We are continuing in a sermon series on the book of Daniel where we find ten common tests of life. So far we’ve looked at the test of major change, the test of peer pressure, the test of being belittled for your faith, the test of being asked to do the impossible, and the test of enduring betrayal and condemnation. Each time Daniel or his three buddies passed a test, they were blessed. They were promoted to even greater positions of leadership and responsibility. God gave them even greater power and influence. God always tests us before he blesses us. Before every blessing there is always a testing. God wants to know if you are ready for what he’s about to give you. He tests you with stress before he blesses you with success. Jesus talked about this when he said, “You must be proven trustworthy in small things before you’ll be trusted with greater things.” (Luke 16:10)
Today we’re going to look at the sixth test we find in the book of Daniel: the test of success. God rewards us with success, but he also tests us with success. We all know people who have been ruined by success, people who let success go to their heads. Remember last week how I told you there are three kinds of people in the world: stuck ups, suck ups and stand ups. We’ll be talking today about the stuck ups, those who let success ruin them. They can’t handle it. The tabloids are full of stories of people who were ruined by success and fame. These people broke up, cracked up, got messed up once they got successful. Success is as much a test in life as suffering. In fact, more people are ruined by success than by suffering. When you’re suffering you tend to cry out to God for help. When you’re successful you tend to forget about God. Nine out of ten people can handle pain. Only one out of ten people can handle fame. The Bible says, “A hot furnace tests silver and gold, but people are tested by the praise they receive.” (Proverbs 27:21)
Did you know that every time you receive a compliment it’s actually a test? Compliments are kind of like chewing gum. It’s ok to chew on them a little while but you should never swallow them, because they can really mess you up. And did you know that human beings are the only animals God created that when you pat them on the back their heads swell up? So we’re going to be looking at the danger of pride and arrogance and huge ego when you’re successful. That’s the message of the story we find in Daniel, chapter four. The main character is King Nebuchadnezzar who literally loses everything because of his pride and arrogance.
To be fair, Nebuchadnezzar had a lot to be proud of. He was the most successful man on the earth 2,500 years ago. He had accomplished more than any other. His empire was spectacular. The hanging gardens of Babylon, which he built for his wife, are one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. People traveled to Babylon from all over the known world just to see its beauty. He had armies and advisors like no other ruler. He had amassed treasures like no other. He was the most powerful man and yet he had a serious problem. He had a serious problem with pride.
Nebuchadnezzar is now in his mid 50’s and he has a very disturbing dream about a huge, magnificent tree and in the dream the tree is cut down. This isn’t the first time Nebuchadnezzar has had a recurring bad dream. Thirty two years he had a reoccurring bad dream and Daniel was the only one of his advisors who was able to describe the dream and interpret it. He brings in all advisors, but none of them can interpret the dream. So he summons Daniel, “What does it mean, Daniel? Tell me.” And Daniel, reluctant to be the bearer of bad news, pretty much says, “It means God is fed up with your arrogance. He’s fed up with your pride and with your huge ego. You would have nothing if it weren’t for God. Everything you have in life is because God allowed you to have it. If God didn’t want you to have it, you wouldn’t have it! You’d be living like a homeless man. The Most High God has had it with you because you’ve taken all the credit for your success. Now God is going to remove you as king of the greatest empire ever built until you wise up—until you humble yourself. And not only are you going to lose your kingdom, but you’re going to lose touch with reality as well. You’re going to lose your mind and get thrown out of the palace and you’re going to end up living like an animal in the wilderness. Your hair is going to become all matted because you won’t have the wherewithal to take care of yourself. Your fingernails are going to grow out and look like claws.”
But then Daniel adds, “Here’s the good news, King. You can avoid it all. You don’t have to go through this humiliating experience if you will humble yourself before the Lord, if you will only give God the credit for your success. If you start honoring God with your success you can avoid all of this.” Unfortunately, the king doesn’t take Daniel’s advice. Nebuchadnezzar fails the test of success. You and I will be tested with success all throughout our lives and if we take the credit for our success rather than giving God the credit, we will fail the test as well. But if we give God the credit for our success we will pass the test and God will give us an even greater position of power and influence.
