Shine the Light: "Five Critical Choices" – Daniel 6

waldorf-lobby1Have you ever encountered a worker that goes “above and beyond” to help you? I have had the privilege of meeting quite a number of them as I travel and speak, and enjoy a rich life in my work experiences. I have concluded from God’s Word something I want to share with you: If you know the Lord, and as a result you decide to be an honest, faithful, diligent employee, God will honor and bless you – perhaps in this life but surely the next. I want to tell you a true story that I think may encourage you… A number of years ago, an elderly man and his wife arrived by train in the city of Chicago. It was a stormy night and their train had been delayed. It was after midnight when they finally arrived at a downtown hotel they hoped had a vacancy. The young clerk on duty that night was named George Boldt and he explained that because there were three different conventions in town, their hotel was full, but he would be glad to call around and check with some other hotels. After several calls, it was clear that there were no empty rooms to be found. The young clerk said to the couple, “I can’t send a nice couple like you out into the rain on a night like this. Would you be willing to sleep in my room in the basement? It’s not large, but it’s clean and I don’t need it tonight because I’m on duty.” The couple gladly accepted his offer. The next morning the man tried to pay George personally, but the young clerk refused. Then the man said to George Boldt, “You’re the kind of man who ought to be the boss of the best hotel in America. Maybe one day I’ll build one for you.” The young clerk only smiled and said, “I was just glad to be of service. ”Several years later George Boldt received a letter with train ticket to New York City. The old gentleman took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 54th Street in Manhattan and said, “This is the hotel I have built for you to manage.” George Boldt stared in awe and said, “Are you joking?” It was no joke. The old man’s name was William Waldorf Astor. And that’s how George Boldt became the first manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. If you go to New York City, there is George’s portrait hanging in the lobby, a tribute to a clerk who showed integrity and went the second mile.

Most of us know people who ‘go the extra mile’ in the job – and they are encouraging to us. In days when it seems like so many people show up on the job and consider us – the client – a MAJOR INCONVENIENCE to their day, the ‘extra mile’ worker is a refreshing change. Now since this isn’t a business seminar, nor a motivational speech about working hard – you may wonder WHY I began with this story. In the familiar pages of God’s Word, there is a story about God’s blessing to an obedient and positive hearted servant. The well-known story of “Daniel in the lion’s den” illustrates dramatically the idea that a positive view of life is about choices, not simply about life circumstances. Daniel knew that life dedicated and surrendered to God would not be EASY, but it would be a POSITIVE experience if he kept his commitment to God at the center of his life, and evaluated his experiences as something prescribed by his God.

Key Principle: Your ability to be positive has more to do with your life choices than your life circumstances!

Here is the truth: Life can be hard, but God is not hard-hearted. He loves you, and He knows you. If you know Him, and if you have made the choice to follow Him through the conditions carefully prescribed in His Word, you will find that a positive life is about living out that choice properly. Let’s look at this familiar story, and see if we can pick out the choices Daniel made to be POSITIVE about life, despite challenges deliberately placed in his path by enemies:

1. Daniel chose character over comfort – to do the most with the situations he was handed, rather than complain about the ones he wasn’t! (6:1-3).

Daniel 6:1 “It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they would be in charge of the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom.”

The fact is that Daniel wasn’t where he would naturally have been, had it not been for the sins of his fathers and the captivity they caused. He could have sat in the corner and decided that “life dealt him a bad hand” – and therefore he would pout and be soured. His heart would have made him unusable to God if that were the case.

Let me ask you something: Is that what you are doing? Have you felt that the card hand God dealt you was somehow lacking, and because of that you exempt yourself from looking at life in a positive way?

Daniel distinguished himself in a bad place, surrounded by some bad people. I know this because his marks of distinction brought out their jealousy a few verses later in this very story. What he remembered in life is an important lesson for all of us: any test we face is more complicated than we may be led to believe. When he faced challenges, they were NOT simply the test before him, but the test of what was INSIDE of him – what his walk with God in life truly was. Let me see if an illustration may shed light on this thought:

Dr. Madison Sarratt taught mathematics at Vanderbilt for many years. Before giving a test, he would put things in perspective for his students by admonishing his class with these words: “Today I am giving two examinations: one in trigonometry, and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. But, if you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who cannot pass trigonometry, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

Many people seem to forget that external challenges have been approved by God to help us evaluate how true our walk is before Him. If we are not careful to be sensitive to obedience to God, we can easily learn in this life to ”settle” for some level of dishonesty. I am thinking of the man I heard about years ago who wrote to the IRS:

“Dear Sirs, Last year when I filed my income tax return, I deliberately misrepresented my income. Now I cannot sleep. Enclosed is a check for $150 for taxes. If I still can’t sleep, I will send the rest.”

Daniel chose character over comfort. He chose pushing himself instead of pouting about what he didn’t have. That distinguished him – and it will distinguish you in life as well.

2. Daniel chose discipline over disorder – he did what he should have done and refused what to do what he shouldn’t do. (6:4-9).

