Last week I shared some of the ways Daniel and his associates were tested as captives in Babylon. This week I ask how these tests parallel those that we face currently as disciples of Jesus Christ in America.
We are under siege by an invisible virus at the moment, but the fact is that the values of Christ-followers have been under siege by myriad ungodly cultural elements for several decades. Our tests are not new. They’re just promoted in our generation by new characters with updated plot lines.
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tested in six areas: spiritual knowledge, worship, speaking truth, integrity, and discipline (see April 18 blog to revisit this analysis). Let’s look at how we experience similar types of tests.
Purity. Many people inside and outside the church have very strong ideas about food, what we should and should not eat, and why. While I believe that diet is a crucial aspect of the stewardship of our bodies, I don’t believe that this is the primary test of our purity as it was for Daniel. As New Testament believers, we are not bound by dietary restrictions. Jesus (and later Peter and Paul) confirmed that purity is a matter of the heart, and not what we eat.
What are the elements of contemporary Western culture that compromise and interfere with our purity before God? Mostly they are what we take in through our eyes and ears that is blatantly immoral, corrupt, or perverse. We can become so desensitized to profanity, barbarity, violence, and pornographic imagery that we don’t even realize we are being defiled by it.
When we experience spiritual conviction to turn away from this kind of content, are we not being tested in our desire for purity? After all, it seems like everyone watches and listens to these things. Are we willing to face being left out of parts of the cultural conversation? Daniel didn’t care about that. His priority was to stand before God with no shame.
Spiritual knowledge. We saw how Daniel had extraordinary spiritual discernment, put to use dramatically by the kings he served. He trusted God under pressure to give him revelation that would save many lives. He prayed and asked others to pray, and he received the knowledge he needed.
We often look to the wrong sources of information. We trust worldly voices and sources who have greedy motives, people who covet power more than truth. When under pressure, we must turn to the Spirit of God and the Word of God for wisdom and knowledge. Trusting God to give us the revelation we need may not be the easy way, but it is the right way. That’s why it is a test.
Worship. Temptation and testing in this area are ubiquitous but can be subtle enough that even mature believers are deceived. We may not worship statues, but doesn’t God have to share our affections with so many other loves in our lives–possessions, activities, ministries, relationships, entertainments? Doesn’t he often get a paltry share of our time and devotion? Aren’t we tested daily to choose worshiping God when surrounded by an array of other colorful, shiny options.
Those Jewish boys trusted that God would rescue them from the flames if they reserved their worship only for him. They went even further, declaring that even if he chose not to rescue them, they weren’t going to bow down to any idol. This is a courageous choice that God honors.
Speaking truth. In our very hostile political environment, this is a tough one. Christians are told that private worship is allowable, but political correctness disallows us to speak openly about the exclusivity of Christ, or the reality of sin, or the sacredness of life from God’s perspective. We run the risk of being outcasts, being persecuted, being shouted down and insulted.
Jesus told us this would happen. His people rejected him and executed him on a tree without a proper trial. He told his disciples (and they passed it on to us), that his followers will be hated as he was hated. Our test is that in spite of this we continue to speak very clearly on matters of justice, righteousness, and mercy. We represent his kingdom and his gospel and accept whatever consequences may come. We use our voices have courage, knowing that the truth and power of Jesus is working through us.
Integrity. Daniel steered clear of the temptation to accept material reward for his service to God. He required nothing but to know that he was faithfully executing God’s assignment. This is a very personal test; it goes right to the heart of who we are in Christ.
We follow the ways of Christ whether anyone is watching or rewarding us for it. To pass the many tests of integrity that come, we must never look for moral shortcuts, intentionally deceive or cheat, or make excuses when we fall short of God’s standards. We don’t exploit others for our own gain. This testing happens nearly every day, throughout our entire lives.
Discipline. There are as many ways to practice spiritual disciplines as there are worshipers. The test here is to be consistent and diligent in whatever personal convictions we hold. Daniel was diligent to pray and fast. We ask ourselves what is important to me in our devotion to Christ? What will cause us to grow and bear fruit?
For some, it may be very simple and unstructured. Others are stricter and more regimented. We aren’t to judge one another’s choices regarding these disciplines. But we are to honor God daily with our own.
I hope my analysis of Daniel’s tests and ours is useful and relevant to you as you examine your walk with God during these turbulent days of testin