For my article the February newsletter, I wrote about some “spiritual resolutions” that we discussed with the youth at the city-wide youth rally back in January. I only had space for 2 of them, but I wanted to take the time here to briefly talk about one more. First, in case you missed it, I’m going to copy the text of the newsletter article, and then we can build off it.
From the FBC First Focus Newsletter (Vol. 5, Issue 2):
So, at this point, we’ve all had an entire month to work on our New Year’s resolutions. How’s that going? I imagine that most of us have already fallen off the bandwagons of eating less, exercising more, waking up earlier, reading the Bible more often, or whatever other habits we may have attempted to add into our lives. New Year’s resolutions are such a funny phenomenon, but the truth is there’s nothing magical about the start of a new year that makes those resolutions special. In fact, resolutions are sort of a common aspect of our lives.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, we resolve to do things all the time: love our spouses by doing more around the house, care for our children by providing them with more special moments, be safe and attentive drivers, or handle that pile of junk that’s been piling up in the corner. If done correctly, our conscious resolutions should morph into unconscious habits over time, as our forced actions become ingrained routine. Interestingly enough, this idea of resolutions is nothing new to us as people.
This past month, our youth group participated in the semi-annual Bayou City-Wide Youth Rally at Greenwell Springs Baptist. The evening of worship was led by the LSU BCM’s worship band and Blake Newsom, preaching professor and Dean of Chapel at New Orleans Seminary. Blake talked about this very topic of resolutions, and illustrated a handful of spiritual resolutions from the life of Daniel that I’d like to share with you.
- Trust God. Along with thousands of his fellow Israelites, Daniel was taken into captivity and put in service to the Babylonian king whose army had ravaged his home and slaughtered his family, friends, and countrymen. As demonstrated throughout the first (non-apocalyptic) half of the book of Daniel, he never lost faith in God, despite all the hardships and setbacks.
We all face troubles in life that test our faith. But lack of trust in God doesn’t always happen in the tough times. Maybe you’ve simply grown complacent and no longer rely on God through the good times. Or maybe you really are struggling through suffering, hardship, or temptations. Maybe God is hard to see through the muck and grime of life. 1 Peter 5:6-7,10 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you… And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” God calls out to us, saying “Trust in me! Let me be your hope! Let me be your strength! I’m here for you!”
- Don’t Defile Yourself. Everyone knows the story of Daniel refusing the king’s rich food and wine, but Daniel’s resolve to purity was much more than just over food and drink. All four of the Jews listed in Daniel 1:6 have in their very names a reminder of devotion to God. The Hebrews had 2 names for God: Yahweh and Elohim, and these Hebrew roots of Yah and El are found in the names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaraiah. Thus, even their names served as a cultural tie to their God and their faith. By renaming the four to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Babylonian names), Nebuchadnezzar was attempting to strip them of their cultural identity and especially their relationship to God.
So what do sixth century BC Hebrew names have anything to do with defiling ourselves in modern America? Here 1 Peter (1:15-16) once again provides some great insight: “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” God wants us to be holy, to be pure, to be set apart from the sinfulness of this world and devoted to Him. To that end, we should avoid filling our minds with evil things. But on a less obvious note, we should make sure our identity is found solely in Christ.
Our world constantly advertises to us with ideas of who we should be, how we should act, and what we should look like. Society tells us that we need the latest and greatest toys to be complete, that we need to lose so much weight before we can be beautiful and therefore valuable, and basically that everything about us is imperfect and needs to be fixed. These cultural identity pressures can be absolutely destructive if we let them rule our lives.
If we do not strive to stay pure—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually—we will never attain the fullness of life that God has for us in Him. We love to think of Christ coming to save us to eternal life, but the truth is that eternal life refers not just to age but to quality as well. He wants what’s best for us, and He wants it now. So let us turn to the fullness of this holy life. Let us find our satisfaction in Christ alone—in His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His honor, His glory, His character, and His example of how to live.
Do you need to resolve to either of these today? Do you need to simply turn to God and trust in His might to care for you, no matter the situation? Do you need to give up that dishonoring habit and instead fill yourself with pure things? I pray that like Daniel, God would give you the strength to turn to Him in those ways.
While trusting God and not defiling ourselves certainly qualify as important spiritual resolutions, they are not the only things we can commit to in our relationship to Him. The third lesson from the life of Daniel, while it sounds very vague and overarching, is something I think we can all work on.
- Devote Yourself to God. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It’s a story we all know for its ending and the fact that it contains supernatural intervention over the appetites of apex predators. I suspect that not everyone quite remembers the details in all of their glory, though. In Daniel 6, king Darius is about to appoint Daniel—who is a foreigner, remember—to what is basically second in command of the whole Persian Empire. Needless to say, many of the other governmental leaders were quite jealous, and wanted to find a way to take him down. Daniel 6:4-5 says, “Then [they] sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.’” They basically said, “He’s such an upstanding citizen that the only flaw he has is that he’s too devoted to God.” Has anyone ever said that about you?
These men end up convincing Darius to make a law that everyone in the empire must pray to him as a god, and of course Daniel refuses to do so. Even in the face of legal punishment, Daniel is so devoted that he goes home and prays toward Jerusalem. When Darius learns of the situation, he cares about Daniel so much that he spends all night poring over legal records trying to figure out a loophole to get Daniel out of the punishment. What a testimony to Daniel’s integrity and devotion.
Would you consider yourself wholly devoted to God? Do you spend time daily in prayer? Do you meditate on God’s word? Does your devotion to God spill over into every aspect of your life? This is the example Daniel provides for us. He was gifted by God with the aptitude for leadership, yes, but he absolutely did not squander that gift. He devoted himself to fully utilizing his talents, leveraging them in every way for the glory of God and the good of his world. We should strive for the same in our lives.
At this point in the year, I don’t know if you’ve kept up with your New Year’s resolutions (if you even made them in the first place). I don’t know if you’re still eating healthy, exercising more, saving more money, or whatever else you may have resolved to do. What I do know, however, is that if we as a church came together and committed ourselves to the Lord, decided to fully put our trust in Him, fill our hearts with holy and not profane things, and devote ourselves totally to His Word and His service, then there is no limit to what we could do. Just imagine a city full of Daniels—selfless, hardworking Christians—together seeking the glory of God and the welfare of Baton Rouge, LA. What a difference we could make.