Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2014
Dear Friend in Christ:
Blessings to you, and thanks so much for your friendship and support of this ministry! I trust all is well with you and yours. This month, I want to encourage you from the story of Daniel and take a look at how we respond to challenges.
Sometimes, we shape our circumstances, but more often than not, we are being shaped in the midst of our circumstances. How we are being shaped is largely determined by what we fix our vision upon. And, it is often in and through trials that we see God more clearly, and that others can see God more clearly in and through us.
Daniel was born more than 600 years before Christ during a very difficult time in the history of God’s people. His name means, “God is my judge.” Daniel was a righteous young worshipper of the Lord. In approximately 605 BC, Daniel and young Jewish nobles were kidnapped, enslaved, and taken into exile in Babylon by the eccentric and tyrannical King Nebuchadnezzar.
Yet, even in exile, Daniel became recognized by authorities as an excellent and brilliant young man, with great personal integrity and supernatural ability to interpret dreams. Daniel eventually became Nebuchadnezzar’s trusted advisor,but in 563 BC, Nebuchadnezzar died.
In the years to come, despite a succession of wicked kings, Daniel continued to have the respect of many leaders. Then, in 553 BC, Belshazzar became king. This wicked and immature ruler was a true party animal, and soon, the wrath of God was revealed against him. In approximately 539 BC, Belshazzar threw another party, which was interrupted dramatically when the very finger of God wrote out His judgement upon the wall against Belshazzar and Babylon.
Once more, Daniel was called upon to give the interpretation of God’s message, which he did. Babylon fell that night and Darius the Mede became the new ruler over the territory. And now, as our story takes place just a couple of years later, Daniel is an elderly man.
In Daniel 6, we read that Darius set up a system of governors and satraps(“lieutenant governors”) to oversee the territory he had conquered. Daniel was selected to be one of three governors and the Bible says that he “distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm” (Daniel 6:3). This may surprise you, but the other officials became jealous of Daniel and decided to take him down! They tried desperately to dig up some dirt on Daniel, but there was none. He had been a faithful man. But those scheming weasels were determined to find some way to knock Daniel off.
Look at what happens next: “Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.’ So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: ‘King Darius, live forever! All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.’ Therefore King Darius signed the written decree” (Daniel 6:5-9).
HATERS GONNA HATE
Daniel’s faithfulness, reputation, and skill constantly caused him to rise to the top no matter what his circumstances were. The primary issue facing us from day-to-day is not our circumstances but it is the favor of God. Because Daniel humbly knelt before the Lord in prayer, he could boldly stand before kings. He was faithful to do what God called him to do regardless of earthly rulers or earthly obstacles.
But, because of the favor of God upon Daniel, those around him and those under his authority came against him. Jealousy and competition, plus demonic hatred, led to wicked plotting. The only way they could make Daniel break the law was to change the law and to make it against the word of God. And so, these weasels engaged in manipulation and trickery against the king in order to set a trap for Daniel. They appealed to the king’s ego and the king fell for it.
Daniel was not ignorant of the new law, nor was he unaware of the dangers in it. But here’s how he responded: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: ‘Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?’ The king answered and said, ‘The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter’” (Daniel 6:10-12).
The king had been tricked, but not Daniel; and Daniel was not deterred from carrying out his highest calling in prayer. Times have come to us here in this present age when wicked people in high places are influencing our laws. Increasingly, laws and practices and social thinking are turning against the laws, ways, and people of God.
Like Daniel, we must be aware, but unafraid and undeterred. Daniel followed a higher calling and he continued to pray and to commune with God, as was his practice. This was not for show. The schemers thought that they could trap Daniel through his praying, but Daniel knew that the only hope of deliverance was through his praying! The schemers fully expected Daniel to continue to pray and they were waiting for him and spying on him. Daniel knew they were there, but he kept on praying. His focus was not on the schemers, but on the Lord.
