When You’re Pressured To Conform

We are continuing in a sermon series on the life of Daniel, one of the great heroes of the Old Testament.  His life shows us how to thrive no matter what we’re going through.  Last week I told you how at the age of 15 he was taken as a prison of war and placed in a three-year assimilation program.  God used Daniel’s Babylonian captivity to inspect, correct, re-direct, protect and perfect him, and God will use adversity in our lives to do the same if we will only trust him.  Even though Daniel never got to go back to his homeland, but his story is a true “rags to riches” adventure.  He ends up as the second most powerful man in the empire.  He survives two Babylonian Emperors, Nebuchadnezzar and Belteshazzar, and one Persian Emperor, Cyrus the Great. Daniel was such a persuasive person.  He led Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus the Great to faith in God.

Before Daniel could be used by God in such an amazing way he had to be tested.  In fact, at every stage of his life God tested him.  The Bible says, “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3)   Daniel goes through a number of tests throughout his life.  Here’s the principle Daniel teaches us and it is the first fill in on your sermon outline.  BEFORE EVERY BLESSING THERE IS A TESTINGGod always tests our hearts before he delivers a blessing to us.  He wants to be sure we’re ready to handle the blessing, and the power and influence and opportunities that come with a blessing.  He wants to make sure you can handle it and are ready to use it to his glory.  So God will test your character before he blesses you.  He’ll look at your integrity, your humility, your generosity, your loyalty, your faithfulness, and your truthfulness before he blesses you.  If you pass God’s tests, he will give you even greater power and influence.  He will entrust you with blessings that he knows you will use wisely for his purposes.  He will entrust you with knowledge and understanding when he knows you will use it for the right purposes.  The Bible says, “We speak God’s message because God tested us and trusted us to do it. When we speak, we are not trying to please people, but God, who tests our hearts.” (1st Thessalonians 2:4) 

Let me give you another life principle we learn from the life of Daniel.  It’s about how God tests us.  GOD TESTS US WITH STRESS BEFORE HE BLESSES US WITH SUCCESSHe wants to make sure we can handle it.  Daniel is tested many, many times and every time he passes the test and gets promoted to a position of greater power and influence.  We’re going to see this over the next several weeks as we look at the different tests that Daniel had to go through.  Today we’re going to look at Daniels test of social pressure.  It’s when we are pressured to conform to something we know is not right.  We know it’s not what God would want us to do, whether it’s from our boss, or our government, or some other authority in our lives.  It’s when we feel pressure to violate our conscience.

That’s what happened to Daniel.  King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, took 25% of the young men, the best of the best, off to Babylonia and put them in a three year training program designed to re-program them and conform them to the ways of their new home.  “The king ordered that the young men should eat the same food and wine served at the king’s table while they were being trained.  After that they were to become servants of the king of Babylon… But Daniel resolved not to defile himself by eating the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” (Daniel 1:5, 8)  This is a process of assimilation.  They are attempting to strip Daniel of his identity as a Jew.  But Daniel refused to go along with the program.  He didn’t want to be defiled.  The definition of defile is: to pollute, contaminate, or corrupt; a loss of purity.  Daniel says, “I’m not going to do that!”

Daniel had three reasons why he was not willing to defile himself with the king’s assimilation plan.  The first was concern for his health.  The king’s food wasn’t good for him.  It wasn’t healthy and he knew it wasn’t healthy.  As a Jew he knew it was important to his God for him to take care of his body.  He was not willing to defile his body with the rich empty calorie diet of the king.  The second reason was his concern for is nation and the culture of his nation of origin.  God gave the Jews a nation, and God provided very strict dietary laws.  Today we still see those laws in the kosher laws as we shop in just about any supermarket.  I bought a container of Philadelphia cream cheese the other day and it said on the outside of the package: KOSHER FOR PASSOVER.  That’s a big deal for an orthodox Jew who tries to keep the dietary laws their faith.  It was a big deal for Daniel.  That was his first test.

       DANIEL’S FIRST TEST REVEALS FOUR QUALITIES IN HIS CHARACTER. 