Daniel 6:4 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.” 6 Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! 7 “All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 “Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.

When I read this story, I was struck by the description of Daniel. I wondered how a group of enemies trying to trip me up would evaluate me. Go back to verse four and look carefully at what political reporters and party hacks found when they delved deeply into Daniel’s private life…nothing. The description of FAITHFULNESS was vivid: “no ground for accusation”, “no evidence of corruption”, “no negligence”…WOW! That description meant that Daniel wasn’t just NOT DOING WRONG, he was faithfully, diligently DOING RIGHT! Is that what my political opponents would say of me if I were in a government job as he was?

One of the things Daniel needed to bear in mind as he faced the simple tests of day to day living is that “someone is always watching”. Another lesson, equal to that one, helped him keep a positive attitude about life: challenges give me a platform to show my love and devotion to the Lord. They come into my life through the stamp of God’s approval, because they help TEST ME so that God can show me where I am lacking in my preparation for His use. I read somewhere years ago about eagles, and I confess I don’t know wildlife well enough to know if what the author wrote was factual, but it was illustrative. He wrote:

A female eagle has an interesting way of picking a mate. She will pick up a twig and fly high into the air and drop it. Male eagles will fly beneath her and try to catch the twig. She will do this until a male has caught the twig three times. The female is testing the male for his ability to catch young eagles as they are directed out of the nest for flight. When it’s time for the young eagle to fly on its own, the mother eagle pushes her young out of the nest. She carries the young eaglets on her back up high into the air and shakes them off. It is the responsibility of the father to swoop down and catch the young eaglets until they learn to fly on their own. Just as the female eagle is testing the male for his reliability, God will test a believer in his or her faithfulness and dependability. Similarly, in our walk with God we often run into difficult situations that require us to make decisions. These decisions are clear indications to the Father whether or not we can be trusted to move ahead to the next level of responsibility. As the female eagle tests the male with twigs to determine which one would be her choice for a mate, God is testing us through daily decisions to determine which ones He can rely on to be used to build His kingdom. — “Twigs” written by Chris Harken from Maple Grove, Minnesota USA

Daniel chose to respond to life with discipline and try to figure out how to best use his circumstances to honor God. When we do that, we will find that some of the tests open the doors to great opportunities…

Did you ever go walking through a field and get “stickers” poking you through your socks or your jeans? Did you ever get frustrated and think: “These must have come after the Fall of Man in the Garden!” There is no way that God would make these for man, is there? One man saw them differently, and these “stickers” poking his skin changed his life…

In 1948, a Swiss mountaineer named George de Mestral was walking through the woods and was very frustrated by the burs that clung to his clothes. While picking them off, he realized that it may be possible to use this principle to make a fastener to compete with the zipper. Velcro was inspired by the natural sticking properties of burrs. If you look at a velcro strip, you’ll notice that it has two parts to it: a strip that has a web of tiny hooks; and a strip that has a web of tiny interwoven hoops. These two strips are a match for each other and when you join them together the hooks “catch” the loops and they become meshed together in a very strong bond. What makes Velcro important is the reliability in the many small strands that predictably stick together! SOURCE: Darren Ethier in “The Velcro Effect” on Citation: The Useless Information Site, “ZIPPERS & VELCRO.”

Isn’t it TELLING that George saw what everyone saw, but looked at it with different eyes? That is EXACTLY what Daniel did. He looked at life and decided to face it with discipline and discernment. He didn’t just “look at the bright side of problems”, he worked through problems as PART of his walk with God. If we spend our time fussing and blaming, we use up the energy that could be spent working through the issue and gaining from it. It takes DISCIPLINE to shut off the emotional flow, and become productive in spite of the temptation to wallow in self-pity and moan injustice. Emotional discipline is essential to godliness.

3. Daniel chose love over life – he continued to follow hard after God and continue the prayers he normally made. (6:10-15).

Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. 12 Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, “Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?” The king replied, “The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.” 14 Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed.

I want you to look very closely at the age-old strategy of our spiritual enemy to shut off the influence of God’s people in society – because he is doing it again. You must see, not only the men who opposed Daniel of old, but the strategy of the enemy behind them – the puppeteer of darkness. When a believer walks uprightly, they are dangerous to the enemy. He assails them with temptation, and for many –that is enough to sideline them. If they succumb, they will waste energies fighting guilt that blocks them from truly experiencing God in daily life. When that DOESN’T WORK, the enemy may choose to drop into plan “B”, and try a different approach – like “redrawing lines”. What he often does is structures new law to put the believer on the outside of civil obedience – forcing a confrontation due to societal standards that are changed. Outlawing prayer in Daniel 6, five hundred years before Jesus, was a strategic form we see again emerging in a society that is trying to force believers to pay for abortions and to offer services to the abhorrence they call “same sex marriage”. The effort of the enemy of our souls is to redraw the lines of the law to move us outside of it – making the believer the “violator”. It is an old strategy for which Daniel faced a lion’s den. Believers need to be aware of the enemy’s strategic moves, because God uncovered them as such in His Word.

