Tonight we’re entering the second half of a teaching series that I began last weekend entitled Stand Bravely. We’re looking at how to stand for Christ and Christian principles in a world that is opposed to that stand.
The key verse again for this series comes from Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Why did God have to tell Joshua to be strong and courageous? Because where God was calling him to go, and with what God was calling him to do, it would not be an easy journey! And that verse is for us to because where God is calling you to go, and with what God is calling you to do, it won’t be an easy journey! Don’t ever think that it is. If you’re a child of God you’re an enemy in hostile territory. If you’re not a child of God – sit back and relax because this world is your friend.
Well we’re looking at a small group of people in the Bible who were at odds with the world around them and stood bravely for God. Tonight we’re going to focus in on one of them. So please turn with me to Daniel 6 as we open in prayer.
I think many of you will know this story, but because we know it we might have forgotten the details, so let’s go over it again.
Let’s pause there for a bit. Last week we read from Daniel 1. Daniel’s home nation of Israel (God’s people) had just been conquered, invaded and plundered by the Babylonians. Daniel was barely out of boyhood at the time, but he was given a very special opportunity: A training program, including the best education, the best clothing, the best accommodation, and the best food of the land.
Daniel determined that he would be in but not of this new nation. So while he accepted the training and accommodation, he rejected the food so that he would be set apart for God’s work.
God saw, and God blessed Daniel’s sacrifice, and the Bible says that God gave Daniel far more wisdom than any of the other young men that had been brought onto this training program – also giving him special gifts. Daniel was given great wisdom by God and consequently extremely high positions of power.
Look at this – Daniel isn’t some ordinary foreigner, or even an ordinary citizen. Nor is he one of the important top 120. He’s one of the top three men under the king. But wait, the king has more for him.
We live in a world where unjust rules are signed into law every day. Not always quite this explicitly wrong, but wrong nonetheless. And we don’t just follow legal laws; we follow social laws as well, and these can at times be explicitly wrong, but very difficult to ignore.
What do you do when faced with an ungodly law or practice? Sometimes it’s easy to ignore. Sometimes it’s easy to fudge and blur what’s right and wrong to make it more comfortable for ourselves. We sometimes excuse sinful behaviour as ‘necessary’ and ‘the way the world works’. But what does Daniel do?
Daniel was a great man of God – we talked about that last week; and there’s a couple of characteristics that I want us to identify in Daniel that made him a great man of God. Let’s look at those.
When you look at Daniel’s life you can see very easily that he was very good at what he did. He didn’t just laze about, but he worked hard and became excellent at his job.
God cares about our work ethic. It’s not ‘spiritual’ to spend our days looking for space to relax and take a break. It’s God’s will that we work hard and better ourselves and move our way up the ranks in business, or politics, or academics, or wherever God has placed you. It’s an aspect of good stewardship.
Before I go on, I need you to know what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that God has created us just to work. REST is a biblical principle. Sleep is a God-created need in humans, as is one day of rest a week. I’m not talking against rest right now, but I’m talking about working hard.
Hard work partly about good stewardship.
Consider Daniel’s journey. Daniel went from being an orphan exile from a conquered nation to being placed topmost in the nation’s leadership structures by being dedicated to his craft.
And God calls us to be dedicated, hard-working, successful people.
Paul says to the young leader Timothy, “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness…We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe the truth…Give your full attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.”
And while Paul is encouraging Timothy in his spiritual work, we can apply that to whatever our daily work is: Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.
As Christians we ought to work harder than our unbelieving neighbour, because we work to honour the one true living God.
If you’re in school, look to excel in your academics. If that’s not your thing, excel in sports. If that’s not your thing, excel in leadership. Excel in art, in helping, serving, kindness and happiness. Stand out – be different, be excellent.
If you’re employed, look to excel in your office. Make more sales, complete more tasks, finish more projects than your peers. Stand out – be different, be excellent.
Don’t settle for mediocre. Develop a holy discontent for average. Stand out – be different, be excellent.
But it’s also partly about influence. If you stand alone for God, God will bless you with gifts that will take you up the ranks so that you can have a platform from which to display more widely the power and the wisdom of God.
One of the young guys in our schools’ ministry is involved in cheerleading at his school, and his team placed first in the country at a competition in Durban in July. He’s popular, and always pointing people to God.
One of our young guys in the youth has recently been made the head-boy of Kings School West Rand. He’s an excellent character, wise well beyond his years. That position isn’t just a reward – it’s a platform. He has a podium to speak from – now what will he say?
Daniel was very good at what he did – administration – he proved himself more capable than his peers; and he was given a platform to speak for and live for his God, and boy did he make a powerful speech that was heard throughout the known world!
So firstly, Daniel was very good at what he did.
When Daniel’s enemies began to scrounge around in his closet for some skeletons, guess what they found. Absolutely nothing that they could hold against him. In fact, let’s see what it says about Daniel:
“…they couldn’t find anything to criticise. He was faithful and honest and always responsible. So they concluded, ‘Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the requirements of his religion.’”
If that’s how his enemies would describe Daniel, then how would his friends describe him?
