Monday, June 18, 2018

When You Are Lonely, God is With You

Introduction
            As you may have read in my previous blogs, the Babylonian empire conquered the Kingdom of Judea around 600 BC.  They destroyed the capital of Jerusalem and burned their temple to the ground.  All Jews who were not killed in the battle were taken captive back to Babylon.  The best and brightest like the biblical figures Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were forced to serve as advisors in the Babylonian empire.  They were given new Babylonian names and forced to live as Babylonians.  The hope was they would be completely assimilated and forget the homeland ever existed. 
            Daniel and his friends must have felt lonely.  What makes you feel lonely?  Have you lost someone you care about?  Do you feel like no one thinks or believes like you anymore?  Are you facing a battle no one else really understands--even those who try to be kind and support you?  Are you a leader or a parent (which can sometimes be a very a lonely job)?  Today, I want you to know when you are lonely, God is with you.
            King Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon when Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity, but his reign did not last forever.  Others succeeded him like King Belshazzar.  (There is a really cool story in Daniel Chapter 5 where Belshazzar literally saw "the writing on the wall" just before his life ended.  It's a great read and it is the story from which we get the expression "Can't you see the writing on the wall?")  As Babylonian power began to wane in the world (all worldly kingdoms come and go), it created a power vacuum where variousl kingdoms and leader vied for power.  Of those clamouring for the top were the Medes and the Persians. 
            Daniel 6 tells of a person called Darius the Mede.  Historians are not sure who he is.  It's possible he was a general of the Mede’s who conquered Belshazzar (or who ruled for a time in the power vacuum after Babylon fell).  He is called King Darius, but we get the sense that his status as "king" is a precarious one.  One thing's for sure.  It’s lonely at the top.  You are responsible for taking care of the kingdom while also fighting off everyone who wants to take your place.
           We also see Daniel in chapter 6.  He is a, a follower of the One True God of the Bible.  Daniel is older now than he was in the previous chapters of the book.  He has survived multiple kings and kingdoms.  Through it all, he has been highly respected by them all for his ability and most of all his integrity.  
  
 Daniel 6:1-18
1Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.

10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

[I’m going to stop the story here.  If you want to hear the rest of the story, you’ll have to check back next Sunday.  Today, our task is to wrestle with the lonely night Daniel spent in the lion’s den.  If we jump to the end of the story too quickly, we might miss what God wants to say to us today, which is this:  When you are lonely, God is with you.]

King of the Hill
            When I was a kid, I used to play a game called king of the hill.  There was a dirt mound hill in the play ground and all the kids would scramble and fight their way to the top. Whoever made it to the top first was "king of the hill."  Now the kings job was to stay at the top by fighting off all the challengers.  Everyone else's job was to dethrone the king and take his place. 
            Now, if we'd been smart, we would have built alliances and worked together.  The king could have enlisted a few helpers by giving them some special privileges in return for their helping in fighting off the challengers.  3 or 4 peole working together would have more success than on lone king trying to defend his hilltop.
            It seems that is what Darius decided to do.  He divided his kingdom into 120 provinces with twelve high officials to rule them.  Of course, the problem with this is, who would keep the twelve high officials in line?  Well, Darius had a solution for that too.  He designated three of his best, most trusted administrators to oversee the twelve.  Daniel was one of those administrators and it soon became clear to Darius that Daniel was the most capable and trustworthy of them all.  He egan to elevate Daniel above all the rest and this made everyone else jealous.

Darius’ plan for King of the Hill
            When you’re on top, jealous people will always find something to bring you down (even if they have to make it up).  The other administrators and all the high officials allied together to bring down Daniel, but there they couldn't find anything against Daniel--he was a talented and honest man with great integrity.  The only chink in Daniel's armor was related to his commitment to God. Daniel would not violate his obedience to God, even if ordered by the king.
            So, the administrators and high officials went to the king and stroked his ego and tricked him into making a law where, for thirty days, no one could pray to anyone accept King Darius.  So in essence, the were making him like a god for thirty days.  Now, that was probably pretty appealing to a guy who had such a struggle to hold on to or enforce his authority.  So he feels pretty good about it and agrees and signs it into law, without really thinking about the implications for Daniel.  And so now, Daniel ends up in a quandary, because the Ten Commandments say "Do not worship any god accept the Lord."  So will Daniel maintain his integrity and do what he knows is right or will he bow to the new law, violate his conscious, and disobey the Lord?  He's got a tough decision to make and his life is at stake. 


