and read about how they rebelled, formed a resistance movement, and escaped!

Just when I thought Daniel was turning into Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, I learn that “The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, so they entered the king’s service. 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.”

Hmm! Seems like the gang isn’t going anywhere! No, instead they devoted themselves to learn about their new environment. Instead of sitting around moping and letting their grief immobilize them, these four men adapted quickly to change and took advantage of the opportunities around them.

Some time later, Nebuchadnezzar has trouble sleeping because of these terrible dreams he’d been having. Since Benadryl hadn’t yet been invented, he turns to his astrologers and says “Yeah, these dreams are really bugging me, and if you don’t interpret them for me, you’re all gonna get whacked and your property’s gonna be destroyed. But if you do interpret my dreams, you’ll get on my good side and be greatly rewarded. No pressure!”

After the astrologers give him an unsatisfactory answer the king sends his number two Arioch, who I seriously doubt would make a great HR representative, to find and kill them all. At this point they’re probably all back at home changing their soiled undergarments.

But Daniel intercedes just in the nick of time. We’re told he speaks to Arioch with “wisdom and tact,” and convinces him that he should spare the astrologers, because God has granted him the ability to interpret the king’s dream. Giving God the credit, Daniel interprets the king’s dream accurately and consequently “the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.”

Through all these changes, Daniel shows great integrity and honesty. He’s tight with the king, lives in the lap of luxury and materially has everything he could ever want or need. Yet he risks all of his material comforts, not to mention his life, for the sake of honesty. He tells the king “Renounce your sins by doing what is right and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be then that your prosperity will continue.” I’ve often wondered if one of the reasons the king kept Daniel so close to him was because of his unapologetic honesty, a rare trait that must have stood out in stark contrast to the sycophantic appeasement of his other advisors.

Fast forward. Daniel is now serving under Darius, new king of Babylon. At this point he is over eighty years old. Yet we’re told Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3, NIV). Daniel makes enemies at work just by being efficient, and so his colleagues try to find grounds for charges against him. But alas, they “could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4). So, realizing they can’t touch his job performance, they conspire to attack his faith and persuade the king to enact legislation banning prayer to anyone but King Darius. What was Daniel’s response? We’re told “when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” Notice what this passage does not say. It doesn’t say, “When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where he hopped on the internet and ranted and raved on a blog about the unfairness of the government.” His first response to antichristian government is prayer. Of course, we all know the rest of that story: Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den for failing to obey the irreversible legislation, and God miraculously rescues him.

My final point in the book of Daniel concerns chapter nine. In chapter nine, Daniel understands from the Scripture that the desolation of Jerusalem will last seventy years. Rather than deciding to live out the rest of his days in an underground bunker stockpiling weapons (ha ha), Daniel drops to his knees. He prays, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong…All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your name.”

Knowing that Israel is God’s chosen nation, I don’t want to equate America with Israel in God’s grand scheme of things, but I think that we in America could benefit greatly from applying this prayer to our nation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 states, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Proverbs enlightens us, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). I think we can all learn a lot from Daniel’s example. I know that if my country was invaded by a foreign power, I was deported and my identity was erased, I would be tempted to wallow in my grief and render myself ineffective. Taking stock of the situation and choosing to learn what I could, while maximizing my influence in that place, would probably be the furthest thing from my mind. Yet that is what we see Daniel do.

I think even more applicable to our lives today are Daniel’s qualities of resolve, honesty, trustworthiness, uncomplaining attitude, resilience, creative problem solving, and wisdom. If when faced with difficult situations we chose to act with resolve as well as tact, as Daniel did in amending his diet so as not to compromise his convictions, I believe the world would see Christians in a different light. I think if in all our tasks at our jobs we “worked at them will all our hearts, as though working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:17), our unbelieving co-workers would recognize us as set apart from the rest. What a testament it would be to the world if we had the honesty with our friends, families and co-workers that Daniel had with a king that ruled the world with unlimited earthly power.

Resolving to not complain is another huge way to set ourselves apart from the rest and distinguish ourselves for God. Perhaps, like Daniel, these godly characteristics will take us to high places and grant us the favor of powerful people; but we should not let earthly rewards be our motivator. Daniel didn’t seek out wealth and prosperity; these were by-products of a disciplined life lived for God.

So, to bring this all full circle: we can learn a lot from Daniel’s example as we try to navigate these difficult times we live in. Even if the balance of power radically shifts in our lifetime, we can embrace prayer and disciplined Christian living to set an example for those around us and lead our nation back to God. As each day our world seems to spin more and more out of control, as the economy worsens and international events challenge us, we can make the choice to emulate Daniel and represent God at our jobs, at home and at school. Rather than complaining about the unfairness of our government, pray for our national and local leaders, that they would accept Him and let Him guide their decisions. Make a point to disciple and rise up people in your sphere of influence that can fight against the tide of mediocrity that keeps so many unmotivated, uninformed and uninvolved in the politics of their nation and the lives of those around them. Recognize your performance in your job and at school as an example and witness to those around you. Educate yourself about the state of our nation; discuss and explore ways to impact your community for Christ.

The world is changed one person at a time. Jesus changed the entire world through twelve men. Ask God to reveal to you people whom you can work with and through to effect change in your community or sphere of influence, and actively exhort them to follow Christ.

God bless you as you seek to emulate Daniel and honor Christ with your life.

Shane Latham