       FIRST, Daniel showed that he had INTEGRITY; HE NEVER FORGOT WHO HE WAS.  He said, “You can change my address, you can change my clothes, you can change my name, but you cannot change my heart!”  Daniel resolved not to define himself.  He refused to conform to the culture around him.  The Bible says, “Don’t conform yourself to the values of this world.  Instead, let God transform you by a complete change of how you think.  Then you will be able to know the will of God….” (Romans 12:2)  You have two choices in life.  You can choose to conform or you can choose to be transformed.  The world will seek to conform you into its mold if you will let it.  Daniel’s first test was to refuse to conform.  He refused to forget who he was.

The SECOND test DANIEL went through showed that he HAD SELF-DICIPLINE: HE CONTROLLED HIS EGO AND HIS APPETITE. The Bible says, “Daniel made up his mind not to eat the food and drink wine given to them by the king.” (Daniel 1:8a)    The food and wine he was being offered was from the king’s table.  It was the best food and drink he had ever tasted, and yet he showed tremendous self-control and restraint.  I don’t know too any fifteen year olds that could show such self-discipline and self-restraint.  He didn’t even have his parents around or his pastor breathing down his neck.  We see this all the time, where good kids are handed sudden success, like when a kid is drafted by the NBA or the NFL and suddenly they have an enormous salary with all kinds of perks and they don’t know how to handle it.  We see this all the time.  Two years after being drafted the Heisman Trophy winner is cut from the team because he has no self-discipline.

When Daniel was carried off to Babylon, he was separated from his parents, his extended family, his community and still he maintained self-discipline.  That’s quite remarkable.  Daniel wanted to be used by God, not by the world.   This is a decision he made as a teenager cut off from all those who would hold him accountable to God.  That’s amazing!  I know adults that don’t have that kind of self-discipline.

I drive a car that is eight years old.  I bought it when it was three years old.  I love my car.  It gets me where I need to go.  I could afford to go out and buy a brand new car, but I don’t need a new car.  Just because I could buy it doesn’t mean I should buy it.  That’s the discipline test.  Just because I could doesn’t mean I should.  That’s called discipline and God honors discipline.  We demonstrate self-discipline by refusing to conform to the world around us.  The Bible says, “Don’t conform yourself to the values of this world.  Instead, let God transform you by a complete change of how you think.  Then you will be able to know the will of God….” (Romans 12:2)  

The THIRD test DANIEL went through showed that he HAD COURAGE: HE WAS WILLING TO STAND ALONE. It didn’t matter to him that all the other captives were willing to eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine.  But Daniel knew it wasn’t what God wanted him to do.  It took enormous courage for Daniel to ask the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to exempt him from the meal plan he had been put on.  That would have been insulting to the king.  “Excuse me sir, but your food isn’t good enough for me.  I can’t eat it.”  He was objecting because of his conscience.  He was a conscientious objector.  All the other Jewish boys were eating the rich food from the king’s table and drinking the king’s wine.  Daniel and his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) were the only ones asking to be exempt from the king’s food and drink.  It took tremendous courage for them to stand up to peer pressure.  No matter how many people say something is right, that doesn’t make it right when God says it’s wrong.  The Bible says, “Never follow the crowd in doing wrong, and don’t be swayed in your testimony by the mood of the majority.” (Exodus 23:2)   It doesn’t matter how many people are doing it; if God says it’s wrong, it’s still wrong.  Daniel had the courage to stand alone against the crowd.  That’s the kind of courage God blesses.

The Bible says, “Stand true to what you believe.  Be courageous.  Be strong!” (1st Corinthians 16:13)   That’s what Daniel had to do.  He did it in his time and we need to do it in our time.  We cannot go along with the prevailing secular culture.  We have to stand true to what we believe.  We have to be courageous and strong.  That’s the kind of person God will bless.

