Today we are beginning a new sermon series on the book of Daniel and what his life can teaches us about how to thrive and not just survive as we go through the ups and downs of life—things that shake us to the core of our beings. He teaches us how to succeed in life no matter what happens to us. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our culture has really changed. The values that create a healthy society have been turned upside down. What we once held dear is now considered worthless. What we once believed to be right is now considered wrong. A long time ago, some 2600 years ago, a prophet named Isaiah warned about what happens to a culture when it abandons its core values. That culture is headed for collapse. He writes, “You are doomed if you call evil good and call good evil. Destruction is certain when you call darkness light and light darkness; when right is considered wrong and what’s wrong is considered right; when you claim what is bitter is now sweet and what is sweet you now call bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)
Isaiah was talking about the nation of Israel and its pending collapse because it had abandoned its core values and it had given into immorality, injustice and idolatry. Does that sound at all familiar? Idolizing things that are not God, treating people unjustly, abandoning the core principles that our country was founded upon. As a nation we have abandoned the sanctity of life, the sanctity of sex and the sanctity of marriage. We now call things that are evil, good.
Isaiah wasn’t the only one predicting the collapse of Israel. There were a lot of other prophets speaking out, men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Zephaniah. They predicted that if the people don’t get their act together they are going to lose their freedom. In 600 BC the Babylonian Empire invaded Israel and shook it to the core. Daniel was just a young teenager at the time of the Babylonian invasion. He was 15 years old when Israel collapsed and he was taken as a prisoner of war. The Babylonians completely destroyed Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city and took a quarter of the people as slaves back to Iraq, back to Babylon and held them there for 70 years.
The Psalmist, Asaph writes, “Because the leaders are foolish and they lack understanding, people are living in dark times. And all the foundations of society are shaken to the core.” (Psalm 82:5) That sounds like today’s news. Our economy is being shaken. The way we’ve done government for 250 years is being shaken. Our freedoms are being shaken: our freedom of speech and conscience, our freedom of religion. Our families are being shaken to the core. The foundations of our moral and ethical values are being shaken to the core. Our constitution is being shaken. We are living in a time of great upheaval where there’s lots of shakiness going on. Just like in the time that Daniel lived. He can teach us a lot about how to thrive no matter what is going on around you.
Here’s how the book of Daniel begins, “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 delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men 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. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.” (Daniel 1:1-7)
So the people King Nebuchadnezzar had brought to Babylon were the cream of the crop. They possessed beauty, brains and brawn. Those are the same three things our society values most in a person. If you don’t have beauty, brains or brawn then you’re over looked in our society.
So they took these young men and they systematically reprogrammed them for three years. They even gave them new Babylonian names. Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar. He was denied the right to be Jews. He was shook to the core of who he was. And still Daniel, this 15 year old teenage grew and grew into a great man of God, one of the greatest prophets in the Bible. Daniel served through two successive Babylonian emperors and then the Persians emperor, Cyrus the Great. Nebuchadnezar and Cyrus the Great saw how Daniel handled adversity and were so impressed that they both came to believe in Daniel’s God. We can learn a lot from Daniel and how he handled adversity.
FIRST, DON’T BE SURPRISED by it. Don’t be surprised by adversity. When the nation of Israel collapsed, it was a shock to everyone and yet it wasn’t unexpected. Prophets like Jeremiah and Zephaniah had been predicting it for years. They’d been warning everyone, “We’re going to lose our freedom if we don’t wise up and turn back to God and stop all this idolatry and injustice.” Daniel heard this message from the prophets so when it finally happened, he wasn’t surprised. The apostle Peter writes, “Dear friends, don’t be shocked or surprised when you suffer through painful tests and trials as if something strange is happening to you.” (1st Peter 4:12) We live in a broken and sinful world. Bad things are bound to happen. This isn’t heaven. In heaven everything will be as it should be. But on earth, everything is broken because of sin, everybody is broken and every relationship is broken by sin. When something bad happens, instead of asking why this is happening, we should say, “Well, of course this is happening. We live in a broken world.” Don’t be surprised by adversity. Don’t be surprised by difficulty and problems. Jesus warned, “In this world you will experience difficulties! But take heart! I have conquered the world! I’ve told you this so that in trusting me, you will be unshakable and deeply at peace.” (John 16:33)
When bad things happen we’re not to be surprised or afraid. That’s what Daniel teaches us. And we’re not to waste our time trying to figure out who’s to blame for it either. Assigning blame for a problem is not going to help us make things better. Just look at our broken political system right now. Both parties are so caught up in blaming the other, and nothing is getting done. Instead of asking, whose fault it is we need to ask, “What can I do to make the situation better?” Daniel didn’t fight against the Babylonian captivity. He didn’t blame them for what was happening to him. He did everything he could to learn all that he could from the situation.
In life there are FOUR SOURCES OF ADVERSITY and trouble. The FIRST is YOURSELF. I am the biggest source of my problems. And you are the biggest source of your problems. I know I’m really looking forward to heaven where all my flaws and weaknesses are going to be taken away. All my imperfections will be made perfect. I won’t irritate anyone in heaven and you won’t irritate me either because all our hang-ups will be taken away. The SECOND source of adversity and trouble is OTHERS. Other people in the world cause us to experience all kinds of conflict and difficulty. There are some really scary people in the world. There are some really mean people in the world. Some of those mean and scary people want you to abandon your beliefs and change your core values. But the truth is you don’t need their approval to be happy. You are as happy as you choose to be. The THIRD source of adversity and trouble in your life is SATAN. The devil is real. The devil is evil incarnate. The moment you wake up in the morning he’s plotting to discourage you, defeat you, distract you, depress you and cause all kinds of problems for you. When you get up in the morning, if you don’t meet the devil head on it just means you’re headed in the same direction. He is always there and he always wants to undermine your faith and your witness in the world. The FOURTH source of adversity and trouble in your life is GOD. Some of the problems and difficulties you have in life actually come from God. God will sometimes shake up your life. Sometimes God will intentionally shake up your life. That’s what happened to Daniel.
