Faith for Faithless Times – Daniel and Friends
It’s tough living as a Christian when the people around you think you’re crazy or deluded or defiant. So many opportunities to compromise your beliefs come your way. Daniel and friends show us what living faithfully in faithless times can look like. Keeping God in focus can change everything.
Have you found it tough to be a faithful Jesus-follower when it seems everyone around you isn’t really interested, or believes something completely different? How do you tend to respond when the things your friends do don’t really honour God? Daniel and his friends lived in tough times for people who loved God. There’s some good stuff in Daniel’s story that might encourage you …
Here’s some background info to get you started: It’s around 600 BC. With a few exceptions, Israel has pretty much ignored God’s relationship rescue plan – the Covenants – and is about to suffer the consequences. In Isaiah 3 God had warned the people that some bad stuff might happen if they continued to ignore their side of God’s Covenant. Unfortunately, Isaiah’s warnings echoed around among deaf ears and no-one paid much attention.
So God upped the stakes a little and begins to follow through on what God said would happen in Deuteronomy 28: If you reject the Covenant, things are going to go badly for you. The Babylonian empire, ruled by Nebuchadnezzar has just invaded Israel, ransacked the Temple, and dragged off a whole lot of people to be servants and slaves back home. A young guy called Daniel was one of them … Daniel’s story was first written to encourage people who were living in tough times. I think the story has got lots to say to us today too – plus it’s just a really cool story, the kind you couldn’t make up.
We’re going to dip into three scenes that take place years apart and which reveal some great stuff about living faithfully in faithless times.
Scene 1 takes place in Daniel 1v1-21. The new life has actually started out pretty well. A little bit too well for Daniel who has a few problems with the rich and lavish food and wine he’s being made to consume. Daniel manages to convince the guy in charge to give him just vegetables and water for ten days. Despite the risk of losing his head the official puts all the good food back on the top shelf and hands out just the veg.
The veggie diet does wonders and soon that’s the new standard menu. God is impressed with these young guys and gives them some special gifts to help them thrive in other ways too.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
Here are two things that impress me in this story:
Even though God had caused the official in charge to be kind to Daniel, the guy was still too scared to give Daniel what he wanted. It took some crafty scheming by Daniel – and a brave guard too – to go ahead with the plan. Daniel doesn’t take the ‘sit back and let God do everything’ approach, but neither does he do everything himself. Seems like a well-balanced approach to me…
I also love how God responds to Daniel’s act of faith; it’s as if God says to himself ‘now here’s a young person I can trust with some bigger stuff…’ I wonder if God sometimes waits to see how we handle the small things we have now before trusting us with bigger things.
The second scene takes place in Daniel 3. King Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t the most stable of kings. One day he’s raving about Daniel’s God: ‘your God is the God of gods and the Lord of Kings!’ (2:47) and then he’s getting everyone to worship a colossal gold statue-god he got someone to make. That presented a problem for Daniel’s friends …
Despite the dire warnings of being fried alive, Daniel’s friends refuse to do what everyone else is doing and bow down to this man-made statue. Can you imagine the peer pressure when everyone else is face-down in the dirt and they’re just standing there? Pretty soon they’re in the burning pit but miraculously emerge unscathed. They even get a surprise visit by a mysterious person in the middle of the inferno.
Here’s the part that’s worth the price of admission for me: how crazy is the reply that the three friends give to the king in verse 16-18??
‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’
These guys have rock solid faith that God is able to save them from anything the king throws at them but … if God chooses not to save them for some reason it doesn’t matter. They are so committed to God they would rather die than worship someone or something else – as lots of faithful Christians have been prepared to do in all the years since, and continue to choose to do today.
In the end, God comes through in a spectacular way, Nebuchadnezzar flip-flops back onto the ‘God is awesome’ side and the three guys get a hectic promotion.
The third scene is the famous one where Daniel survives a night with hungry lions (Daniel 6). It all started when jealous officials convince a very convincible king to ban praying to anyone other than him. Darius’ lack of judgement puts Daniel in a tricky spot but, instead of taking a month-long prayer break Daniel keeps on going, every day, just like always.