So the satraps went back to King Darius and reminded him of his decree. The king was angry with himself for falling for the plot, and realized that the weasels had not only betrayed Daniel, but they had betrayed him. Those who seek to undermine the authority and calling of God’s people are not only opposing God’s anointed people, but they are opposing God.
King Darius was heartsick and did all he could to rescue Daniel. But the plotters reminded the king that he could not go back on his own law. And so, with great sadness, he gave the order to have Daniel thrown into the lions’ den. But Darius also gave Daniel a very strong declaration of faith: “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.”
GOD IS ABLE
With that, a stone was placed over the lions’ den and it was sealed. Now, Daniel was not in a metaphorical pit with metaphorical lions. These were real, large, smelly, hungry, strong dangerous lions with huge teeth and sharp claws. And so, a very long night began …. I find it interesting that Daniel later wrote the next section from the king’s perspective, rather than his own. They must have had a close friendship and must have discussed it often after the ordeal.
When Daniel was cast into the lions’ den, the king had made a statement of faith, far beyond his own understanding, about God’s deliverance. Still, the king was deeply worried and he stayed up all night fasting. As soon as the sun came up, he ran to the lions’ den to check on his friend. Scripture says he cried out with a lamenting voice (expectation of tragedy). He declared that Daniel is a “servant of the living God” and asked if God had delivered him. Daniel must have been smiling when he answered the king. The first thing he did was to honor the king. He was not bitter about his experience, even though he had not been treated righteously. Daniel testified that the angel of the Lord had shut the mouths of the lions. He carefully noted that he was innocent before God and that he had not done any wrong before the king. Darius knew that Daniel was telling the truth, and that the only wrong done was by the schemers and by the king falling for their schemes.
Darius also knew that he and Daniel have fully completed the terms of the sentence of the law: Daniel had been cast into the den of lions. The haters plotting against Daniel failed to recognize that the God to whom Daniel prayed was also able to deliver him from the lions. They assumed that the lions’ den was a death sentence.
For Daniel, the lions’ den was not a death sentence but a place to encounter an angel! Sometimes, the places that we dread the most can become holy places if we will keep our eyes and ears open to God’s Sovereign plan. Before you get delivered from the lions’ den, you must be delivered in the lions’ den. God’s purpose was settled long before Daniel went into the lions’ den, but could only be fulfilled and worked out in Daniel through the lion’s den. For Daniel, the lions’ den became a place of revelation, salvation, and declaration.
Interestingly enough, what the schemers intended for Daniel then came upon themselves and their families, as Darius cast all of them into the lions’ den, where they were immediately devoured. This reminds me of other stories in the Bible, such as Esther, where those working against God and His people were ambushed by their own plots. It’s actually what happened to Satan at the Cross of Christ. The plot of the enemy played right into God’s redemptive plan.
One of the most dangerous places in the world to be is in-between a person God has called and the fulfillment of their calling. Instead of Daniel being crushed and discredited, he lived and His God is forever exalted! King Darius himself issued a proclamation to all the people declaring the Sovereign rulership and gracious wisdom of “the God of Daniel”.
Daniel thrived in the midst of great transition and trial, and provided us an example of how to do the same. Like the apostle Paul, he could confess this truth: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
God is the God over your circumstances today. Regardless of challenges or opposition, you can choose where to look and who you will trust and follow. You can choose your attitude, and Jim Rohn once said, “Attitude will determine your altitude.” In God, even a lions’ den can become of place of training and victory!
We want to continue to pray for you and stand with you in ministry. Would you also keep us in your prayers and in your giving? Even in the midst of great needs and opportunities to minister this summer, we have had a very slow season financially. Please prayerfully consider supporting us this month as we face these challenges.
A final note: mark your calendar now for our May 13-15, 2015 CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, and tell your friends as well. Nik Ripken will be our guest speaker!
Yours in Jesus,
Scripture Reference: Daniel, 2 Timothy