Week 37 – A God-centered Life
Prayer – Father, we love You. Open our ears to hear from You today. Open our hearts so we can grow in our trust for You, the One who controls the future. And open our minds so we can see how this story that many of us have heard before penetrates to our everyday life. In Jesus Name.Amen. .
Recently, I was asked who in the Bible, other than Jesus, inspires me to live for God? Immediately I said Daniel. He was someone who faithfully lived a God-centered life. Oh, how I want my life and your life, to be a display of God’s greatness. This past week we read the book of Daniel and saw multiple examples of him living a God-centered life in a man-centered world. Today we are going to focus on one example that comes from the first chapter. So let’s turn there and I encourage you to follow along. Daniel 1
is on pg. 769 in these Bibles if you didn’t bring your Bible with you today. And as you turn there let me give some historical background. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and instead of physically destroying the city they wanted to see if they could destroy their identity and culture by bringing the royal officials and the best and the brightest teenagers to Babylon. The Babylonians were confident that they could babylonize them (not sure if that is a word) Jbut it is for today. Babylonize simply means to change their beliefs and values to align with Babylon. Daniel was among the potential converts and he, with the others, was now living in a culture where self-sufficiency, wealth, and who you were are based on what you did. In many ways, the Babylonian culture was similar to America’s culture today.
So Daniel is put into a 3 year education course to learn the Babylonian way. Those who excelled were put into the king’s service – meaning they would get an influential government position. Now what you may not know is that Daniel’s education included sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, and all the prayers to their Babylonians gods. And Scripture tells us that Daniel and his friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) excelled 10 times more than anyone else. I point this out because Daniel didn’t believe and practice everything he learned. Daniel, even as a teenager, knew how to be distinct with his faith but also how to not let his faith drive him away from being an engaging influencer which is part of living a God-centered life. This is why Daniel was okay with his education and even receiving a new name, Belteshazzar, which was the name of a Babylonian god. But there was something that Daniel could not go along with. So let’s begin reading in v. 8 to find out what it was. Read vv. 8-10.
Daniel had to draw the line when it came to eating from the king’s table. To be clear Daniel is in no way promoting being a vegetarian. Simply, eating from the king’s table symbolized submission to the authority and provision of the gods of the Babylonians. Daniel could not do that with a clear conscience even though he must have had his own personal questions for why God brought judgment on His people. It would only be human to do so. Perhaps Daniel should just fend for himself; which he didn’t. So Daniel had a decision to make: would he violate his faith and ask God for forgiveness later or should he continue to obey God and pray that somehow an authority figure would make an exception due to his religious convictions. Daniel had to choose. He could not please God and the Babylonians. (Show slide 2) Daniel would either deny God of the devotion He deserved or disappoint the Babylonians of the cooperation they demanded.
Daniel’s conflict to eat or not to eat at the king’s table was an indication of where he placed his loyalty. But Daniel’s dilemma is not unlike ours. The key difference is that for us it is not about what we eat but how we spend our time and what we put on our calendars indicates where our loyalty is at. For example, if someone refuses to spend time with you or the amount of time you think you deserve then you make a judgment about their commitment to you. We all do this. So similar to the story of Daniel, there is a choice to make. And you and I cannot satisfy all the people who are asking/expecting our time to be given to them. You and I invest in some relationships while neglecting others. So someone somewhere is going to feel denied, disappointed, or cheated. But as v. 8 says Daniel resolved not to defile, compromise his convictions, by eating at the king’s table. There had to be a moment before v. 8 where Daniel pre-decided that he was not going to deny God of the devotion He deserved – no matter what. This is how lasting change begins with a committed decision. This establishes priorities. In fact, (show slide 3) Chances are, your favorite Bible story involves someone giving to God what somebody else believed belonged to them so they felt cheated. Daniel did the right thing and it seems so obvious. It is why he is commended for his faith and courage. It is why this story is popular and why we want to share it with others, especially our youth. We tell them that doing the right thing at times will be hard. It will cost you something but we pray they, like Daniel, will make the right decision.
Now one of the reasons why this story personally stands out to me is because 12 years ago I was in a men’s accountability group that was very valuable to me even though all the men were much older than me. It is why today I am still in a pastor’s accountability group and one here at Sandy Ridge. I remember one morning a man shared how he felt so overwhelmed with all the demands of his time. Then one of the guys said the obvious – you cannot satisfy all of the spoken and unspoken requests for your time. The only way to have victory is to embrace the reality that someone is going to feel cheated. The guy continued to say that this group needs to pray for wisdom for all of us to know who we pre-decide that will not feel cheated of our time. We all agreed that relationship with God, spouses and children which was everyone, but myself, were too important. So if other people felt disappointed or requested more time we could not allow that to change our loyalties to God, His mission, and our families. And then before we left that morning we gave each other permission to speak into our lives if anyone sensed God and our families were being cheated by our decisions. And we also spent time praying that we would be the best employee with the x number of hours we personally committed to. We also prayed for protection from allowing our desire to shine for God at work to override our loyalty to God and our families.
