Sometimes life tends to throw curveballs that we never quite understand. Although we may not see any specific purpose for a difficulty encountered, we must come to a place where we recognize that God knows exactly what He is doing. We need to see that our response to the trial we are enduring is one of the most important purposes of the trial itself.
The inspiration for this post comes from my hectic experience when I first arrived in Italy last month, and what God taught me in the midst of it all. For the past month and a half, I have been working my way through a Bible study on the book of Daniel in conjunction with a Woman’s Bible Study group in Las Vegas. It has been such a gift and a blessing to be connected to these women through the Word of God.
During the month of March, the Bologna team created a 24-hour prayer chain for the city, praying for God to move in ways we could never imagine. Because of the sheer fact that our city was being lifted up in prayer every minute of every day, we quickly realized the opposition we would face in light of that. The Enemy of this world would not let our team simply slide under the radar on this one. Two days after I arrived in Italy, Alicia (my roommate) and I’s apartment was broken into. We both had something of significant sentimental value stolen. The following weekend my phone fell out of my pocket and was lost. The next week Alicia’s wallet was stolen for the second time in two months. Our teammate Dustyn received news that one of his family members was very sick, and his bike was stolen soon after that. To say the least, that month was a bit of a whirlwind.
Zooming back out to the beginning of the book of Daniel, we land in a time of history where the Israelites, God’s chosen people, had just been taken into captivity by an oppressive king, Nebuchadnezzar. This king ruled over the nation of Babylon, and had been an enemy of the Jewish people for quite some time. When the Israelites were carried off into captivity, a group of young Jewish men were chosen to work in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among the few young men chosen.
Skipping ahead to chapter three in Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar set up a large golden statue that all people (both Jewish and Babylonian) were commanded to worship. Every time they heard music play, regardless of their faith, position, or desire, they had to hit their knees and worship the image. The punishment for not doing so resulted in being thrown into a fiery furnace. Wow! Can you imagine being forced to do something you did not believe in, and if you didn’t obey you would be killed immediately? I sure can’t!
When the music played, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego decided to stand tall, not bowing down to the foreign god. They were immediately brought face to face with the belligerent king, Nebuchadnezzar, who demanded that they worship the golden image. If the three decided not to do so, they would be cast into the furnace. The brave response of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego caught my eye in a new way. They responded to Nebuchadnezzar’s request by saying, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
God is always able to deliver. But there are three words that gave me a new perspective from this passage: “But if not”.
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us… But if not”. Oh how often I beg God to deliver me from various trials in my life, and when He doesn’t I respond in anger and frustration toward Him. These three young men have inspired me in that their response to God, whether He delivered them or not, would result in worshipping Him alone.
When we go through the ‘furnace’ of life for a while, and don’t see any immediate hope of deliverance, it’s easy to turn to idols that bring us comfort. In this passage of scripture, we see clearly that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an opportunity to push God aside in the trial they faced, and worship the foreign god and idol put before them. However, they set it in their minds that no matter what happened, they would worship their God, even if this decision resulted in death. This has caused me to ask myself some vital questions: What are the idols I turn to when I am in the furnace? Why do I turn to them? In what ways am I not trusting in God? Is my response to a trial one that leads me to worship even if I am never delivered from it?
Nebuchadnezzar became so angry with the three men for not worshipping his idol, that he commanded the furnace be heated seven times hotter than normal. The flames even killed the guards who threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire because of the unbearable heat. Shortly after the men fell into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar peered in, and to his astonishment saw not three but four men walking around the fire, and the fourth one had the appearance of “a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). He immediately demanded that the three come out of the fire, and when they stepped out, all the king’s counselors saw that “the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men” (Daniel 3:27). In fact, the fire did not even singe a single hair on their heads.
When I go through the fire, do I allow it to overtake me? Do I become so overwhelmed by the flames that they entirely beat me down? Or do I lean into Jesus, the one who is walking with me in the flames and rely on His protection and love? Again, these are some questions that arose in my heart when reflecting on my response to the trials I encountered upon my arrival to the mission field. Ultimately, God is the God of the flames, trials and difficulties in our lives. Through the beautiful example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we can see that Jesus is with us in any tribulation we face. He will not leave us alone in the furnace. He will walk with us graciously, patiently and lovingly in it. We just have to continue to focus our eyes on Him, and know that He is in ultimate control. He is able to deliver us from the fire, but if not…