The stories of Daniel and his three friends are some of the most well-known. And that’s the problem. Bible “stories,” especially those told to children, become trite to us, just feel-good episodes without context or connection to the message of the book in which it is found. As we read these events, we struggle with putting them into the larger context of God and his work in this world. If we look at Nebuchadnezzar’s worldview, he sees himself and his gods to be the conquerors of Israel and their “god.” Therefore, from the beginning to the end of the book, God sends the unmistakeable message that he alone “rules in the kingdom of men” (4:17). Woven into this message is God’s use of the faith of a few to impact the kingdom of men and bring glory to himself.
Consider, the outcome if your teenager or my teenager got ripped away from us and from his comfortable lifestyle, and was taken to a foreign country in which he was thrust into the midst of rank paganism. In the case of Daniel, the Chaldean king was shrewd in his dealings with his captives. His purpose was to effect a complete separation from their former life and their former allegiances. Their names were changed to reflect the new gods they would serve. They were instructed (brainwashed) in all the ways of their new nation. And to add to the pressure, the king gave them the prime delicacies from his own table. Of all things to have as your first test, food! How is a teenage boy supposed to watch everyone else, including other Jewish boys, chow down on the best beef in the kingdom while he eats squash? These young men would have experienced great pressure to rationalize their helplessness in captivity. Why not do as you are told while quietly maintaining a faith in God? At the end of Daniel’s life, in the incident with the lion’s den, the test was similar. Of all things, Daniel was tested in the matter of prayer. Now, we all know that Daniel could have easily prayed for those 30 days without anyone knowing. It is not like prayer is limited to opening your windows toward Jerusalem at set hours in the day! But that is not the issue. It is the quietly part that God’s people are called to avoid. Why? Because we are called to impact the kingdom of men. We are the light of the world, and simply holding a personal, private faith is not God’s purpose for us.
The Key to Raising Children of Faith
How did Daniel maintain this level of faith from his youth? The key is that he had been taught his identity and purpose in this world. Daniel did not live as a “captive.” He did not consider himself in exile as a powerless victim to a despotic, godless nation. Daniel was a representative of God. Daniel was placed there by God as a light in the midst of wickedness so that the knowledge of God could be seen and known. We Christians, too often see ourselves in the minority and therefore we cower in weakness. Daniel was certainly a minority, but he changed kings. We forget that a primary theme of scripture is that God wins battles through an apparent position of weakness. Do we not remember the conquering of Canaan? Do we remember how the first generation was afraid and was rejected because of unbelief? Do we remember Jonathan’s faith as the rest of Israel cowered before the mighty Philistines? Having only one of two swords in all Israel, his words to his armor bearer should still ring strong today: “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”
This is the most important training parents must give their children. We cannot just say, “Do not conform to this world.” It is knowing who we are and our purpose that enables us to happily represent God without being bummed every time we can’t participate in worldly pleasures. There are few events I remember at age four, but one still burns in my memory. It was Wednesday night. My mother, age 26, had contracted chicken pox. I still remember her laying on the couch with pick dots of Calamine Lotion all over her to ease the symptoms. My father had me by my hand as we walked toward the door on our way to evening worship. My mother turned and said, “Ah, why don’t you just leave him with me.” My Dad looked at her with a steady stare, and firmly said, “He is not sick.” And that was that. Never again did such an issue come up. When I was older and Little League games conflicted with Wednesday evenings, I would have never dreamed of asking my Dad if I could play. In fact, my own conscience and respect for God would not have allowed me. Dad continually reinforced the principle that God is our cause and we are his light by holding up men like Daniel and reminding us of the words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
What gives us our identity? The key to Daniel and to all of scripture is understanding the battle between the offspring of the Serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15). It is the battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of men. We already know the outcome. This should make our decision easy. It may seem that there is a short term victory on the side of the the offspring of the Serpent, but we must remember their ultimate demise. We must always keep before our minds that these decisions are not minor, especially in the eyes of our children. Seemingly inconsequential decisions that are in the same category as food and prayer was in the case of Daniel, send powerful messages to our children. These decisions have eternal consequences, not only as regards our own souls, but especially as regards to whose side of this conflict we are standing.
We teach our children the song, “I am in the Lord’s army.” But the song is meaningless if we do not live it. The song is in vain if our children cannot appreciate the honor bestowed upon us to battle the kingdom of Satan and win great victories for eternal life. To raise godly children they must see in us the passion of Daniel and the willingness to die to ourselves so that God’s cause and God’s glory can touch the hearts of the kingdom of men.