Today we are going to take a look at survival technique #6. Being independent, needing personal space, being strong-willed-are these things immoral? No. Is there anything wrong with them in particular? Not really. But there is a time and place for these things.
There are a lot of good things in this world-a lot of activities, plenty of leisure things, and many things that have been created for the enjoyment of life-none of which are wrong. But, there has to be a limitation. Because we can have everything doesn't mean that we should do or have everything. This might create a diminishing result in our life.
We see this in Daniel. Daniel put a limitation on accepting what his life and culture offered him. The technique is called "lighten the pack." All climbers know that the higher they go, the less they can take with them. The same is true in our spiritual lives. The higher we want to go, the more we have to give up or we are not going to make it.
Daniel is in exile along with his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo. They have been chosen for leadership under Nebuchadnezzer who was the king of what we know today as Iraq.
Daniel and his friends did not pack everything into their lives that their culture offered them. There were some things which Daniel and his friends realized they may need to do in order to fit in and to succeed in the Babylonian kingdom. There were also some things which they decided to not include in order to maintain their distinctiveness as Jewish people.
First, they packed their relocation. They could have rebelled and been part of the insurrection, but they decided not to because of the word of the Lord to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29. They knew they should go and seed themselves into this kingdom and be part of it and try to make the kingdom succeed. They accepted training in the literature and the language of Babylonia. All Babylonian literature is full of mythology, embedded with the vast numbers of religions that existed. After reading all these writings, I'm sure the Jewish people were disinclined to learn these things and yet they did. They had to put up with it just like a lot of us had to put up with classes in humanities or classes in philosophy on secular campuses. You may not have agreed with what you read, but you had to learn it in order to get your degree. It's part of putting up with this world to succeed in life. What's outstanding, I think, is that Daniel and his friends remained very strong in their faith despite what they had to learn.
They even allowed themselves to be renamed. I find that repugnant. We call them Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo, but those were the names that Nebuchadnezzer gave them to rename them after Babylonian gods. Daniel's name itself had a rich meaning: "God is the judge," but he was given the name "Belteshazzar" meaning "Bel is the one who protects you." The god Bel was repugnant to Daniel. Hananiah, meaning "The Lord shows grace" was given the name "Shadrach" and was named after the moon god. Mishael was given the name "Meshach" after the god Aku. Azariah was given the name "Abednigo" which means "the servant of Nabu." Although these names were repugnant to these Jewish men, they accepted them because they knew that these names were not who they were. When they referred to themselves, they used their Jewish names, but they were willing to be called by the Babylonian names that were given to them by Nebuchadnezzer.
However, Daniel draws the line at the diet for the main reason that he wanted to maintain his Jewish distinctiveness. One thing that was very distinctive about Jewish people at that time, as it is today, is that they eat kosher food. Why did God have them eat certain types of foods? In Leviticus 10:17, it tells us that this was for ceremonial purposes and not moral reasons. There was nothing morally wrong with these foods, but they were a sign of who God's people were so that just by their foods one could tell that these people live differently. This was an important sign that Daniel felt he needed to maintain. He wanted his food to remind him about his moral and religious obligation. He was called to be different and to live differently. People should see the difference.
If we are going to survive in this world, and if we are going to succeed in life and in our spiritual lives, there are some things we must put up with but there are other things that we should not put up with. We should not give up our distinctiveness. We should live our lives in such a way that people know there's a difference. People are different and one area in which we are called to be different is the pace of our lives. If we try to live out the Christian faith, our lives must go at a different pace than that at which our culture is running.
Alvin ________ is a great secular prophet of our day, but he calls this age "The Age of Choice." We live in a culture where there are too many desirable activities, too many important choices to make, too much information coming at us, too many voices calling for our attention, too many things to purchase with a credit card, too many entertaining entertainments, and too many things we need to do and in order to function well. Therefore, he says we are unable to make commitments, unable to set priorities, unable to relax and experience quiet. We lack contentment and are unable to focus. We zigzag through life at an exhausting pace, exhausting ourselves over less-than-purposeful activities. We have become the antithesis of Psalm 23:
"The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest.
It makes me lie down only when exhausted, it leads me to deep
Depression, it hounds my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity's sake.
Even though I run frantically from task to task, I will never get it
All done for my ideal is with me.
Deadlines and my need for approval-they drive me.
They demand my performance from me beyond the limits of my
They anoint my head with migraines, my in-basket overflows.
Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever."
Does this describe your life? Are you keeping the same pace as our world and culture. If so, you are not going to make it into the next world. What do we do about this. One popular cliche is "Just go with the flow." We are too busy to sit down and rethink our lives. It's easier to just do what everyone else does. However, this isn't working for our culture and it's not going to work for you.
We can choose to bob like a cork in the ocean of activity and frenzy, or we can say to the storm of our culture "This is not the way God wants me to live. I choose to live differently. I choose to be different, which I am called to be anyway."
Swimming against the tide makes you stick out. Didn't Daniel stick out and become a meal for the lions? Didn't Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo stick out and get put into a hot furnace? If you try to challenge the status quo, if you dare to challenge the culture, you will stick out and people will feel as though you are criticizing them, even those right next to you in the pew.
You go against the tide when you say to our culture that living to acquire possessions that offer no hope of lasting fulfillment is wrong. It is wrong to measure your worth or love for others with a financial price tag. It is wrong to sacrifice relationships in search of career success. Living without eternal purpose is wrong. When you say these things and live these things, you will stick out and people will be offended by you as they were with Daniel.