There’s A Lion Already Outside the Den             The story makes you fearful for poor Daniel because he is facing the lion's den.  But what you might miss is there is already a lion outside the den prowling around.  What I mean is, there is already a dangerous threat to Daniel that I would argue is even more important than the threat to his life from the lion's den.  It's the same threat each one of us faces when it comes to our integrity.  You see, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."  The Devil is on the prowl.  He wanted to destroy Daniel witness.  If Daniel caves, the Devil has the ultimate victory.  Daniel integrity and witness and all that is truly important about him is destroyed.
            The Devil is a lion going about ready to tear apart the witness of the faithful today.  He wants to destroy the witness and resolve of God’s faithful children today.  He wants to discredit, remove, silence, and make irrelevant Christ’s followers so no one in this world will listen to us when we speak God’s truth.  We all have a choice to make.  Will we remain true to what we know is right or will we cave to the pressure to go along with the crowd?  How we respond will either show integrity and strengthen our credibility or greatly weaken or destroy our witness.  What will you chose to do?
            Daniel knew exactly what to do.  Verse 10, when he learned of the law saying no one could pray to anyone except King Darius, Daniel went home and got one his knees and prayed—as usual—to the God of heaven.  I want you to notice a few things here.  
           First of all notice that Daniel prayed.   Prayer gives you strength, because it keeps you connected to the One True God, the source of Life.  When you are lonely, prayer reminds you that you are not alone.  God is right there with you. 
            It is precisely in those moments when I have felt the most alone that prayer has helped me recognize the true nature of God the most.  It is precisely in those moments when I felt everyone had abandoned me, or when I felt no one cared, or when I felt I had failed and no one could love me, or when the world was so dark that I didn’t want to be around anyone else that I was able to pray to God and know His eternal, everlasting, ever-loving, all-knowing, all-embracing presence.  Such prayer during the darkest times reminds me at the very depths of my soul that if everything else falls apart or fails—even if the sun and moon themselves were to fall from the skies—it is OK because I am a child of the One True and Living God who made the Heaven and the Earth and He holds me in the palm of His mighty and loving hand.  And it is an experience that chases away all loneliness because I am not alone.  I am a child of God.  He is my Father.  He will never abandon me.  I will never be alone. 
            Second, notice it says Daniel prayed, as usual.  Now here is something you could easily miss.  Daniel prayed as usual.  That means this wasn't something he just started when he found out aout the crazy law or the lion's den.  This was already Daniel's regular daily practice--to pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.  This was what he'd being doing for years.  And he kept doing it and he did it in his open window.  He wasn't hiding anything from anyone.
            Now, there's an important lesson for us in this.  If you are going to take a stand and do the right thing when the challenge comes, you’ve got to be training everyday up to that point through regular, daily spiritual disciplines. 
            The Iron man is a grueling race competition that includes a long distance swim, biking, and then a marathon race.  Just to finish an Iron Man is a great accomplishment.  It takes a lot of training to get ready.  No one just decides to do an Iron Man race on a whim.  They don’t wake up on the day of the race and roll out of bed—without ever having trained—and say, “I think I’ll compete in the Iron Man today…”  That would be ludicrous, I don't care how fit and athletic you are.
            Neither would you want to wait for the day of trials to come before you start praying.  Start praying today.  Build your spiritual muscles now so they will be ready when the troubles come.  Read and study your Bible so you know what to believe.  Pray daily (Daniel prayed three times a day) so you know God with all your heart.  Worship the Lord in private and together with other believers.  Make it your faithful and usual habit.  Troubles come for us all, start training for them to day so you will always be ready. 

Conclusion
            This past Sunday was Father's Day so I want to end with a story about my own father.  On time when I was young, my dad was driving with me and my siblings in the car.  We were on the interstate and there were only two lanes.  Well, two cars were driving side by side very slow and it seemed as if they were doing it on purpose.  We were right behind them and they would not make an opening for cars to get through.  There were 10 or 20 cars stacked up behind them in both lanes.  My dad was really aggravated because it was becoming obvious they were just being jerks.  So, somehow, he managed to get around the cars (I think he did it on the shoulder of the road).  Once around, most people would just drive ahead and leave the situation behind, but not my dad.  He decided he was going to break this traffic jamming pair up so all the other cars could get through.  He got in front of one of them and slowed down to 50 miles per hour.  They still would not separate.  Dad said, "I'm gonna make them separate if I have to slow all the way down to a stop.  So he started slowing down.  45 MPH.  40 MPH.  Still no separation.  35 MPH.  30 MPH.  Finally, one of the cars sped up and went by leaving an opening that cars began to pour through.  One driver, thankful for my father's rebellious act rolled down his window and raised his fist in the air in the salute of defiance!  I have never felt so proud of my dad!
            Fathers are often the ones who teach us to take a stubborn stand for what it right, no matter the cost.  Challenges are coming for us all.  Will you stand up for what’s right?  I encourage you to do the right thing and also to start praying for courage and integrity for the challenge today.  And never forget--because it can be a lonely battle to do the right thing--when you feel lonely, God is with you!