Most of us have gone through a phase where we wanted to lose weight. We’ve tried plenty of methods, working out, not eating after a certain time, getting a better night’s sleep, several little meals versus breakfast/lunch/dinner, whatever the latest fad is, right? But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much we change everything about our lives, if we don’t alter what we eat, as one of my informal Facebook surveys proved.
When asked for weight loss tips, several of my friends focused in on the number of grams of sugar they consumed per day.
Some held onto the tried and true exercise programs, or Weight Watchers, or a glass of water before every meal.
The ingesting or the intake was the thing!
What we eat impacts our ability to lose weight. We can change all the other variables, and if we don’t change what we consume, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson many of us have learned by looking down at our guts and our growing clothes sizes, but it’s one that Daniel understood as a young man, imprisoned in Babylon.
Now, maybe Daniel was smarter than many adults, or maybe his perspective on the world was sharpened by his being kidnapped at such a young age, and being thrust into a strange culture. In Daniel 1, we know that he was dragged to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar’s righthand man, Ashpenaz, along with all of the young men who were deemed to be all of the young, male royalty, who were “without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.”
King Nebuchadnezzar has snagged the best-of-the-best that Israel had to offer. The pretty kids, the skilled kids, the people that he could use because they were brimming with potential. And Ashpenaz was supposed to brainwash them, to lure them in with the finest foods and to teach them all about how to be a Babylonian. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t plan on just capturing other countries. He wanted to assimilate them, until no one could remember that they were anything other than Babylonian. Nebuchadnezzar was the biggest bully alive — he’d basically replaced that old enemy of the Israelites, the Philistines.
So, we’re told that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were chosen, and renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their assimilation, their discipleship, their removal of all things Jewish was intended to be thorough, complete, and final.
But in 1:8, it says that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” Daniel decided that he wouldn’t be bullied. He wouldn’t bend or break. He wouldn’t relinquish who he was.
This week, I had the opportunity to see Hacksaw Ridge about the U.S.’ assault on Okinawa during World War II. There are intense, bloody battle scenes that won’t be for everyone. But this is just the backdrop for the real story of the film: the life and faith of Desmond Doss. Doss is a Seventh Day Adventist, who believes that God doesn’t ever want him to kill. But he’s patriotic, so he signs up for the Army as a medic.
And the worst treatment he gets in the whole film comes at the hands of his comrades, who don’t understand his faith, who think his unwillingness to handle a gun makes him a coward. I won’t spoil the film for you with too many more details, but let’s just say they don’t make movies about people who don’t prove unique. Doss stands for his beliefs and that changes everything.
How often does it come down to one person? One person who is willing to make a tough call, to follow what he or she knows to be true, to be bold and courageous in the midst of a sea of adversity like Abraham or Joshua. One person to say yes to God like Mary. and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
It says that God honored Daniel’s faith and softened the heart of his jailer, Ashpenaz, but Ashpenaz still had to deal with his own pain and fear. The Babylonian heard something in Daniel’s plea that made sense, that defied the ways that he’d been expected to act. But he was still afraid.
So Daniel, a teenager remember, but maybe it has to be a teenager, someone brave and willing to play fast and loose with the rules, even in captivity, says, “give us ten days to try it our way.” He proposes a ten-day experiment, the compare and contrast, the my way versus your way test.
And at the end of ten days, Daniel’s crew of Four Musketeers was healthier and stronger than those who ate the rich food of the palace. And the outcome was so stark, so obvious, that Ashpenaz took away all of the rich food of the king and substituted it with the vegetables that Daniel had proposed.
Were the four men sent back to their homes? No. Were they freed from slavery? No. Were their instant troubles alleviated? No.
Their obedience was rewarded though. “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning,” and their responsibility, their stature, rose. They had stood together against something they knew wasn’t right, and they had survived. They had rejected the fat, the poison, the dilution of their physical selves because it would dishonor their beliefs, and God had rewarded that.
Sounds like a perfect segue to “our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit,” right? I could promote Jenny Craig For Jesus or Weight Watchers and Ye Holy Ones or South Beach of Galilee Diet. But instead, I think it’s fascinating to focus in one aspect of this, and shocking enough, it’s not the food.
Daniel rejects the idea of taking in anything that would weaken his spiritual being.
The food is just the physical thing we recognize, but Daniel is rejecting being assimilated into something less than who God wants him to be. The new name, the new language, the new beliefs, the new everything.
Daniel knows who God is and he rests in that. He’ll pass on the extra servings of everything else. He’s turning all of the bad stuff aside… “thanks but no thanks on the wine.”
And I wonder how much of the seemingly insignificant things we “allow” for are the beginning of the slippery slope. Where do you or I draw the line on staying true to following Jesus?
For Daniel, nothing is insignificant.
See, after the food challenge – Daniel ends up with a prayer test.