So today we are going to consider what gets people into trouble when they start succeeding in life? Then we’ll look at the steps to recovery, and finally we’ll consider what things we need to remember about God that bring stability to our lives, whether we’re going through a time of success or a time of suffering. Some things are best to learn by experience, but it’s wiser and less painful to learn from the mistakes of others. So what can we learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s mistake?
When we study a passage of the Bible, there are nine questions we need to ask. A way to remember these nine questions is through the word SPACEPETS. 1.) Is there a SIN to confess? 2.) Is there a PROMISE to claim? 3.) Is there an ATTITUDE to change? 4.) Is there a COMMAND to obey? 5.) Is there an EXAMPLE to follow? 6.) Is there a PRAYER to pray? 7.) Is there an ERROR to avoid? 8.) Is there a TRUTH to believe? 9.) Is there SOMETHING to praise and thank God for? Today’s Bible passage is about an ERROR to avoid. We’re going to look at WHAT GETS US INTO TROUBLE when we are successful?
FIRST, WE GET COMFORTABLE AND COMPLACENT WITH SUCCESS. We take it for granted. This happens to us all. It certainly happened to Nebuchadnezzar. In the fourth chapter of Daniel we read, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was enjoying a time of peace and prosperity in my kingdom and palace. I was taking it easy, without a care in the world!” (Daniel 4:4) He had become comfortable and complacent with his success. Let me ask you a personal question. Do you pray more when you’re struggling or when you’re doing great? Do you pray more when in pain or when in pleasure? Let’s be honest: it’s easy to forget God when we don’t need his help. Nebuchadnezzar continues, “I said to myself, ‘Just look at this great city of Babylon that I have created! I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city for my glory. I built it to show my power, my might, my majesty, and my glory!” (Daniel 4:30)
Nebuchadnezzar failed the test of success. He failed to give God the credit for his success and he failed to give God the glory with his success. Remember the lesson of the whale: When you get to the top and you start spouting off, that’s when you get harpooned! Nebuchadnezzar is about to get harpooned by God for his pride. The Bible says, “The Lord despises pride; you can be sure that the proud will be punished.” (Proverbs 16:5)
SECOND, once we get comfortable and complacent with success WE DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO THE WARNING SIGNS that a fall is coming. Success can blind a person. Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in California warns pastors to be very careful as they become more successful because being in the spotlight is blinding. Getting comfortable and complacent with success is blinding. When he coaches other pastors, he tells them to go home, mow your lawn, wash your car, do some laundry, change some diapers, do what real people do. Because if you don’t stay grounded, you’ll let your success go to your head and you’ll miss the warning signs that a fall is coming. And that is really bad for the kingdom of God. The number one reason people give for not going to church today is that church leaders are hypocrites. They point to the high rate of moral failure among them. Pride blinds us all to the warning signs that a fall is about to happen.
God always sends warning signs because he cares about us. He cared about Nebuchadnezzar and sent him a dream to warn him. Then he sent Daniel in to interpret the dream, to let him know that there was a way to avoid the fall. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “Here’s what you should do: Repent of your sins and start doing what is right. Then begin to show merciful kindness to the poor and oppressed. Then God will allow you to keep prospering.” (Daniel 4:27)
The FIRST thing he needed to do was REPENT. In the Greek language the word is metanoia. Meta means change; noia means your mind. Nebuchadnezzar needed to change his way of thinking. He was thinking his success was all about him, when really it was all about God. That’s what pride is. PRIDE is when I accept the credit for things that God and other people did through me and for me. Nebuchadnezzar needed to show some humility. HUMILITY is NOT thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less. Possessing humility doesn’t mean you think you’re worthless or a pile of junk. God didn’t send Jesus into the world to die for a worthless pile of junk. You are infinitely valuable to God. That is what the cross of Christ tells us. Sure we are deeply flawed, but we are also deeply loved by God. Humility involves holding these two truths together. It’s a choice we make and when we don’t make it, God will allow us to experience humiliation in order to humble us.
