Daniel: Living Above, not under, the Circumstances (Part I)
Carried to Babylon ~605 BC, Daniel soon established himself as a godly and deeply committed youth of powerful character. His life’s an important and inspiring study in how disciples living the best of all lives may utilize the hostile. (See Phil. 1:15-18)
In an especially eventful and significant life, three episodes stand out in Daniel’s long career: His refusal to eat the king’s dainties, his sentence to the lions’ den, and the appearance of God to him during the reign of Cyrus. For what they show us of the best of all lives we will consider each of these high spots. In each of our lives as disciples there are many very similar experiences.
Handling the Circumstances
1. Daniel becomes a worthwhile man because he wanted to be. Many in his place would have said: “I’m away from restraints, I can do as I please, I’ll gratify my desires now.” But Daniel “purposed in his heart….” and held to everything he had been taught. His values, priorities, and personal integrity were prized by him. There are things that are simply not negotiable. The highest values are not pleasure, not prestige, not success, not even life. Integrity is worth more than life. Self respect and character are worth more than anything we would gain by sacrificing them. A disciple wants to be a quality person.
Integrity of personhood doesn’t just happen. Nor is it inherited. Quality of character and life are the result of resolve, with God’s endorsement and blessing. If we are satisfied to be mediocre, mediocre we shall be. If we want to be more significant for Christ’s sake, that desire will be honored and God will make it happen.
But our hearts must be involved. God will not act upon us as insensate blobs. Following his lead, responding to his work in us, we must pursue virtue, and take it captive by a conscious act of our wills and by the resolutions of our hearts. Daniel never said he was going to become a quality person. He simply purposed in his heart to do what he had to in order to become so. No boasting of great intentions. He simply did what had to be done.
Not only no boasting, but also no complaining. He was living under adverse circumstances, but determined in his heart to live not under but above the forces in his life. If every disciple of Christ spent his or her energy lighting candles instead of cursing darkness, we wouldn’t know this old world. Remember Joseph; imprisoned he made of his prison a chapel. “Two men stood in prison, behind the iron bars. One looked out and saw the mud, the other saw the stars.” We’re not where we are by blind fate. God positions us, and does so wisely. There may be some things he wants us to change, other things he shows us we cannot change. It is for us to seek the wisdom to know the difference and accept the challenges in either case. We’re responsible for serving him in the niche he has designed for us. It may not be all we had hoped for, but it is a place from which we can live as disciples, and that is what matters most.
2. Daniel is a study in the all-important quality of self discipline. He purposed in his heart to keep himself pure. The absolute necessity of stern, consistent self discipline can hardly be over-estimated. Disciples do not compromise with themselves or with life in matters of truth and right. Part of self discipline is candor with self, and disciples must be brutally honest with their hearts and consciences. Here already, so early in the record, is the indication that Daniel is headed for greatness. The story begins with his body and appetites, and his will, subjected to the godly purpose of his heart. We will do little for our Master unless we are willing to take the effort to regulate ourselves according to his will. Discipline is the backbone of character, like the keel of a ship; and nothing is so useless as a ship without a keel.
Remember also that discipline is not amenable to circumstances. Godliness is godliness in recreation as well as daily work. To Daniel it was of no consequence that he was in the king’s palace. He honored his convictions not because of where he was or was not, but because they were his convictions. One of the marks of current ethics is relativism. The unforgivable social sin seems to be holding a strong sense of integrity, and standing for convictions. Society adjusts to evil, banishes from its vocabulary such words as sin. To be intolerant of evil is looked upon with derision. Daniel knew nothing of moral relativism. He was a moral huntsman, digging his colleagues out of their compromising and tolerance. He recognized an issue when he saw it, and handled it in a way consistent with his godliness.
3. Come back to “in his heart”. “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” Our hearts are the truest barometers of character. Also the heart is the source of moral power. The heart will over-rule the will, the intellect, the flesh, and our faulty of judgement. The call of God is: “My son, give me your heart,” for there is the seat of our religion, our values, our goals, and our very personhood. The best of lives begins with a heart that is right towards God. If we will be disciples, we shall have to give a great deal of attention to our hearts and their resolves. May the prayer of the Psalmist be ours: “Create in me a a clean heart, O God.”