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Emboldened by God in a Disheartening World
By STEVE FARRAR
David C. Cook Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrar
All rights reserved.
COURAGE TO STAY THE COURSE
True Courage can throw you at first, because it's counterintuitive.
In other words, it's the opposite of what you might expect.
My best example? Getting into a pickup and backing up a trailer into the garage. No sweat, you say? What's the big deal about backing a trailer into a garage? It's no sweat until you try to pull it off. If you've never done it before, thirty seconds into it you're sweating like a fire hydrant because that pickup and trailer are twisted like a pretzel—and you're suddenly parked in the flowerbed with no clue how to get out.
Why it is so hard to back up a trailer? It's counterintuitive, that's why. If you want the trailer to go left, you don't turn the wheel left. No, if you want to go left, you have to turn to the right. If you're going forward and you want to turn left then you turn left—but not if you're backing up. When you're backing up, the rules change, and to get that trailer in the garage you have to go against the grain of what makes sense.
Okay, now let's plow right into Daniel, who right out of the blocks, demonstrates that True Courage is ... counterintuitive.
In Daniel 1, we find two events that reveal True Courage.
Also in Daniel 1, we discover three traits that are the basis of True Courage.
"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god" (Dan. 1:1–2).
We can read this verse and blow right by it. But it is huge in biblical history, and it was huge for Daniel. When Nebuchadnezzar showed up at the gates of Jerusalem, it was the beginning of the end.
When I was a kid in school in the fifties, we used to have drills where we would duck under our desks in case of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. The Russian president, Khrushchev, had said he would bury us. So we got under our desks so that we would be protected from the Soviet nuclear missiles. That way Khrushchev couldn't bury us, and our nation wouldn't be crushed.
The prophet Jeremiah had told the nation that if they continued to rebel against the one true God and mock His Word, they would crash. And that's exactly what happened. Nebuchadnezzar showed up in 605 BC, and everything changed.
It would have been easy for Daniel to imagine that his life was over. God's judgment had arrived, and it was everyone's worst nightmare. Another king from a more powerful nation was now calling the shots. He would leave a Jewish king in place, but only as a figurehead and puppet. For the little nation of Judah, the gig was up.
When the nation crashed, so did Daniel's plan for his life. He was just a teenager, but teenagers have dreams, hopes, and wonderful ideas about what their lives will look like someday.
For Daniel, that someday—the someday of his boyhood dreams—would never come. All of those dreams died when the Babylonians smashed through Jerusalem's gates. All the rules had changed, and nothing could ever look or feel the same again. Not ever.
Sometimes our worlds crash, and so do our dreams.
I have a friend who waved to his wife and daughter as they drove off for a short overnight trip. Two hours later he was in a helicopter, landing at the scene of a head-on collision that took his wife's life and severely injured his daughter. When that truck crossed the center divider and crashed head-on into his wife's car, my friend's entire existence crashed. He held her lifeless body in his arms, and it was the end of everything—or so it seemed in that moment.
At some point every man's life crashes, and it seems like life is over. It may be the death of a spouse or a child. It could be the death of a marriage. A man's life can crash through a bankruptcy or because a teenager has run away from home. There are a thousand different events that can crash our lives. Sometimes the crash is the result of a bad decision, but it can just as easily be the result of simply living life.
When a man's life crashes, it always kicks in cause and effect.
Sometimes, the results are devastating, and a man simply gives up, withdraws in defeat and despair, and checks out of life. In other words, the crash changes everything—permanently, and for the worse. At other times, a man will take a different course and keep moving forward, trusting God, though the path has all but disappeared in front of him.
That, my friend, is a counterintuitive response.
And that is the path of True Courage.
Some changes are exciting, propelling you into a new and positive life. But when the change is the direct result of a crash, it's another matter altogether. Your life and your heart have been broken—and you're wondering how in the world you will ever pick up the pieces. You're in the middle of a transition, an unwanted change, and there's no turning back. And when you find yourself in unwelcome change, you are suddenly dealing with new stuff in your gut—anxiety, perplexity, disorientation, crushing disappointment, or even sheer terror.