The SECOND thing Daniel told him to do was to SERVE. He needed to serve the poor and oppressed. You want to avoid a fall caused by pride then learn to serve those less fortunate than you. Learn to give yourself and your resources away to the poor and the oppressed. It gets the focus off yourself and it keeps you in touch with reality. It makes you count your blessings. It’s a humbling experience to look at the poverty and oppression of others and realize that except for the grace of God there go I. We are blessed to be a blessing, not to hoard our wealth. The antidote to materialism is to learn to give to those who are poor and oppressed. Nebuchadnezzar could have avoided the whole fall from power if he had repented and used his resources to help the poor and oppressed. God would have let Nebuchadnezzar continue to prosper. But he didn’t and God didn’t.
THE THIRD THING THAT GETS US IN TROUBLE IS WE PUT OFF DOING WHAT I KNOW IS RIGHT. This is the third reason why Nebuchadnezzar fell from power. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar what he needed to do to avoid the fall but he put it off. He put off doing the right thing. It says, “Twelve months later, all of what King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed did actually happen to him. He was taking a walk on the flat roof of his royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he boasted to himself… As the words were still on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what God decrees for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your power is being taken away and you are no longer the ruler of this kingdom! You’ll be deposed from the palace, ostracized by everyone, and forced to live with the wild animals.’ Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled.” (Daniel 4:28-33a)
He lost his kingdom and he lost his mind. He literally went insane. This lasted for “seven times,” meaning either seven seasons or seven years. Whatever, it wasn’t just for a month or two. His humiliation lasted for years before he got his sanity back. What he did teaches us HOW TO RECOVER FROM A MAJOR FAILURE.
FIRST, WE have to LOOK UP TO GOD. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar did. He writes, “After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven and my sanity returned…” (Daniel 4:34a) You see, its easy to forget God when things are going well. C.S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. When your life is a mess and people think you’ve lost your mind, it’s time to look up to God. It’s time to focus on Him.
SECOND, WE have to WAKE UP TO GOD’S GREATNESS! That’s the next thing Nebuchadnezzar did to recover from his humiliating experience. He woke up to God’s greatness. He says, “Then I praised the Most High [God]; I honored and glorified him who lives forever!” (Daniel 4:34a) He began to worship God for his greatness. Worship simply means focusing on God and his greatness. We get our focus off ourselves and our problems, and we focus on God’s greatness and God’s goodness.
As Nebuchadnezzar worshiped God, he discovered certain truths about God that gave his life stability and restored his sanity. These same truths about God will give our lives stability. THE FIRST TRUTH IS THIS: GOD’S KINGDOM WILL OUTLAST EVERYTHING. It will outlast your success and your failures. It will outlast this world and all things we work so hard to build and accumulate. Nebuchadnezzar proclaims, “God’s rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal.” (Daniel 34c)
THE SECOND TRUTH that gives our lives stability IS THIS: GOD’S APPROVAL IS WHAT MATTERS MOST. God’s approval is the only one that really matters. When you die who do you want saying, “Good job! Well done.” God or a bunch of people whose opinion of you makes no difference. The only approval that is going to matter is God’s. Nebuchadnezzar declares, “All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him.” (Daniel 4:35a)
THE THIRD TRUTH that gives our lives stability IS THIS: GOD’S POWER IS ABSOLUTE. No other power can trump God’s power. Which means he is big enough to handle any problem you ever face. Nebuchadnezzar came to the realization that, “God has the power to do whatever he pleases… No one can stop him or challenge him, or even question what he does… and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:35b, 37)
THE FOURTH TRUTH that gives our lives stability IS THIS: GOD NEVER MAKES MISTAKES. Only God is perfect and he alone never makes mistakes. We do. We make mistakes all the time because we’re not perfect. When we go through a major moral failure, we need to turn to the One who never fails. No matter what we go through, we can find stability in knowing that God is not making a mistake by allowing us to go through it. He has a purpose for it.
THIRD STEP IS THIS: WE NEED TO SHARE WITH OTHERS WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US. Let others know how he has restored us. It says, “King Nebuchadnezzar sent a letter to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world: May you prosper! I want to tell you all about the wonderful miracles that God has done for me!” (Daniel 4:1-2)