You have an employee, and they keep coming into work late. At first it was a minute or two, and you overlooked it. In a matter of months it increased, and almost every day they arrived ten to fifteen minutes after their appointed time, and often left a few minutes early. What should you do? You have essentially two choices available to convince them to do right: you can use what leadership experts call “SOFT persuasion”, or you can opt for “HARD persuasion”. Most of us are familiar with HARD persuasion from our homes. It sounds like this: “If you walk through that door one minute late again, you will be sent home without pay for the rest of the day!” Hard persuasion sounds to me like nice words for “threat”. Soft persuasion comes most often in the form of the “carrot” – not the “stick”. In the case of soft persuasion, the you might say to the employee something like this: “I know that you have been struggling to be on time, and I know I haven’t said much in the past – but this is really getting to be a habit I cannot tolerate. Let’s do this. If you will work at being on time every day for the next two months, I will reconsider that raise request you made last quarter. I am rooting for you to win, so that both of us will win!”
Let’s be honest: some of us HATE the idea of the soft persuasion. We think the “carrot” approach is intrinsically weak and wimpy, and it grates us the wrong way. WE got threatened when we were coming up through the ranks, and we want people to stop wimping out and suck it up and do their jobs – or get in the unemployment line. All this “whining” and “hand out” based culture has gotten under our skin. Now, we walk into church, and you want to hear “straight truth” – you know, the kind that reminds us of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”. C’mon preacher – give it to us! Don’t soften sin – let ‘em have it! Tell them that God is in Heaven about to really unload on this sin-sick nation of lazy and perverted men. Some believers seem to have been sucking green persimmons….
Let me ask you something: Is fire and brimstone all that we have in the arsenal against a rising tide of ungodly promotions by people in power? Can we offer both a positive word and a loving spirit amid darkening days of proud paganism and its arrogant boasting?
As we open the record of a believer of long ago, we will note that Daniel found significant ways to have a positive impact in very dark places without losing his grip on kindness and gentle force! God didn’t just use him a long time ago, but provided the record that we might see and emulate him! This lesson isn’t so much about our message – which does not change – but about our method – which must adapt to the hearer. Why? The answer is simple…
Key Principle: Effective outreach is when the world about us can truly hear what we are trying to say and respond correctly to it.
Five Quick Facts about Daniel the Man:
Before we delve into the writing of Daniel 4, it might be good to remind ourselves about the man who God used to record the story. He was a believer, flawed but faithful. God superintended his writing to tell God’s story. There are a few things to remember:
1. His name means “God is my Judge”. He lived up to his name – and didn’t let the culture around him determine his message. He took his cues from God, and God used his life.
2. He was from an aristocratic family (Daniel 1:3), and was carried into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II (1:1) in the third year (4th by Jewish reckoning) of Jehoiakim’s reign (606 BCE). He wasn’t in a comfortable place – but on a pagan campus that didn’t match his value system taught at home.
3. He was born in his homeland Israel (most likely in Judah), during the reforms of King Josiah (c. 621 BCE) and lived at least until about 536 BCE. He started life surrounded by a revival for God’s Word – and spent most of it in the “moral sludge of paganism”.
4. God honored Daniel and gave him great understanding to qualify as one of the “wise men” (Daniel 1:20;2:13) of the nation. He was given the gift of dreams, visions and their interpretation. His place didn’t determine his lifestyle – his commitment to follow God did. In the end, it wasn’t his parentage nor his environment that set the course for his destiny – it was his set of deliberate choices.
5. Daniel was used by God for over eighty years and offered a “long record” of being God’s servant in a dark place. He isn’t an example of how to do “flash in the pan” ministry – but rather sustained a walk with God in a place where few could for decades of life. Daniel offered and encouraging example of a man who fearlessly worshiped the God of Israel in a forced exile far away from the Temple system of worship and sacrifice.