The road forks before you, and you find yourself walking where you have never walked before. You wake up one morning, and it seems like everything once so dear and familiar to you has been stripped away. You're on alien turf and maybe wondering how in the world you got there—and what you're going to do next. And then you remember the crash and realize that's how you got there—but you still don't have a clue what you're going to do next.
Here's how the Bible describes the huge changes that crashed into the life of the young man named Daniel:
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. (Dan. 1:3–7)
Daniel's nation crashed, and so did his world. Almost overnight, he found himself swimming in unwanted change. He was taken from his family, friends, and home, and relocated to a foreign city, with a foreign culture, trying to pick up some basic phrases in a foreign language. And on top of that, he suddenly landed in a foreign university. That's a lot of unwanted change—but that's what happens when your world comes crashing down. Daniel was immediately enrolled in a three-year course of study at the University of Babylon. You might call it Daniel's "education," but then again, the word indoctrination might fall closer to the mark. So what has changed? It's still true today. Indoctrination is still the primary work of secular universities, just as it was three thousand years ago in ancient Babylon.
If you think that I overstate the case, note that something had to occur before Daniel could move into the dorm. They first stripped him of his name—which was step one in stripping him of his faith. One commentator writes, "Daniel and his friends received genuine heathen names in exchange for their own significant names, which were associated with that of the true God."
The Babylonian conquerors wanted to swallow these young people whole—mind, body, and soul—completely estranging them from their old home and their relationship with the God of Israel.
Daniel in Hebrew means "God is my Judge." It was changed to Belteshazzar, which means "whom Bel favors." Daniel's friends also went through the same drill. Hananiah means "God is gracious." He became known as Shadrach, which means "illumined by Shad [a sun god]." Mishael means "who is like God? God is great." They tagged him with Meshach, which means "who is like Shach [a love goddess]." Finally, Azariah means "God is my helper," but the tenured university faculty came up with Abednego, which means "the servant of Nego [a fire god]."
Daniel found himself in a Babylonian university system that was a place of tremendous pressure and competition. At the end of the three years, each of the young men brought over from Judah were to stand before the king for the biggest final exam of their young lives. What's more, I'm pretty sure they couldn't bring their books, CliffsNotes, laptops, or iPhones to the exam. This is how Scripture records that moment after the university had dubbed Daniel and his friends with new names:
Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king." Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see." So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus. (Dan. 1:8–21)
In Daniel 1:3, Daniel was a teenager. By the time we reach verse 21, he's somewhere around ninety years of age. Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC. Verses 3–21 give us a very short bio of Daniel's career in Babylon. He started in the Babylonian university, was promoted like a rocket, and served in the highest reaches of power for at least seventy years.
In the early years at that godless university, God prepared Daniel and his sidekicks to serve as royal advisors to the king of Babylon. In addition, God gave Daniel a stunning gift: the ability to interpret dreams and visions. He was truly one of a kind. He and his friends who stood for the Lord had a place of remarkable influence because their advice, counsel, and wisdom were ten times better than anyone who had ever graduated from the University of Babylon.
At the risk of their very lives, these young men honored God by refusing to violate their consciences, and the Lord honored their faithfulness. Daniel went on to keep his high place of honor for seventy years. For the rest of his life he would live and work in the corridors of power and luxury, politics, and intrigue. The king and the palace were to be his sphere for the rest of his days.
Now how in the world did he do that?
How did this young man maintain his balance on such treacherous turf? And did he manage to keep that balance for the seventy years of his life there?
As I have read and reread the account of Daniel's life, three traits continually come to the surface: humility, trust, and hope.
They don't show up just once or twice. Throughout his life they are woven into the fabric of his character and decision making. They are a key part of Daniel's True Courage. That may not seem obvious at first glance—what do humility, trust, and hope have to do with True Courage? The answer is all three are counterintuitive. They all run against the grain of what we would expect in Daniel.
