With one more week to go in our series (and with this being the final part that I’m preaching), this week we are talking about another critically important way we can stand in our faithfulness to Christ even when we are standing alone. As we look at the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, we are going to talk about the kinds of things we do without having to think about them and what that means for our lives. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Habits of Faithfulness
I want you to think for just a minute about the sheer number of things you do on a daily basis that you feel like you could do with your eyes either metaphorically or literally closed. Given how automated many of the things you do are, that may actually be a tough list to compile. How many things in your life do you do because they are simply what you do? Surely your list includes some pretty basic things. If you use any kind of corrective lens, I suspect putting those on in the morning is automatic. Hopefully most of your personal hygiene routine runs on autopilot. The people sitting next to you are grateful for that. If you are a coffee drinker, your morning date with your coffee machine probably doesn’t require a lot of thought…which is probably good because if you are a coffee-drinker, you may not give a whole lot of thought to much of anything before that first cup starts energizing your system.
But think beyond your morning routine to the things you do throughout your day. There are likely a ton of little routines you have during a normal day to which you give almost no thought. Because you don’t have to. They’re automatic. And this is actually a very good thing if you think about it. If you had to give conscious brain power to most of the things on this list, you would be so focused on the basics of getting through your day, that you wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything much more significant than brushing your teeth in the morning. Of course, if you have bad habits that are automatic, that’s not such a good thing, but on the whole, our healthy functioning as people depend on systems and processes in our lives that are automatic.
This morning finds us nearing the end of our teaching series, How to Be Faithful When No One Else Is. For the last six weeks we have been journeying through the stories of the Old Testament character, Daniel, and his faithful friends as they have made their way through the hostile culture of Babylon. Traveling with them on their adventures has given us the chance to reflect on ways we can follow their example of consistent faithfulness even when they were all alone in doing so in the midst of our own culture which is increasingly hostile to public, concrete expressions of fidelity to the Christian worldview.
Yet if there was any thought going into this journey that it would be mostly focused on helping us understand how to be Christian curmudgeons who delight in sticking their finger in the eye of the world while refusing to play ball with its demands—a group of people of which there are far too many today—little could be further from the truth. Being faithful when no one else is will only work when we do it after the pattern of Jesus. And in the example of Daniel and his friends, even though they were doing what they were doing long before Jesus would walk the earth,they were nonetheless living the example He would one day set. Being faithful when no one else is take courage and carefulness with our words and a willingness to take a Gospel stand even when it’s costly and a willingness to love well the very people who may be hating on us and, as we saw last week, living a lifestyle that is consistent with our confession of Jesus as Lord. Speaking the truth requires living the truth.
Pastor Andy Stanley often talks about Christian character. One of the points he frequently makes is that as followers of Jesus, we want to live in such a way that even though the unbelieving world looks at the things we claim to believe and considers us utterly insane, nonetheless they want to hire us or work for us or live next door to us or have their daughters dating our sons because even though they think our beliefs are crazy, they are so attracted to our character they’re willing to overlook our beliefs so they can experience the fruits of our behavior.
As we get to the next episode of Daniel’s story, we find him living under the authority of a brand-new empire. Babylon has indeed fallen and Persia has supplanted them on the seat of international power. And where do we find Daniel? Back on top of the pile. His reputation was such that he got to skip over all the hurdles he had to navigate in the first part of his life and jump straight to functionally running the kingdom. Yet while his character and reputation made him the logical choice for that position in the minds of the new administration (and even in spite of his loyalty to the last one), those things also made him a target for those working under his authority. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you, find your way to Daniel 6, and let’s see just how this all unfolded in what is perhaps the most famous story from his whole collection.
The story opens in the aftermath of chapter 5 which, historically speaking, was one of the most significant transitions of power in the ancient world. Darius has received the kingdom and is working to put in place an administrative apparatus that will allow him to effectively extend his rule throughout his now greatly expanded empire. Let me add a quick note on the reliability of the text here. If you do a short search online, you’ll quickly learn that while there was a king of Persia named Darius, his reign did not begin until long after Daniel was dead and gone. The actual king of Persia right now was Cyrus—the guy who let the Israelites go back home. This is one of those points at which skeptics and critics will scream, “historical inaccuracy!” The truth is, we’re not totally sure what to do about the apparent historical discrepancy here. Most sympathetic scholars argue that either Darius was the name of a regent of Cyrus, or “Darius the Mede” was a political title for Cyrus himself. Either way, the charge of being historically inaccurate generally has been refuted enough times with the Old Testament text that a lack of a clear answer to this particular question shouldn’t scare us. I suspect archaeologists will yet find a scrap of pottery in some long-forgotten hiding place in the Middle East that brings clarity to this question.