The Writing: The Purpose of the Book of Daniel
As we take lessons from the book, we should occasionally stop and familiarize ourselves with the “whole” of the narrative. Three things we should bear in mind that help us understand the book as it has been kept by God for us:
1. Daniel is a bilingual writing, with a Hebrew introduction and ending (1:1-2:4a; 8-12 respectively). The other portion of the book is in Aramaic, the common diplomatic Gentile language of his day (2:4b-7:28). That means that part of the book was more focused on the Jewish people and what will happen to them, and part was God’s outreach manual to the pagan world surrounding the exiled Jewish people.
2. Daniel offers a theme that demonstrates the absolute truth and superiority of “El Elyon” (the God of Abraham) over all the world – Gentiles as well as Hebrews, as the Aramaic section of the book unfolds. Daniel’s life message was this: God is in charge of everyone – even those who don’t believe in Him.
3. The book’s theme appears to shift in emphasis when the Hebrew language resumes in chapter 8, focusing the control of God on the program He planned for His own people. God planned not only chastisement and shame for them (which they were experiencing surrounded by pagans) but a future restoration and prominence.
The point of the book seems to be this: God is in charge. He is in charge of those who GET that He is in charge – but He is also in charge of those who DON’T. He has a special and more complete message about events to those who BELIEVE, but He doesn’t need man’s belief to be fully SOVEREIGN.
The Situation in Chapter Four
Let’s move in on our story as we unfold the scroll to chapter four. We open the story in progress….Daniel was dropped on to a pagan campus, surrounded by godless men with their lusts for power and control – and God gave him opportunities to share the truth of His God unapologetically before them. A great example is unfolding. It began with a proclamation of a lesson learned by a great king of long ago. Listen to the proclamation and see if you can pick out the events that brought the story to this point:
Daniel 4:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and [men of every] language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound! 2 “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 3 “How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation. 4 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. 5 “I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and [these] fantasies [as I lay] on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 6 “So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 “Then the magicians, the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners came in and I related the dream to them, but they could not make its interpretation known to me. 8 “But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, [saying], 9 O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell [me] the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation. 10 Now [these were] the visions in my mind [as I lay] on my bed: I was looking, and behold, [there was] a tree in the midst of the earth and its height [was] great. 11 The tree grew large and became strong and its height reached to the sky, and it [was] visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its foliage [was] beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it [was] food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, And all living creatures fed themselves from it. 13 I was looking in the visions in my mind [as I lay] on my bed, and behold, an [angelic] watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven. 14 He shouted out and spoke as follows: “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 “Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, But with a band of iron and bronze [around it] In the new grass of the field; And let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, And let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 “Let his mind be changed from [that of] a man and let a beast’s mind be given to him, And let seven periods of time pass over him. 17 “This sentence is by the decree of the [angelic] watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men.“
That’s it. That was the opportunity that Daniel was given to look into the eyes of the most powerful man alive and tell him about the God of Heaven. Daniel stepped up to the task. Our lesson is about how he did it – because we are increasingly being called upon to share God’s Word with people who have little connection to Him – and know little of His love – like the king of long ago in this passage.
Notice three things about the encounter the king had, according to the official testimony:
• First, he recognized in it that there were two worlds – a physical one and a spiritual one. He showed some spiritual sensitivity to God. He wasn’t just asking about theoretical ideology – he had an inkling that there was something spiritual happening.
• Second, he wasn’t prepared for the way the message intruded on his comfortable life. God was at work – and it wasn’t as a result of some search the king began.
• Finally, the king took from his encounter (according to the decree) a message of God’s Sovereignty and man as the subject of the Mighty One of Heaven. He got the point of the lesson after he encountered Daniel.
Here is my question. How did Daniel get the message across to the king? Did he threaten him with hellfire and brimstone? Did he pander to him? How did he speak truth to power, but keep calm and not water down a tough message? It is a lesson for our time…
Seven Steps to Effective Sharing of Truth
1. Daniel based his presentation on the REPUTATION of his life (4:18). Your life gives you the opportunity to speak into the lives of others.