Daniel was a moral person – that means that he knew what was right to do and he did it, even when no one was around.
I want you to take a look at your life. If we were to do an investigation into your life, would we be able to describe it in the same way?
Sure, on the outside you and I might look decent enough. But if your enemies had to dig a little deeper – check into your finances, check into the way you treat your spouse, check your internet search history, listen in on your conversations with your colleagues – what could they uncover?
And not just that, what if they did a check into your thought life? How would you stack up then?
In a study I’ve been doing through 1 Timothy I recently came across the requirements for Church leadership. And even though I was in a good space when I was reading those requirements, I was convicted by the fact that I come short, and that if anyone were to hold up aspects of my life as evidence against me, you probably wouldn’t want me to be your pastor.
It's easy at that point to say, ‘Well everyone’s guilty, I’m not that bad.’ But remember, folks, we don’t give an account of our lives to our neighbours. We have to explain ourselves to God; and the standard He measures us to isn’t your neighbour, it’s Jesus.
How do you stack up?
There’s grace, friends. If you find yourself, like I do, coming up short: there’s grace for us. We can repent, confess our shortcomings to God and ask for His guidance in getting back on the right track.
Not only was Daniel very good at what he did, and not only was Daniel a moral person, but Daniel was also a man of prayer.
Now this is an area that we all excel in, because we all pray.
The problem is, most of us only pray when it’s convenient for us to pray: When the car breaks down and we’re late for a meeting; when the exam paper is placed face-down on your desk in front of you; when your loved one is terribly sick and in a lot of pain. Those are times when we pray.
But how many of us have a daily prayer appointment with God? How many of us pray when it’s inconvenient or costly for us to pray? Most often we pray when it’s convenient and when we’re desperate.
But imagine if that was how you related to your spouse, or your best friend?
When your tire bursts you call your best friend, ‘Sue – my tire just burst. Please fix it. Bye!’
And then three days later, ‘Sue, I just wish you’d give me a new car. Bye!’
And then a week later, ‘Sue, you’re not a good friend. Why is it that everyone else gets a new car, but I asked ages ago and I’m still driving this hunk of junk. You’re so unfair! Bye!’
Do you think Sue would want to still be your friend?
Our Christianity is a relationship with the God who created us and loves us. Prayer is talking with Him. And talking with, not talking at.
As we said this morning, prayer is entering the presence of God, and we enter His presence carrying with us our pains, worries, fears, sorrows, joys – whatever we might be experiencing at the time. God wants us to speak with Him about those things. After all – He is the only one that can help.
How do you stack up in the area of prayer?
Finally, the last characteristic of Daniel I want us to look at tonight is that he was a person with a great attitude.
We don’t know what Daniel was thinking when he was arrested for praying to God. We don’t know whether he resisted his arrest, or just went along calmly. How would you have reacted?
We also don’t know what his behaviour was like when he was tossed into the lions’ den. We had a good time discussing this as a youth a number of weeks ago. Do you think Daniel went in bravely, or do you think he was scared? I think he was probably pretty scared.
But we do know what his attitude was like when he was taken out of the den. He didn’t fling mud at the soldiers and curse the king. No, he spoke respectfully and wisely to the king, despite the terrible injustice that he had just faced.
Let’s look at how he spoke to the king. He said, “‘Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.’”
We all face injustice every day. It’s injustice when your wife wakes up angry with you for something you did against her in her dreams. It’s injustice when your kids drag their feet getting up and make you late for work. It’s injustice when the taxi drives in the emergency lane, pulls in at the robot and drives through leaving you at the red when you should have gone through. It’s injustice when your boss cancels your leave because she actually wants to go away at the same time. It’s injustice when your client yells at you for doing your job well but not cutting corners the way he’d like you to.
We all face injustices throughout our day. Sometimes those injustices can mean life or death, like when the medical aid refuses to cover your treatment, or when the truck skips the light and drives through your loved one’s car.
There is terrible injustice in the world.
Daniel suffered a terrible injustice. He was arrested and sentenced to death for praying. He had every reason to be bitter, and to speak harshly and to respond violently.
But he didn’t. Instead, he recognised God’s control over the situation, and he treated his oppressors with forgiveness and understanding.
Daniel was sentenced to death unjustly, and we struggle to forgive and understand when our spouse makes our breakfast wrong in the morning.
Even in the face of terrible injustices, we can still respond in forgiveness and kindness because we follow One who did just that.
The Bible tells us about a man who did no wrong, never sinned, but was beaten and killed. Daniel was spared, but this One, Jesus, wasn’t. God didn’t send a single angel to save this One from death, but let him die painfully on the cross.
“He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.”
And what was Jesus’ response to this injustice against Himself? “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.”
You and I can have a good attitude in the face of injustice because we follow that incredible example.
So Daniel was a great man of God, and these were his characteristics: He was very good at what he did, he was a moral person, he was a man of prayer, and he had a good attitude when he faced injustice.
When you look at these four characteristics, how do you find you measure up? Is there an area you’d like to grow in? What one thing do you feel you need to change from this night onwards?
Let’s pray together.