In any event, check this out with me in v. 1: “Darius decided to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, stationed throughout the realm, and over them three administrators, including Daniel. These satraps would be accountable to them so that the king would not be defrauded. Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm.”
This would be Daniel’s highest position to date. And, because he was not only a holdover from the last empire, but also a Jew who didn’t worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Persians, this high position made him a target for a group of politically ambitious ne’er do wells in the kingdom. “The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” Undeterred by the failure stemming from his righteousness, they finally concluded the only way they were going to be able to take him down was if they could somehow make his devotion to his God a criminal offense. “Then these men said, ‘We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God. So the administrators and satraps went together to the king and said to him, ‘May King Darius live forever. All the administrators of the kingdom, the prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an edict that for thirty days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den. Therefore, Your Majesty, establish the edict and sign the document so that, as a law of the Medes and Persians, it is irrevocable and cannot be changed.’ So King Darius signed the written edict.”
Now, before we go any further, can we just marvel for a second at what a pathetic sap the king must have been to apparently fall prey so easily to this kind of duplicitous flattery? And Darius wasn’t the first Persian King to fall prey to this kind of thing. It almost makes you want to be embarrassed for them. Of course, when you are king and are surrounded by sycophants who spend all day telling you how awesome you are in hopes of flattering their way into a cushy—and lucrative—government post, eventually you start to believe your own hype. There’s probably a message there about the importance of having people in your life to help keep you humble, but that’ll have to be a conversation for another time.
New edict basically making his faithfulness illegal for a month or not, Daniel had a long habit of seeking God every single day, and he wasn’t about to stop now. And when he kept his pattern faithfully in place, these agitators went straight to the king to tattle on him. Verse 11: “Then these men went as a group and found Daniel petitioning and imploring his God. So they approach the king and asked about his edict: ‘Didn’t you sign an edict that for thirty days any person who petitions any god or man except you, the king will be thrown into the lion’s den?’” The king, of course, confirmed the law, and Daniel’s accusers promptly pointed their fingers straight in his direction. “Then they replied to the king, ‘Daniel, one of the Judean exiles, has ignored you, the king, and the edict you signed, for he prays three times a day.’” I know. Stop rolling your eyes. This part of the story probably had its original audiences in stitches at this pathetic group. Unjust silliness and the king’s personal feelings aside, though, the king had indeed signed the law and so his hands were tied. Why he didn’t think about Daniel’s faith before signing the law will just have to be a mystery. Daniel would have to be thrown into the lions’ den.
Of course, you probably know how the rest of the story goes from here. Daniel does indeed get an all-expenses-paid stay in a cozy room with a pride of cuddly therapy animals. The king, on the other hand, gets a night spent on pins and needles hoping Daniel’s God saved him from the lions. The next morning, the king anxiously calls for the lion pit to be opened and calls out to Daniel who immediately replies that God had sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths because of his total innocence of any wrongdoing. Now that the most pressing problem has been addressed, the king turns his fury on the men who had set Daniel up to be killed by this unjust law. “The king then gave the command, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the lions’ den—they, their children, and their wives. They had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.” And if you are rightly bothered a bit by the inclusion of their families in the punishment here, remember this was the king’s doing and not God’s. In the end, the king honors Daniel and his God and he basically lives happily ever after.
So…surprise, surprise…the story ends with everything working out for Daniel yet again. Same song as before. But for the stories’ themselves being so exciting, the consistent conclusions in Daniel’s favor is almost boring at this point. But why? And how? Why and how did things fall in Daniel’s favor yet again here? I mean, we can always just go with, “God,” which is fine and true, but if we’re being really honest, it’s not terribly satisfying. Yes, yes, that should be enough, but that explanation completely ignores any role Daniel himself played and that’s what we’re most interested in here. Besides, assuming on God’s having done it, how did God do it? Was this simply a miraculous intervention on His part? With the lions, yes, but not necessarily with the reaction of Darius to Daniel. It will probably not surprise you a bit to learn I think there’s more to see in this story. Come back with me to v. 10 for a minute.
