While Daniel is often viewed as a great collection of Sunday School stories, or alternately as a great book of prophecy, Daniel is also a great lesson in thriving as a God-follower in a hostile culture. I’ve been studying this aspect of Daniel with my small group this year. Here is Daniel’s reality: torn from family at a young age (possibly orphaned) and deported among a few thousand other survivors to a foreign land that was culturally and spiritually counter to everything he valued, he thrived.
In our modern day Babylon, which is probably nowhere near the evil scale that Daniel experienced, I hear Christians calling to withdraw from or oppose this corrupted society. Scripture does not counsel either, though. If we withdraw, we lose our myriad of opportunities to shine light into this dark world. Instead, God instructed through his prophets Jeremiah and Ezekial to go and settle, be productive, and build your future in the pagan land (Jer 29: 4-7). To be sure, God also warned against forgetting him, or engaging false worship (v 8). He directed us to engage society where it is, and Daniel maintained a great balance of engaging culture yet honoring God throughout his long service to many consecutive kings.
I have space to highlight just a couple thoughts on thriving. First, being prepared: While Daniel was exiled at a young age, he was more than adequately prepared for the cultural shock he endured. His walk with God remained firm. Adversity produces five attributes in a Christian:
The Furnace story in Daniel 3 is a classic story of obedience – and folks, that’s where the journey needs to start. The result of Obedience is Perspective. You come to understand just how in control, or powerful or loving or just God is. Perspective in turn brings Endurance. When you start to see the bigger picture – not just your own small world- and understand what the cost could be, you are equipped to endure. Once you successfully endure, you gain confidence. And with confidence, you will find courage to not just exist, but to thrive in our culture just as Daniel thrived in his.
A second aspect is humility. Even when Daniel had to interpret that bad news of a dream, he said – in words that conveyed humility – basically an “oh king, I wish it weren’t so”. Daniel easily could have copped an attitude. He was serving an arrogant king. But God was able to use him as a powerful voice in the presence of the king, and the king trusted him-because while the True God had given Daniel amazing insight, Daniel remained humble. I find being humble in our culture involves having at least 2 ears – maybe three – to my one mouth. People are hurting all over the place, but they just keep doubling down on the current false promises. The last place they will turn to is “church”, so the church has to come to them - in a relationship that hears them as they are, where they are, and loves them as the valuable being God created them to be.
Humility also keeps us from legalism – imposing extra rules to “protect God”. Legalism makes God look weak, and in need of our protection – humility allows God to be God and wows us with His perfect wisdom and sovereignty. Daniel knew where he could engage culture by studying astrology, and when he needed to observe a boundary (worshipping idols). Daniel’s study of astrology and command of the teachings gave him enormous credibility later in life when he addressed the king and told him all the astrology junk being practiced was just that - junk – but he had, in fact – the real thing. The Most High God.
Got a friend exploring eastern religion? Today’s radical thought – go with them and learn well. Excel at it! And when they are ready to process, God can use you as a powerful voice! Daniel thrived in Babylon – You can thrive, too.
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