Daniel 4:18 This is the dream [which] I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, tell [me] its interpretation, inasmuch as none of the wise men of my kingdom is able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for a spirit of the holy gods is in you.’
Build your testimony in every life choice you make – big and small. People follow YOU before they follow your message. Live the clarity of your message. Jesus can be seen BEST in a life that doesn’t cloud His reflection. Maybe it is best to offer a simple illustration:
A reporter once asked Albert Einstein’s wife if she understood the theory of relativity. She replied, “No, but I know Albert, and he can be trusted.”
Don’t forget that people are ALWAYS watching your life. There are times when I have – and I have always regretted it. I think of an old story that helps me remember that people have their eye on my choices:
There was a bus driver that gave the new visiting preacher too much change. The Pastor sat in his seat, looked at the change, and was conflicted. He was new to town and didn’t want to make a big deal, but he was sure he got too much change. After a few minutes on the ride, the Pastor went to the driver and said, “Excuse me sir, I am new in town, so I may not have figured this whole thing out, but it looks to me like I got too much money back in change.” The driver replied, “Many thanks! I knew that you were the new Pastor in town and I just wanted to decide whether I wanted to go to your church or not!” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).
Notice that Daniel wasn’t trying to show with his life that HE was more capable – but the passage clearly stated that the king knew it was the INDWELLING of God’s Spirit that made him able. It isn’t our job to make people think we are great – because we aren’t. It is our job to allow the work of God within us to shine through our lives and touch them. In the time of trouble, they will acknowledge that God has been working there, and they noticed it before.
2. Daniel showed SINCERE CARING for Nebuchadnezzar. (4:19). Even when he shared hard words, he did it with a heart broken to have harm come to the king.
Daniel 4:19 “Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.’ Belteshazzar replied, My lord, [if only] the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries!
Wasn’t this the king that took him from his home country in 606 BCE? Why should he care? You will not have a positive impact on people that believe that you hate them – even if you totally disagree with their life choices. It is in both loving them and in speaking truth that we reach effectively into the lives of others.
In an article in Campus Life a young nurse writes of her pilgrimage in learning to see in a patient the image of God beneath a very “distressing disguise.” Eileen was one of her first patients, a person who was totally helpless. “A cerebral aneurysm (broken blood vessels in the brain) had left her with no conscious control over her body,” the nurse wrote. “As near as the doctors could tell Eileen was totally unconscious, unable to feel pain and unaware of anything going on around her. It was the job of the hospital staff to turn her every hour to prevent bedsores and to feed her twice a day, “what looked like a thin mush through a stomach tube.’” Caring for her was a thankless task. “When it’s this bad,” an older student nurse told her, “you have to detach yourself emotionally from the whole situation…” As a result, more and more Eileen came to be treated as a thing, a vegetable … But the young student nurse decided that she could not treat Eileen like the others had treated her. She talked to her, sang to her, encouraged her and even brought her little gifts. One day when things were especially difficult and it would have been easy for the young nurse to take out her frustrations on the patient, she was especially kind. It was Thanksgiving Day and the nurse said to the patient, “I was in a cruddy mood this morning, Eileen, because it was supposed to be my day off. But now that I’m here, I’m glad. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss seeing you on Thanksgiving. Do you know this is Thanksgiving?” Just then the telephone rang, and as the nurse turned to answer it, she looked quickly back at the patient. Suddenly, she writes, Eileen was “looking at me … crying. Big damp circles stained her pillow, and she was shaking all over.” That was the only human emotion that Eileen ever showed any of them, but it was enough to change the whole attitude of the hospital staff toward her. Not long afterward, Eileen died. The young nurse closes her story, saying, “I keep thinking about her … It occurred to me that I owe her an awful lot. Except for Eileen, I might never have known what it’s like to give myself to someone who can’t give back.”