The FOURTH test DANIEL went through showed that he HAD HUMILITY: HE WAS HUMBLE AS HE DEALT WITH AUTHORITY.  He was tactful as he interacted with authority.  He was respectful.  Even though King Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan king, Daniel still honored his authority over him.   The passage reads, “Then Daniel asked the chief official (that’s the man the king put in charge of the boys) for permission to eat other things instead. (He didn’t demand it.  He didn’t defy or rebel against authority.  He didn’t refuse or go on a hunger strike.)  Now God had given the chief official great respect for Daniel. (Evidently Daniel was proving to be exceptional in mastering the physical and intellectual challenges of the assimilation program.)  But he said, ‘I’m afraid of my lord, the king, who ordered that you eat his food and drink his wine. And if you aren’t as healthy as the others, I fear the king will have me beheaded!’ (That’s a legitimate concern the chief officer has.  Kings have a way of punishing disobedience in his ranks.  I remember being in  Russia and touring the Summer Palace of Peter the Great.  The guide told the story that if anyone failed to listen to Peter the Great, the first time he cut off your ears.  The second time he cut off your head.  This is no idle threat for the chief officer to be concerned with.  Even though he could care less what Daniel ate, he did care very much about his own neck.)  So Daniel talked it over with the guard appointed to look after Daniel and his three friends.  Daniel offered a suggestion: ‘Just test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water.  Then see how healthy we look compared to the young men eating the king’s food [and drinking the king’s wine].  Then you can decide whether or not to let us continue eating our diet.’  (Apparently the king inspected the condition of the new recruits to see how they were coming along and if they weren’t getting stronger, the officer in charge was deemed to be at fault.  This guy didn’t want to lose his head over it.)  So the attendant agreed to try Daniel’s suggestion. (Perhaps Daniel could be on to something.)  At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his friend looked healthier and better nourished than any of the others in the king’s training program.  So after that, the guard let them eat their own food.

...When the 3-year training program was completed, all the young men were brought to King Nebuchadnezzar, who talked with each one individually.  None impressed the king as much as Daniel and his three friends.  So they were each promoted to positions in the king’s service.” (Daniel 1:8b-16, 18-19)

This is the first promotion Daniel received.  He goes on to receive a total of five promotions in his lifetime, and not once did he have to compromise his beliefs or his values or his integrity to get promoted.  Daniel teaches that you do not have to violate your conscience in order to be successful.  You just need to know how to make your case to authority.  You need to develop the skills necessary to favorably impress the people in authority over you in life.  There are six things you’ll need to do.  The FIRST is to DEVELOP A REPUTATION FOR RESPONSIBILITY. Before Daniel approached the officer over him, he developed a reputation for responsibility.  He conducted himself in a way that favorably impressed his boss.  He consistently did above and beyond what was asked of him.  That’s what anyone must do who wants a promotion.  You can’t be seen as a slacker.  You can’t be seen as someone trying to get away with doing as little as possible.  If you want to be successful, you’ll have to develop a reputation for responsibility.

The SECOND is to BE HUMBLE AND NOT BELIGERENTYour attitude will determine your acceptance.  If you want to successfully make a case to authority, you’ll need demanding or arrogant.  That’s what Daniel shows us.  He didn’t take a knee when the National Anthem was being played.  He didn’t harden the hearts of those in authority over him by being belligerent.  He stayed humble.

The THIRD is DON’T BE DECEPTIVE OR MANIPULATIVE.  If you want to be successful in dealing with authority, you can’t lie or misrepresent your case.  You can’t try to trick authority figures into doing what you want.  You can’t force them to do what you want.  You need to be honest and above board with how something violates your beliefs.  You have to explain how something goes against your conscience and give them the opportunity to work with you to make a way you both can win.

The FOURTH is to APPEAL TO THEIR GOALS AND INTERESTS.  Daniel said, “You want us to be stronger and healthier to impress the king, then give me a chance to prove to you that I know a better way to do that.”  Again, Daniel rolls out a win-win proposition.  People in authority are interested in the bottom line.  Are the company’s goals and interests going to be met?  People in politics need to understand this.  You don’t get your way by pressuring people to do what you want or by starting wars over what you want.  You do it by appealing to their goals and interests.

FIFTH, CAREFULLY CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLACE, TIME AND WORDS to make your case.  What’s the right place?  Privately.  What’s the right time?  When the other person is at their best, not when they are angry or tired or frustrated.  What are the best words?  Respectful words and polite forms of speech.  The Bible says, “A wise mature person is known for his understanding.  The more pleasant his words, the more persuasive he is.” (Proverbs 16:21)

SIXTH, TRUST GOD EVEN IF THEY REJECT YOUR APPEALIn Daniel’s case, he was able to persuade the man in authority over him.  That’s not always the way it is.  Sometimes those in authority over us are unreasonable and unwilling to hear us out.  But if we develop these six skills for favorably impressing authority, we will find we are more often than not successful in persuading those in authority over us to do what we need them to do so that we all win.

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