There were some substantive reasons that Daniel chose not to eat the diet of the Babylonians. In that culture, when you ate at table with someone, it meant that you fully accepted them and agreed with all their decisions. Daniel knew he could not do that. He knew that God owned his total allegiance, and he knew that he disagreed with King Nebuchadnezzer on a whole lot of issues. Therefore, he could not eat with them and be a man of integrity.
As a practical reason, Daniel was called to be an advisor. If a person takes hand-outs from the one he is supposed to advise, it makes it difficult to tell that person things he doesn't want to hear. There is a great temptation not to bite the hand that feeds you. Therefore, Daniel needed to be disconnected and not accept hand-outs from Nebuchadnezzer so that he could be a good advisor and sometimes be able to tell him things he didn't want to hear.
Daniel had a physical reason for not eating with the king. If you look at all the Levitical laws on eating, you will discover that this diet fits perfectly with modern science and medicine's observations about health, the understanding of nutrition, government regulations on food handling and food processing. Daniel knew that if he ate the king's food, he would become ill because there were not proper protections for disease control. He would become overweight and sluggish. As a result, they would not perform well in the tasks, activities and education that they were called upon to perform. There is a real connection between the mind, body and spirit. They knew they would become physically unhealthy and not perform to the best of their ability.
Daniel had a spiritual reason for not eating the Babylonian diet because they used food that had been sacrificed to idols. By observing these sacrifices, there was a danger that he would ultimately become part of that practice. That's why the Jews were in exile to begin with-there was a penchant in their culture to be caught up in the temptation of idolatry.
Who wouldn't like to eat at the White House on a regular basis? However, the more you experience something like that, the more you crave it and the more you want it. It's like moving into an affluent neighborhood. You begin to see what your neighbors have and soon you start to want those things for yourself. The craving of the god "More" sucks you in and your life becomes no different than anyone else's. You have no time for God anymore because you are chasing after the things of this world and keeping up with the Joneses.
There is also a social reason for refusing to eat at the king's table. Their Jewish brothers and sisters were in poverty and oppression. Daniel didn't want to isolate himself from the experience of his people. He chose voluntary poverty for the good of others.
Why should we not dine at the vast table that our society has prepared for us? Why not accumulate the vast possessions that are offered to us? Why not participate in the activities and the schedules available to us? Why not enjoy all the pleasures that the world offers to us? Because if we do, we will suffer for it physically, economically, spiritually, socially, globally and in our relationships. We have so much and the rest of the world has so little, and this causes jealousy and hatred to stir in the hearts of others.
The Heath family chose not to dine at this "table" and this is what they have to say:
"Personally, it helped us focus on more important things. It decreased our overall stress and improved our physical health. It helped us break the compulsion of buying habits. Spiritually, it gave us more time for God and heightened our dependence on him. We perceive our self-worth from God rather than from our possessions or our achievements. We can avoid being self-sufficient and more dependent on God and honored by God by remembering the poor. We have more time for our relationships and our friendships. We have time to give to those in need and we close the gap between rich and poor."
Imagine the way your life would be different. What would you like to do that you just don't have time for right now? How do we slow down and simplify our lives? Like Daniel, we can do these four things:
1. He evaluated his situation.
2. He evaluated the impact of his choices.
3. He chose his battles wisely.
4. He acted on his decisions to see whether they worked or not.
Rather than diminish his life and success, it caused him to be more successful and closer to God all at the same time. He didn't give up anything. The same thing can happen in our lives.
There are a lot of ideas in your journals about how to live more simply. I encourage you to take a look at them and evaluate your involvement in the areas of possessions, schedules, entertainment and ask God what he wants you to do or give up in order to live more distinctly and more like a believer.
I found some ideas that were helpful:
1. Possessions. Define your limits. One way to naturally define your limits is to give 10%, save 10% and live on 80%. If you live this way, your whole lifestyle would become simple all by itself.
2. Housing. Housing drives the hectic lifestyle for most people. We need to evaluate whether we should buy or rent and how big we should buy. The bigger you buy, the more stuff you have to put in it, the more stuff you have to clean, repair and keep up, and the less time you have for other things that may be impor-tant in your life.
3. Credit cards. Credit cards cause us to live at 110% of our income. We need to evaluate this. Living without credit can help simplify your life.
4. Scheduling. Write a mission statement for your life including four or five things that you want to accomplish. Ask yourself if the activities or possessions help you to accomplish that goal. Focus on defining need versus want.
5. Entertainment. A lot of people spend a lot of money trying to relax. There is nothing wrong with great vacations, but a lot of people work like dogs to go on huge expensive vacations and they don't really enjoy themselves. You can relax for free. Relaxation is a state of mind and not a place that you go to. I encourage you to learn to play for free and relax for free. Exercise for free. Do you need a $700 treadmill or would the sidewalk be sufficient?
6. Rethink holidays. Instead of buying binges, maybe we can make them holy days.
7. Ask God how to simplify your life.
My daughter is home schooling right now. She is study the South Pole and Amundson is the man who got to the South Pole first. The key to getting there was limiting what he took with him. The closer he got, the more and more he had to lighten his pack or he wouldn't make it.
The same thing is true for us. We can only make it with so much stuff. The higher and higher we want to go with the Lord, the more we have to give up. I hope you do well in your journey