Men and women, we must stop seeing people in the abstract – and see them as God’s wondrous creations! The most heinous example of a loose-living celebrity, caustic to our faith with their every sentence, must be seen differently than our fallen heart desires to consider. Disdain is not the beginning of outreach, love is. In an effort to be clear about right and wrong in a day when that clarity has been lost in the public square, many of us have turned sour and mean. We have to admit it, because soured hearts are not surrendered ones….Can we not see that the absolute worst nightmare of a politician in our day is STILL a man or woman – a person with feelings, hopes aspirations and dreams. They get cold in the blowing wind, and they have times of loneliness and boredom. They aren’t JUST the public persona of the media – they are people. We must remember to see them as God’s created beings or we will speak of them as things – and that won’t reach anyone. Jesus made them. He loved them enough to come and die for them. We must recall the caring in our hearts and voices to reach lost people.
3. Daniel wasn’t short on PRAISE FOR GOOD THINGS in the life of the one that was not living what God desired.
He wasn’t faking it, or apple polishing – that wasn’t his style. He was praising what he could! (4:20-22)…
Daniel 4:20 The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth 21 and whose foliage [was] beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which [was] food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged—22 it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth.
We have to be observant for good things, and we have to admit we don’t always know the value of things, much less of people! We hear stories like that of Ted and Virginia from Arizona. Their story was found on “Antiques Roadshow” a few years back on PBS. Ted inherited a blanket from an aunt, and not caring much for the blanket, just threw it on a chair in the bedroom. There it stayed for years until the “Antiques Roadshow” came through Tuscon. Just for kicks, Ted and Virginia carried the blanket (the aunt told them it was Kit Carson’s) to see if it was worth anything, thinking perhaps it might be worth a couple of thousand dollars. Donald Ellis was the appraiser that day, and he almost fainted when he saw the blanket. Turns out the blanket was an original Navajo creation dating to the early 1800’s, of which only fifty remain in existence, and none in the condition of Ted and Virginia’s. Mr. Ellis appraised the blanket on the show for $350,000. Ted and Virginia sold the blanket at auction for close to half a million dollars. From trash to treasure…indeed. (author unknown).
Can we not readily admit that we are adept at picking out the flaws of people, but are far less able to quickly cite what is GOOD about them? If you want to reach people, you must become a student of people – able to see more keenly their possibilities and not simply their flaws.
4. Daniel SPOKE TRUTH but with a broken heart for his king! (4:23).
I think it is important that we recognize that he didn’t shrink back and compromise the truth, but he also didn’t enjoy the message of judgment.
Daniel 4:23 In that the king saw an [angelic] watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze [around it] in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him,“
A teenage boy was diagnosed with cancer and as a result was in the hospital for several weeks to undergo radiation treatments and chemotherapy. During that time, he lost all of his hair. On the way home from the hospital, he was worried-not about the cancer, but about the embarrassment & shame of going back to school with a bald head. The fear of being laughed at, ridiculed & mocked. He had already decided not to wear a wig or a hat. When he arrived home, he walked in the front door and turned on the lights. To his surprise, about fifty of his friends jumped up and shouted, “Welcome home!”’ The boy looked around the room and could hardly believe his eyes-all fifty of his friends had shaved their heads! Wouldn’t we all like to have caring friends who were so sensitive and committed to us that they would sacrifice their hair for us if that’s what it took to make us feel affirmed, included, and loved? (sermon central illustrations). The friends didn’t change the truth of the situation, but they communicated a heart to walk through the fire with their friend!
Daniel didn’t flinch in the message to try and change the coming judgment of the king – he delivered the message faithfully, though he knew the horror of its sound. Consider this: the message that the king was soon to be reduced to an animal needed to be delivered to the king to whom the message was aimed. It wasn’t Daniel’s choice to make it happen, but it was his job to deliver the message no matter how he felt about it.
Let me ask you to do something: Make sure you feel the pain of hell for those in our world before you proclaim it as the destination of lost men. I don’t want to flinch, but I want to feel the message. Cold hearts reach no one, and spread only death. Feel pain when the Gospel makes clear the requirement to know Christ for life eternal – or something is missing inside you that God wants to use.