God isn’t done with Daniel yet. In Daniel 6, Daniel is thrown into the den of lions most famously because he refuses to not pray. In Daniel 6:6-23, we find Daniel, the advisor to the king, knee-deep in a conspiracy of the high court. See, several of the king’s other advisors must’ve felt threatened by Daniel’s relationship to the king, so they went to the king (never too bright a bulb as we’ve seen already in his handling of nutrition and the thousand-foot statue of himself) and proposed that the king issue a law that said the king was the only person who could be prayed to for a month.
And the king, proud, powerful, and vain, thought this was a great idea, and signed on the dotted line. Condemning his best man to death with a stroke of the pen.
How often do you think you’re forced to choose between what you’re told to do by your boss, by the government, by your spouse, by your parent, and what you think that you’re supposed to do based on what the Bible has to say?
Once a day? A week? A month?
What pressure do you face? Is it the loss of a job, or a friendship, or status? How do you decide what’s “right” for that instance? We’d all like to say that we always do the right thing… but we don’t. And frankly, neither did the people in the Bible. Peter got it wrong several times; so did Abraham, David, and Adam… but we still remember them well. It’s not always getting it right or wrong though that matters in the Bible– it’s usually most important how God shows up.
When I find out that there’s a law or a rule in place that seems to penalize me, I usually pout for awhile. Sometimes, I’ll even eat some candy and watch television. But I rarely flaunt the breaking of that law immediately, and I’ll admit it, I don’t pray about it as often as I should.
Daniel, he’s iconoclastic and faithful. It doesn’t just say that these out-for-blood rivals found Daniel praying; it says that when Daniel heard the law was in place, he went to his room, through open the windows and prayed to God at the three times appointed for prayer. He didn’t change his pattern, he didn’t hide what he was doing. He went to God about the problem in prayer.
Daniel went directly from hearing the bad, life-condemning news to prayer. Dir-ect-ly.
Now, how seriously do you take prayer?
Of course, his rivals saw the prayers, and went running to the king to tattle like little kids who’ve caught their classmate in mischief. “Oh, King Dariiiiiiius! Remember your law about praying? Well, Daniel is breaking it!” Instantaneously, you can see the color drain from the king’s face as he realizes what he’s done, and he thinks all day on how to get Daniel out of trouble.
Still, there was no rescue for Daniel. The king’s law was more powerful than the king himself. The law was too dangerous, and the king couldn’t undo it. So Daniel gets thrown into the lion’s den with the king’s blessing, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
Daniel was thrown in, rare meat and blood still bumping, and a stone placed over the mouth of the den. And the king went back to the palace to contemplate the funeral of his friend and advisor, while Daniel… slept?
It says that at daybreak, at dawn’s first light, the king ran to the lions’ den and cried out before he even got there, “has your God actually been able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel responded that there had been an angel there all night, that the angel of God had shut the mouths of the lions because Daniel was innocent in God’s sight. And Daniel pronounces himself innocent of offending the king, because his prayers to God were right and just. Not only was he alive but there were no wounds on him, because he had trusted in God.
Twice, Daniel was faced with a challenge: would his faith outweigh other authority, other choices, other temptations? And three times, Daniel passes the test, major tests, no less.
And I find myself wondering, do I even pass the quizzes? Do we even recognize the little moments when we have the chance to make the right decisions and honor God?
Do we curb our tongues in vocabulary, or in the way we speak about and to others?
Do we consider what we read about, watch on television and in the movies, listen to on the radio or on our iPods?
Do we reject the stories, jokes, gossip, or general meanness that circles around us at work or at home or with our friends?
Are we willing to take a stand on whatever front could be the most dangerous to us, and recognize that we are meant for something greater than this? That God doesn’t want our minds, our bodies, our souls defiled by the junk that the world tells us is okay? That God wants our undivided attention and love, that’s decluttered of junk, food or otherwise?
I once had a Godfearing friend of mine come and admit to me that somehow, what he heard on TV and talk radio had replaced the values he had learned in church. My friend told me that he’d stopped listening to the radio on his long work commutes altogether because he realized he spent more time listening to them than he did to the pastor of his church. He recognized that what he was internalizing wasn’t Biblical – so he put a stop to it.
What he was ‘ingesting’ through his ears was making him sick! He realized that there were other agendas he was hearing that weren’t from God – that weren’t about loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, as we’d love ourselves. My friend realized that problem – and he decided he was going to “eat” right and live well.
I pray that this week that you will have the faith of Daniel, to reject those “foods” the world tries to feed you, and stick to the diet of God’s truth, love, and grace. I’m betting it won’t take you a ten-day trial period to see the difference.
I pray this week that you will put the worship of God before any idol the world places in your path, whether it be material, monetary, or relational. I’m sure that God is the only thing worthy of our absolute adoration.
I pray this week that you will pray – without ceasing, regardless of how uncool or unremarkable praying is considered. I’m confidant that praying is significantly more powerful than not praying!
Friends, I hope this week, you are inspired by Daniel – a young man who lived boldly by just being who he was supposed to be. And that you’ll be inspired by Desmond Doss, who refused to stop praying, even when others found it ridiculous.
This week, I’m aiming to do just the same. Will you join me? Amen.