It hit me one day that those three traits in Daniel's life are captured in one of the shortest psalms in the Bible: Psalm 131. Interestingly enough, it's one of the psalms of the ascent—psalms that the men of Judah would sing as they would make their way up the mountain to Jerusalem three times a year. God commanded all of the men to come during these times. But Daniel was never able to do that in his entire life. The nation was in captivity, and the feasts were on hold.
But the traits of Psalm 131 weren't on hold in his life.
He lived them out every day and in so doing demonstrated True Courage.
He actually lived out that psalm's truths in a sometimes seductive, always tyrannical environment. And he did it for seventy years. It was C. H. Spurgeon who commented that Psalm 131 is one of the shortest psalms to read ... and one of the longest to learn.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps. 131:1–3)
Did you catch the three essential traits in this psalm? Verse 1 speaks of the trait of humility. Verse 2 focuses on trust, and verse 3 speaks of a great hope. It's safe to say that Daniel consistently exhibited these traits throughout his life.
Essential Trait 1: Humility
If you're out looking for an example of humility, you probably shouldn't start with the NFL—and particularly with wide receivers. Wide receivers, generally speaking, are known for their arrogant touchdown dances. There are notable exceptions, but arrogance could be tattooed quite naturally on most of them.
It seems like whenever these guys just happen to catch a pass in the end zone, they suddenly start pounding their chests and strutting around like a peacock. Now what's ironic is that the guy probably dropped the last four balls that were thrown his way. But this one he caught because it went through his hands and lodged in his face mask. So now he's running around like he just did something important. What he did was catch a football. He's paid (actually overpaid) to catch footballs.
The wide receiver who catches a touchdown pass and then offers a sacrifice to the god of self in the end zone has forgotten a few things. He has forgotten that the touchdown was actually a team effort. There was a quarterback who had the guts to stand in the pocket and get sandwiched by six hundred pounds of blitzing wild men. There are also the anonymous offensive linemen who do the work in the trenches that nobody sees or appreciates. They get stepped on, kicked in the groin, and blinded by a thumb in the eyes. And that's just during pregame warm-ups! Arrogance is getting full of yourself real quick and losing all perspective concerning your accomplishments.
There are two ways we can depart from humility. The first is arrogance, and it's also been known to show up in individuals who are not wide receivers. (Frankly, you can be an incredibly arrogant person at a fast-food counter. I've met some of them.) Verse 1 is a description of balanced humility. The psalmist says that his heart is not lifted up. He's not saying that his heart has never been lifted up, but rather that he's trying to keep his heart in check. In other words, David is doing a little self-assessment here. He's checking out his heart, as Solomon advised in Proverbs 4:23: "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life."
The psalmist then makes sure his eyes aren't raised too high so that they're not too lofty. In other words, he's careful of putting all of his energy into reaching the next level—whatever that may be. "There is nothing wrong with the desire to do well," wrote D. Martyn LloydJones, "as long as it does not master us. We must not be governed by ambition."
The writer knows that it is God who grants promotion (Ps. 75), and He knows best when we are ready for the higher place. Until then, we should mind our assigned posts—and ourselves.
Humility doesn't try to understand things that are beyond comprehension. Humility understands that some answers to hard questions will remain secret (Deut. 29:29). And that's okay.
The second way we can wander away from humility is when we get into self-condemnation and self-loathing. We do something stupid that we promised ourselves we would never do again—and then because of our disappointment, we start telling ourselves we're worthless. We've all done stupid things—and then done them again and again.
Speaking for myself, I've got enough hours in "stupid" to get a PhD. I actually have enough hours in "stupid" to teach "stupid" at a graduate level. And if we have really screwed up and done something that has horrible consequences—not only for us but also for the people we love—we start riding ourselves and telling ourselves that it would be better for them if we weren't even alive.
Whenever a believer commits suicide, you must suspect that there was demonic oppression involved, which led to self-condemnation and self-loathing. That's the work of Satan. The Bible doesn't call him the "accuser of the brethren" for nothing.
Excerpted from TRUE COURAGE by STEVE FARRAR. Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrar. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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