When Daniel knew the test was in place, his love for God drove him to continue praying! It wasn’t an OPTION for him – it was his LIFE CONNECTION TO GOD! Samuel Chadwick wrote, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayer-less studies, prayer-less work and prayer-less religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” Believers who look at prayer as a duty, don’t gaze at God in awe, nor desire time with Him out of LOVE.

It is essential that every believer recognize that love of the Lord must take precedence over love of things, and eventually of physical life itself: “Ken Walker writes in Christian Reader that in the 1995 college football season 6-foot-2-inch, 280-pound Clay Shiver, who played center for the Florida State Seminoles, was regarded as one of the best in the nation. In fact, one magazine wanted to name him to their preseason All-American football team. But that was a problem, because the magazine was Playboy, and Clay Shiver is a dedicated Christian.” “Shiver and the team chaplain suspected that Playboy would select him, and so he had time to prepare his response. Shiver knew well what a boon this could be for his career. Being chosen for this All-American team meant that sportswriters regarded him as the best in the nation at his position. Such publicity never hurts athletes who aspire to the pros and to multimillion dollar contracts.” “But Shiver had higher values and priorities. When informed that Playboy had made their selection, Clay Shiver simply said, ‘No thanks.’ That’s right, he flatly turned down the honor. ‘Clay didn’t want to embarrass his mother and grandmother by appearing in the magazine or giving old high school friends an excuse to buy that issue,’ writes Walker. Shiver further explained by quoting Luke 12:48: ‘To whom much is given, of him much is required.’” “I don’t want to let anyone down,” said Shiver, “and number one on that list is God (Larson, p. 53).

Let’s face it, Daniel knew what continuing prayer would cost him, but prayer wasn’t a RELIGIOUS activity, it was meeting with the God that he loved and lived for.

4. Daniel chose poise over panic – he knew his life was always preserved by God until the Lord was finished with him (6:16-23).

Daniel 6:16 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.” 17 stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing would be changed in regard to Daniel.18 Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. 19 Then the king arose at dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. 20 When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” 23 Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

The ending phrase of Daniel 6:23 makes clear the reason behind Daniel’s choice – it wasn’t compulsion or duty – it was trust. He trusted God to do what God wanted done if he did what God instructed. That is the essence of a surrendered life. He held his head high and knew the truth: We are invincible until God says our life has completed its mission.

In his book, When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado tells the story of John Egglen, who had never preached a sermon in his life before the Sunday morning when it snowed and the pastor wasn’t able to make it to the church. In fact, he was the only deacon to show up. He was not a preacher, but he was faithful and that meant on that particular Sunday morning he preached. God rewarded his faithfulness, and at the end of his hesitant sermon, one young man invited God into his heart. No one there could appreciate the significance of what had taken place that morning. The young man who accepted Christ that snowy Sunday morning was none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the man who has often been called, the “prince of preachers.” God blessed his preaching and when he was still less than 30 years old he became the pastor of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. His sermons were so powerful that although the building could hold 5000 people, the crowds who came to hear him were so thick that they would line up outside trying to hear his sermons. That amazing life of faith all started on a cold Sunday morning with the faithfulness of a deacon!

Trusting a God we cannot see is not easy when facing pain we can feel, and judgment we will physically discern. At the same time, if our faith means anything at all, it means the ability to be courageous with trust in the hands of a God Who is limitless in power!

5. Daniel chose rest over revenge – he did not celebrate, nor encourage any harm against those who trapped him. (6:24-28).

Daniel 6:24 The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. 25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! 26 “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Nowhere in the text do you read of Daniel’s delight as his plotting, conniving enemies became burnt toast. He made a choice to focus on God, not his adversaries. He knew the truth: Resting in the Lord will build us up inside!

The story is told of a persecuted Christian under Emperor Diocletian who was being chased by some soldiers under orders to put him to death. He saw a cave and rushed in to hide there. The soldiers arrived some time later. As they started to go in they noticed a spider’s web across the cave. They reasoned that no one had gone into that cave because the spider’s web was there. Later on, the Christian came out and walked through the spider’s web. He realized why the soldiers had not come in and said, “With God a web is as a wall. But without God a wall is as a spider’s web.” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

Daniel didn’t know what he would experience in the lions’ den but he knew that God would be with him and he put his trust in God, and rested in His goodness. He knew that where God led Him, God would stand with him – and that gave him rest. I think of a story:

A grandfather was out walking with his grandson one day. “How far do you think we are from home?” he asked the grandson.
The boy said, “Grandpa, I don’t know.”
The grandfather asked, “Well, where are you?”
Again the boy said, “I don’t know.”
Then the grandfather chuckled and said, “Sounds to me as if you are lost.”
The young boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “I can’t be lost, I’m with you.

Daniel chose character over comfort. He chose discipline over disorder. He chose love for God over life without God. He chose poise in the face of trouble over panic. He chose rest over revenge. He made choices that led him to positive peace… because:

Your ability to be positive has more to do with your life choices than your life circumstances!