5. Daniel CONNECTED THE MESSAGE to God’s perspective on the future judgment (4:24-25).
Not a single sentence of interpretation was offered by Daniel that wasn’t smothered with the sauce of God’s decree. Daniel wasn’t offering HIS idea, but telling God’s path forward…
Daniel 4:24 “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.
We have the privilege of connecting God’s Word to people’s lives in a positive way. This characteristic was well demonstrated by the nineteenth century missionary named John Selwyn, sent to the South Pacific, after having built a reputation as a renowned boxer and man of great strength. During his years in the South Pacific, he had occasion to strongly rebuke a native, and that native struck him violently across his face. Selwyn responded by folding his arms and looking intently into the eyes of the native, who realized that Selwyn could easily have knocked him cold. But Selwyn made not the slightest effort to retaliate and simply gazed at him with loving concern. The native ran into the jungle, too ashamed to face this missionary. Several years after John Selwyn had returned home, that same native came forward to confess Christ and be baptized by Selwyn’s replacement. When asked what new name he wished to be called by, the native replied, “Call me John Selwyn, for it was he who taught me what Jesus Christ is like.” (sermon central illustrations).
Daniel looked the king in the eye and said: “You are going to eat grass and lie in the field.” Yet, he didn’t stop there. He connected the truth to the lesson. God is going to teach you something you need to know through the experience. He didn’t have an enviable position, but he had a necessary one – and so do we.
6. Daniel SHOWED THE HOPE of the return of the king! (4:26).
The message of God offered hope even in the face of judgment – that is why God offered it! He kept speaking…
Daniel 4:26 And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that [it is] Heaven [that] rules.
In the Bible, God offered a message of judgment to a man facing judgment… and you need to ask a simple question. Why would He do that? Why not just take the man off the throne and put him out to pasture? Why not simply conclude that the man refused to follow God and His Word, and so he should be left to his own judgment?
Men and women, we don’t understand God at all when we conclude such things. That fact, that the king was a sinner who did not yield to God, has been true of every member of our race since Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. There have been no natural exceptions – though there was one unnaturally introduced Messiah to that scene. The message of hope is the message of the Cross. God JUDGED your sin in Christ – and wants your life surrendered. The HOPE of the message is found in this truth: we don’t have to face the end without the knowledge of what God is saying… and even more….
7. Daniel OFFERED AN ALTERNATIVE to the coming judgment (4:27).
We don’t have to face the end without the opportunity to avert the coming judgment altogether. It is our simple choice…
Daniel 4:27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by [doing] righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to [the] poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.‘
Many of us act in our lives like we are forced to continue in rebellion against God. Yielding may be TOUGH, but it is not IMPOSSIBLE! I think of something author Gary Thomas wrote years ago about people in marriage disputes….He wrote: “I don’t believe couples fall out of love—they fall out of repentance.” (“Putting Yourself Last” Marriage Partnership, Winter 1999).
Can you see it? You aren’t forced to follow a wrong direction – we are CHOOSING to face judgment by not accepting God’s way out….That is our message. That is how we can be heard…
Effective outreach is when they can hear what we truly are trying to say and respond to it.
Let me close with a simple story that says what Daniel was doing in one single paragraph, and ask the believers pulling through this lesson to consider “getting on board”:
Author and teacher, Dr. Howard Hendricks tells the story of a young man who strayed from the Lord but was finally brought back by the help of a friend who really loved him. When there was full repentance and restoration, Dr. Hendricks asked this Christian how it felt away from the Lord. The young man said it seemed like he was out at sea, in deep water, deep trouble, and all his friends were on the shore hurling biblical accusations at him about justice, penalty, and wrong. “But, there was one Christian brother who actually swam out to get me and would not let me go. I fought him, but he pushed aside my fighting, grasped me, put a life jacket around me, and took me to shore. By the grace of God, he was the reason I was restored. He would not let me go.” (sermon central illustrations).