This Sunday we looked at the well known story of Daniel in the lions den. Daniel tells us how to live in the space between the beauty of God’s promised land and the pain of living away from that land in exile. In the midst of exile Daniel remained engaged, resilient, and weird; and he did it all through prayer.
A lot of Christians think the goal of spirituality is to stay away from the world. To separate.
You don’t see that with Daniel. Daniel has a job. He’s high up. Although he has grown up as a Jewish exile, he has excelled in the pagan Babylonian government structure. But he has done it with honestly, diligence and excellence (v. 4).
When many of the Israelites came to Babylon in exile, they stayed out of the city. They didn’t move into the city. They began to form their own little enclave. They thought, “We must not lose our identity as the people of God. We must be separate. We’re going to have our own culture. Our own music, language, customs, education… etc.
Jeremiah, another prophet during the Babylonian exile, writes to them and says, “Move in and become deeply engaged with the cultural and economic and social life of the city, but secondly, keep your identity as my people.”
Don’t assimilate, don’t separate, rather work for the peace/prosperity of the whole city.
Daniel is a case study in this. He was deeply engaged in the culture and yet in a city full of corruption everyone knew what he stood for. He was working for the prosperity of Babylon.
Daniel is not working for his own advancement and for his own tribe’s advancement, but he’s working for the prosperity of the entire city. He is a perfect example of what God calls his people to be.
Only through regular and disciplined prayer can we stay engaged with and distinct from the culture around us.
Babylon is where you find yourself when life does not turn out the way you planned. When a relationship becomes conflicted and looks like it is beyond restoration, when your career starts heading in the wrong direction, or when you realize that even fervent prayer will never be answered the way you had hoped.
Daniel was 80 years old when he was thrown into the lions den! At this point he had been in exile for over 65 years! Yet instead of ending up bitter and resentful the experience of exile refined him. It made him stronger.
People like Daniel don’t just survive traumatic times; they actually seem to thrive and grow through them. Researchers have come to call these folks “resilient” and the capacity to thrive in challenging and difficult situations “resiliency.”
When we look at the life of Daniel, we see one of the most spiritually resilient persons in human history. Virtually everything had been taken from him but, through it all, he exuded a sense of strength, confidence, and hope in God.
Researchers say that one of the factors which causes people to give up is believing their suffering has no meaning or purpose. Many times it is not the intensity of the suffering that crushes the spirit; it’s the meaninglessness of it.
For Daniel, the key was prayer. To regularly pull away. To refocus. To regain perspective. To remember that God was still on the throne working through all of the circumstances, even when things looked hopeless. To remember that God had a plan for him and his people.
Only through regular and disciplined prayer can we maintain spiritual resilience.
When other administrators in the kings government heard of Daniel’s upcoming promotion they became jealous. So they tried to dig up dirt on Daniel. They assumed he was as corrupt and negligent as they were. However, when they found he was not, they became even more resentful. The more they saw he was different, the more they despised him.
Every day, three times a day, Daniel turns his heart and mind toward the city of God. He does not try to hide his faith but he does not try to rub their faces in it either. He was just being who he was. He was intentionally reminding himself where he had come from, who he belonged to, and where his true hope was found.
Jesus once said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you … That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’” (John 15:19)
Jesus says I want you to follow my example.
Jesus was God incarnate. God in the flesh.
Divinity inextricably engaged with humanity.
He touched lepers. Prioritized little children. Dined with notorious sinners.
No one had ever engaged with humanity like this before.
Jesus was different, he was weird.
And as a result, they crucified him.
As followers of Christ we have to get out there and engage with culture, but when we do we are going to have trouble. Jesus says it comes with the territory. When we follow Christ, we suffer with Christ.
The world is going to label, judge, and misunderstand.
Of course, they’re going to misunderstand.
Understand their misunderstanding.
Tim Keller once said that the essence of Christian maturity is to understand the world’s misunderstanding and not totally avoid it.
Only regular and disciplined prayer will be able to keep us engaged, resilient and weird.