Daniel was in his 80s at this point in his journey. He had been serving in the upper echelons of government service since he was somewhere in his 20s. That’s about 60 years worth of civic administration and navigating a complex world of politics and court intrigue. I think we can safely assume Daniel had a pretty good handle on things by this point in his journey. Even though he was technically working for a new empire, this one was functionally the same as the last. Sure, there were some differences, and some of them were significant, but people were still people. When Daniel heard about the king’s new edict, he would have immediately recognized what was happening. He knew folks were out to get him yet again. He knew there was a chance they would succeed in their aims, too, because he knew he wasn’t going to play their games. He wasn’t going to play their games because there was something else he knew: God had his back. He knew this because he had experienced it over and over and over again throughout his life. Even when things seemed bleak, God always had his back. Yet his confidence in this fact was not simply borne out through experience. It came because he had spent his life nurturing a relationship with God and over that time had come to know Him deeply and well.
And how had he done that? Verse 10 gives us our clue. “When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” Daniel’s habit here was so well-known that his enemies didn’t even have to try to trap him with the law they had manipulated the king into signing. They simply stationed themselves outside his window and waited. Sure enough, Daniel appeared in his window doing the same thing he did three times a day and had been doing for who knows how long—perhaps most of his life.
You see, somewhere along the way, Daniel had done something simple, but powerful, to prepare him for this moment and every moment. His pursuit of faithfulness had gone from something he sought in a moment of tension, to a daily routine that he pursued regardless of what else was going on in the world around him. To put that a different way, for Daniel, faithfulness was a habit. It was something he did because it was what he did. This isn’t to say he was unthinking and rote in his pursuit, but rather to say that pursuing faithfulness in his relationship with God was something he did automatically. If you want to be faithful when no one else is, having faithfulness be a habit will give you a huge leg up on the journey. When faithfulness is a habit, standing firm is much simpler.
This, my friends, brings us face to face with an important question: How can you make faithfulness a habit in your life? If you want your faith in Christ to mean something when it matters most, it has to be a habit for you. It has to be the thing you do because that’s what you do. When faithfulness is a habit, standing firm is much simpler. It is much simpler because you don’t have to think about it. You do that part automatically leaving you free to focus your attention on the bigger and more challenging problems before you. It should be your goal for things like loving your neighbor as yourself to be your default position in life. Your constant aim should be to have putting the people around you first be your natural response to stimuli. Being kind, humble, and generous need to become the things you turn to automatically when something happens. These kinds of things shouldn’t take any thought at all.
In this way, righteousness and faithfulness can become our operating system. A computer operating system is designed to take a whole manner of normal functions and make them part of the automatic background tasks the computer does without having to be asked. A really smooth operating system is one that allows you to do all the things you want without ever having to think about how they are happening. This is because by automating all of the routine tasks, all of the computing power of the machine can be unleashed in tackling the non-routine and unexpected challenges you throw at it. A well-designed operating system goes even beyond this to dictating the pathway by which those non-routine and unexpected challenges are accomplished. In the same way, when faithfulness becomes our operating system, rather than having to wonder whether we will do something to honor God in a moment of temptation or persecution, that we will is a foregone conclusion. The only question we’ll be considering is how. Bringing glory to God regardless of our circumstances will thereby form the framework of our lives and determine everything about how we interact and engage with the world around us. When faithfulness is a habit, standing firm is much simpler.
So, where can you make faithfulness more of a habit in your life? What disciplines will help you change your muscle-memory reactions from ones that dishonor God to ones that bring Him glory? Do you need to engage more consistently with the Scriptures? Bring more diligence to prayer? Give more intentionally and sacrificially? Participate more fully and regularly in corporate worship? Take a more significant and purposeful role in the various ministries we are pursuing as a church? Train yourself to operate on someone else’s schedule (that is, develop patience)? Practice the other fruits of the Spirit? What habits do you need to develop? When faithfulness is a habit, standing firm is much simpler. And when standing firm is simpler, you’ll be faithful even when no one else is.