Now if you are wondering how Daniel specifically dealt with his conflict. Let’s continue to read vv. 11-16. Daniel did 3 things: (show slide 4) 1) He asked permission to change his work conditions. The Babylonians are prideful, merciless, and violent. So what are the odds of them changing the rules? 2) He listened to his supervisor concerns and 3) he proposed a solution that took those concerns into account. Daniel never threatened the official’s authority or gave an ultimatum. Now here is where Daniel’s situation is similar to ours. Daniel’s supervisor’s primary concern was performance, not what he ate. This is your boss’ primary concern as well. So the real issue is not the # of hours we spend, it is our productivity. I don’t know what everyone here exactly does but I would bet there are several factors that affect your productivity more than time.
And in this particular case God gave Daniel success. Now when I talk to people about redirecting their time, usually as it relates to their work, and use this story I often hear phrases like, “it’s not that simple, “you are not making a fair comparison,” “that was then, this is now,” “I’m no Daniel,” or “if I do cut back on time at work then my reputation and goals will be hindered.” It is common to look at our future through the lenses of our work but not also look through the lenses of our family. I cannot tell you the times people have said to me my family will understand, but at what price? For example, if you asked me to hold this rock for a short time I probably would. But eventually my physical weakness would overcome my mental willingness to hold this rock and I would have to set it down. Likewise, when we ask our families to understand the time commitments of work, hobbies, projects, school, etc. It is like we just asked them to hold this rock and most will because they love us. But over time the emotional and relational disconnect they feel will override their mental willingness and the rock drops. (Drop rock). The only difference is the relationship is broken into pieces. As a pastor, I see this all the time. Perhaps you see it too. The only thing I can do is point them to the One who by His grace and power can put the pieces back together though it won’t be like it was before. Even though God desires forgiveness, trust, new behaviors and attitudes to bring healing and reconciliation the memories cannot be erased.
Now for a few moments I want to speak directly to the men. Men – God and your family are never the areas to cheat your time. I understand why we do not want to disappoint our employers. We do not want to miss the promotion, we want to receive the highest marks on our performance review, or simply we do not want to lose our job. After all, how would that be good for our families? But cheating your family will bring consequences. They are just not immediate. It is not like you come home late and your spouse says, “I’m not going to talk to you.” Or your child says, “I’m not going to play with you tomorrow.” But men someone will feel cheated. There is not enough time to get it all done. Don’t let it be your family. If you have asked your family to figuratively speaking hold the rock then take it back today before their emotional and relational exhaustion overrides their mental willingness and the rock drops. And men let me say one more thing - you cannot do this alone. It does not matter where you are with God, your personality, or your time demands – you need others to encourage, pray, model, and challenge you. There are lots of resources out there to help you be the man that God has called you to be. Here at Sandy Ridge we have the men’s ministry which has a few gatherings throughout the year and a men’s accountability group that meets here every Thursday morning. This is good but God wants to grow this ministry. So after my message a quick questionnaire will be passed out to you and we simply just ask you to take a few minutes and fill it out and put it on the back table before you leave. We would appreciate hearing from you.
Now what I am going to say next is for everyone. I want to leave you with 2 questions and a few more practical suggestions. Question number #1: (show slide 5) have you made up your mind on who will not be denied from the time and attention they deserve? Thisreveals your allegiances and your priorities. Question number #2: (show slide) Is there anyone in your life that feels cheated of your time? I realize that to answer this last question you may have to ask them. Now let me share a few more suggestions for you to consider. Those of you who are married and feel that your spouse is putting their work, hobbies, time with children before you then you need to tell them before you drop the rock. You cannot expect them to read your mind. On the other hand, if you feel your spouse honors you by the time they invest then thank them this week. Those of you who are parents remember the greatest gift you can give your kids is to let them see your passion for God by your words, prayers, and actions. Let them see your conviction that God will not be denied of the devotion He deserves. Let them see your longing for His Word, prayer, and the people of God. This not only helps children see that life is truly about God instead of themselves. God has big plans for your children but they need to see how you are participating in the big plans He has given to you. Those of you who are married with children let them see you investing in your marriage. Your marriage has more of an influence than you may realize on the development of your children’s personal security. And finally, to those of you who are unable to see how your work conditions could change then seek counsel on how to come up with a plan like Daniel did. Entrust your job’s future to God knowing that if your work conditions do not change then it is time to find a new job. People of Sandy Ridge, let us pre-decide today that we will not cheat God and our families. Let us surround ourselves with people who will pray and encourage us to do just that. I know I need it. At this time I invite a few men to pass out those questionnaires followed by Melody who will share her faith story before her baptism.