Here are three things I admire about Daniels prayer life when I read verse 10:
1. Prayer was Daniel’s first response to this new crisis in his life.
2. Praying regularly (three times a day) was an old habit. Daniel didn’t pray any harder when heard the bad news, he just kept on as before.
3. Daniel’s prayers were mostly about saying ‘thank-you!’ to God.
Any lessons there for you?
God comes through for Daniel in another amazing way and he leaves the den with some new lion friends instead of being lion poop. Will God always save us from harm like Daniel? Um, no. Faith in God doesn’t guarantee our safety from lions, or robbers or stuff that might harm us. There are many faithful Christians who have also literally been thrown before lions for their faith … and they have been eaten.
Sometimes we are going to genuinely suffer for our faith, and sometimes God will miraculously save us from trouble. Sometimes we need to say, like those three guys in scene 2: ‘I know God can … but even if he doesn’t …’
Here’s the thing I really love about Daniel’s story: did you notice how the narrator in each of the scenes shows us how God is always in control? God is always there in the story: causing the official to show ‘favour and sympathy’ to Daniel (1:9), giving Daniel special knowledge and wisdom to rule wisely and even interpret dreams (1:17), sending an angel to be with the three guys in their fiery furnace ordeal (3:24-25) and to wire closed the lions’ mouths in the den with Daniel.
We live in a world of broken relationships. The very thing God intended to be perfect has been wrecked by sin. Sin touches all of our lives – some in more obvious ways than others. That makes living faithfully in these times really hard sometimes, but … God draws straight with the crooked lines of our lives. Even when people do stupid and hurtful things to us, or we make dumb decisions and suffer the consequences, God never leaves us and never gives up control. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 8v28 that, no-matter what happens to us God can work all things for the ultimate good of those who love him.
Isn’t that some pretty good news for faithless times?
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
If you imagine the level of faith and belief in God in the places you live in as a kind of climate, what are the conditions like – dry and dusty desert; tropical rainforest; something in between?
What challenges or obstacles from the people around them do people who want to live faithfully as Christians have to deal with? What about other faiths?
How do you tend to respond when the things your friends do don’t really honour God?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Some questions to help you replay your story
o Which of the three scenes we looked at in this session seemed most relevant to your situation?
o The first story could be called: ‘Keeping things simple and small to help focus on God’ Are there things you need to stop taking in for a while so you can connect with God better? It might not be rich food but what about other things you can do without for, say, ten days?
o Hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with someone threatening to braai you alive … but sometimes having faith in and being loyal to Jesus means saying ‘no’ to things that other people try and make us do. Are there things you need to choose to not devote yourself to or be part of?
o In the third story, Daniel had every chance to use his great power to set up some nice stuff for himself – but he didn’t. What if someone tried to find something in your life they could accuse you about: how ‘trustworthy, neither corrupt nor negligent’ (Daniel 6v4) in the things you’re responsible for would they find you?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
Daniel and his friends frequently faced temptation to compromise their belief so they could avoid the threat of suffering and death. Jesus faced that too – he knew the path he was on was heading straight to an agonising crucifixion. He was pretty seriously tempted to give it all up and stay safe. Yet Jesus refused to back down – even when his prayers to God to save him were answered by: ‘No.’ or when the devil or the soldiers offered to make things easier for him.
Check out what’s in Hebrews 12v1-3.
o How does thinking about Jesus in this way help you re-draw your picture of what Jesus is like?
What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?
Have you encountered something in Daniel’s story that makes you want to change something in your life? Maybe something about staying true to what you believe when things get tough that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I’ve been too easily influenced by the people around me and maybe stopped doing some of the God-honouring things I used to do. Sorry! Help me stay faithful to you in these faithless times.’
Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Is there something you can give up for the next few days that might help you focus on God a bit more – or express your commitment to God? Can you find someone to do that with?
o Are there things in your life that you ‘bow down’ to – things you allow to rule your life or things you trust in more than God? What would it take to turn away from doing that?
o Are you facing persecution of some kind for your faith right now -or is someone you know? How could you draw strength and courage from God and those around you this week?
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
What crime do you think would justify a death sentence? Murder? Rape? Child abuse? Apostasy? A-pos-WHAT?!
Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, was condemned to death by hanging on May 15 this year for apostasy: for becoming a follower of Jesus! Given the choice to abandon Jesus or face a death sentence, she refused to deny her faith. Yesterday, prayers for her protection were answered and the Sudanese government announced they would release her (http://bbc.in/1nDNwwt).
Check out some other brave youngsters in Daniel 3 (http://bit.ly/1odRk3D). What do you need to say NO or YES to as an act of loving Jesus?
The Dark Knight Rises was the best Batman movie (IMHO). At first, like the Bond of Skyfall, Bruce Wayne battles his ageing body and is easily beaten.
Things begin to turn around when Bruce is thrown into a deep prison. For months all Bruce can do is recover and train. When he (spoiler alert!) finally escapes he’s unstoppable.
The Bible is full of people – David, Daniel, Jonah, Paul, Jesus – who had to suffer in tough places before they could do what God called them to.
Are you stuck in a tough place? Maybe you simply need to let God work in you where you are – before you go out and become unstoppable too.
Read about Jesus’ experience in Matthew 4v1-11 here: http://bit.ly/1c4kTS1
Would you turn down a great opportunity for no other reason than you felt it just wasn’t right? In the first chapter of Daniel’s story, Daniel trades his 5-star meal for some veg and water because he felt it would corrupt him. Does this mean we all need to become vegetarians? Thankfully not!
There is another story where Jesus tells Peter what will become of him one day (it wasn’t good news), and Peter responds by looking at John and asking, “What about him?” Jesus’ response was basically, “It’s none of your business. You must follow me.” Sometimes God asks us to do things that go beyond what he might ask of someone else. Are you willing to say “yes” to God no matter what he asks?
John 21.18-23 here…
Galaxies by Owl City is a song about the fear, exhilaration, joy and lostness of space travel. Could be about finding your way through school and exams too. Listen here: http://bit.ly/1JBEbQ0
‘Dear God, I was terribly lost
When the galaxies crossed
And the sun went dark.
But dear God, You’re the only North Star
I would follow this far.’
Keep an eye on my only hope,
Lest I blink and get swept off the narrow road,
Hercules, you’ve got nothing to say to me,
‘Cause you’re not the blinding light that I need.
For He is the saving grace of the galaxies.’
If you feel like you’re being swept off the narrow road, how about letting God’s grace and rock-solid faithfulness be the blinding light you look towards?
Read Psalm 25 here: http://bit.ly/1vgHZ2p
How are you feeling as you get ready for today? Are you thinking of the things you’re struggling with: conflicts you’re caught in, the test you haven’t really studied for, the habits you’re definitely going to avoid today? Or are you focusing on something better?
Someone once said we tend to move towards the things our eyes are focused on. Is that true for you? What if you fixed your eyes on what is unseen, the hope to which Jesus has called you, the fearfully and wonderfully made person you are, and on Jesus himself who is God’s great YES to us?
Great verse on that in Ephesians 1v18: http://bit.ly/17oWMw0
Sara Bareilles’ song ‘Brave’ is so good we can’s seem to post about it enough!
The story the Bible tells of what’s going on in human history shows us people needing to be brave and stand up for what they believe (like these guys in Daniel 3:16-18 http://bit.ly/1E0S2NZ ). There are also stories about people getting scared and chickening out.
We’re part of that big story too. What tough things are you facing this week?
Imagine the Spirit living inside you singing these words from Sara’s song to you today:
And since your history of silence won’t do you any good / Did you think it would.
Let My words be anything but empty / Why don’t you show them the Truth
Say what you need to say and let My words flow out honestly.
I want to see you be brave
(original version here: http://bit.ly/1E0RUxL )