The SECOND thing we learn from Daniel is that GOD CAN USE ADVERSITY FOR OUR GOOD. God can use every problem you have for your good if you trust him. He can bring good out of the worst situations. God promises, “The plans I have for you are plans for good and not to harm you. They are plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) God will shake things up in your life for your good. God uses our problems and the adversity in our lives in FIVE WAYS:
The FIRST way is TO INSPECT YOU, to reveal what is in your heart, to reveal your true character. He inspects you through adversity. Someone once said, “People are like tea bags. You don’t know what’s in them until you drop them into hot water.” I’ll let you in on a little secret—God already knows what’s in your heart. He already knows your weaknesses and character flaws. When he uses problems to inspect you it’s so you can see what he sees. Like when God called out to Adam in the Garden of Eden. “Where are you, Adam?” God already knew exactly where Adam was. He asked so that Adam could know where he was. Adam answered, “I heard you coming and I was afraid so I hid.” And we’ve been afraid and guilty and hiding from God and one another ever since.
The Bible says, “The Lord searches our hearts and examines our deepest motives so he can give to each person his right reward, according to how he has lived.” (Jeremiah 17:10) The why behind what we do is more important to God than the what. He cares about our motives. The Bible says, “God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you’d keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2) God will use your problems to inspect you and reveal to you what is in your heart. The problems Daniel faced revealed his solid commitment to God.
SECOND, God will use adversity TO CORRECT YOU. In Daniel’s case, God used a heathen nation to correct the people of Israel for having fallen into deep idolatry and injustice. When those taken to Babylon returned, they were cured of their idolatry. The Bible says, “God corrects all of his children, and if he doesn’t correct you, then you don’t really belong to him. God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy, as he is holy. It is never fun to be corrected. In fact, at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live a peace.” (Hebrews 12:8-11) It’s never fun to be corrected, nor is it fun to correct others. God corrects us for our own good, just as loving parents correct their children. It’s not fun to be corrected, but it is necessary. Sometimes the only way to train is through pain.
When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he spoke so loud that the valley below shook. The Bible says, “When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he says, ‘I will not only shake the earth but the heavens, too.’ By this he means that he will sift out everything without a solid foundation so that only the unshakable things will be left.” (Hebrews 12:26-27) God is going to use adversity in our life to correct you and make you stronger. The Bible says, “Consider yourself fortunate when God all-powerful chooses to correct you.” (Job 5:17)
THIRD, God will use adversity in your life TO RE-DIRECT YOU, to point you in a new direction. The Bible says, “A person may plan his own journey, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Problems often change your plans. Pain is a powerful motivation to change. We don’t change when we see the light. We change when we feel the heat. When it gets hot enough, we change. The Bible says, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30) Like the Prodigal Son who had to hit bottom before he came to his senses through his pain. God used the adversity in his life to re-direct him back to his father. And God will use adversity in our lives to re-direct us back to our heavenly Father. Problems have a way of forcing us to think about things we wouldn’t normally think about on our own. “I have thought about my life, and I have re- directed my feet back to your written instructions.” (Psalm 119:59)
FOURTH, God will use adversity and pain TO PROTECT US. Sometimes pain protects you from something worse. You may be going through a problem but it actually protects you from an even worse problem. A friend of mine got a chest x-ray in order to be cleared for hernia surgery and they found he had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was treated then for something he didn’t even know he had and it saved his life. He thanks God for the pain of his hernia. Or the guy who refused to fudge some reports at work and so he was fired. He lost his pension and his insurance because he refused to be unethical. A month later the FCC hauled the company into court and they’re all in jail now but he’s not. He thanks God for the pain and hardship of being fired because it kept him from going to jail. The Bible says, “God has led you away from danger, giving you freedom.” (Job 36:16) It wasn’t easy for Job to hear those words but over time he came to appreciate them. Then there is Joseph in the Bible. His brothers sold him into slavery and he was taken off to Egypt. In time he was able to say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good….” (Genesis 50:20) Sometimes God shakes your world up to protect you.
FIFTH, God will use adversity TO PERFECT YOU. He will use it to make you more like Christ. The Bible says, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who calls you to share his eternal glory in union with Christ, will himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation.” (1st Peter 5:10) He will perfect you and make you unshakable! Paul writes, “We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it….” (Romans 5:3-4)
God will use the adversity in your life to inspect you, correct you, re-direct you, protect you and perfect you. It’s up to you to TRUST GOD WHEN YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. That’s your part to play. Trust God when you don’t understand why you’re going through adversity. Trust him when you don’t understand why he is letting bad things happen to you and hardship overtake you. The Bible says, “Since the Lord is directing our steps, why try to understand everything that happens along the way?” (Proverbs 20:24) When I was younger I thought I was in control of my life. Now I realize it is the Lord directing my steps. My part is to trust God even when I don’t understand. The Bible says, “Trust the Lord with all your heart. Don’t depend on your won understanding. Honor the Lord in everything you do and he will give you success.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)