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Faithfulness in Difficult Times

Time & Providence: Lessons from Daniel  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  44:27
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It’s easy to believe God when times are good, but how do we find faith in difficult times? Daniel served God in the toughest of times and in most unlikely place He found favor. God is the same, regardless of circumstance. Time and Providence will show that He is faithful.

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Our Theme for 2021 is “Redeeming the Time”
We have been through a season of unprecedented events, at least in our lifetime.
We are coming through a worldwide pandemic.
We have had a most divisive election.
There is civil unrest boiling just beneath the surface of our society.
Anxiety is rampant.
Murder is up.
Relationships are tense.
The world is changing - we can no longer take our freedoms for granted.
Where is God in all this chaos?
Some people would say that God is irrelevant.
That he never was and that people are finally realizing it.
One congressman recently stated that God has no place in their assembly.
They see God as the cause of injustice and that things will only be solved by taking matters into their own hands.
On the other hand there are those who thought God was surely winning and that our nation was taking back it’s spiritual heritage.
There were numerous prophet predicting that Trump would win.
Many pro-lifers were expecting that Roe v. Wade would be overturned and that corruption would be rooted out of our government.
We were looking for a revival where we come out on top.
It’s easy to believe God when times are good, but how do we find faith in difficult times? Daniel served God in the toughest of times and in most unlikely place He found favor. God is the same, regardless of circumstance. Time and Providence will show that He is faithful.
Our Study in Daniel begins with learning what it means to serve God in difficult times.
We are going to learn about the importance of faithfulness, God’s faithfulness and ours.
That puts you in a position where God can use you to accomplish His purpose.

Serve God in difficult times.

Daniel 1:1–5 ESV
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.

Tragedy and loss threaten our foundations.

Daniel was a member of the royal household of Judah taken into exile in 605 BC.
This was just the first wave of attacks by Babylon.
I’m sure that even though it was horrible to be taken from your homeland and your family, the thought was that, if you comply you may avoid something worse.
There was a lot of pressure on Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to compromise.
They were essentially hostages, but nobody would call them that.
Officially, they were envoys part of a diplomatic exchange, only the exchange was one-way!
It started with Pharoh-Neco of Egypt challenging King Josiah of Judah to war, saying that God told him to do it.
Josiah gets killed in that battle.
Pharaoh takes his son and successor, Jehoahaz to Egypt and set up his brother Eliakim, renamed Jehoakim, as his puppet ruler.
Egypt and Assyria, now taken over by Babylon, were constantly at war with each other and Israel is in the middle.
Hezekiah had made a treaty with Babylon, thinking that they were too far away to bother him.
So you can guess what happens next? Babylon comes and takes some captives for themselves.
You can imagine how confusing all of these events must have been for a young Judean.
Josiah turned the nation back to God, that’s good! Surely God would have protected them.
Pharaoh Neco claims to be acting on behalf of God. Wait, what? Who am I supposed to believe?
Now because of what Hezekiah did and was scolded by the prophet Isaiah, Babylon has to get involved.
Wait, wasn’t Hezekiah a good guy? How did things get this messed up?
If you don’t know God, you will tend to blame God when things go wrong.
God is good.
God is all powerful, but he doesn’t use His power like we would.
God empowers people who use their free will to serve Him.
So why did everything go wrong?

Revival must reach the heart.

Israel also experience a season of revival under King Josiah.
The Torah was rediscovered and read aloud.
People began to turn to God and destroy their idols.
They celebrated the Passover for the first time in centuries.
2 Chronicles 34:30–33 ESV
30 And the king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 31 And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. 32 Then he made all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin join in it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. 33 And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people of Israel and made all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.
King Josiah made Israel follow Yahweh, but it did’t last.
Within a generation things would turn back and become worse than they were before.
Josiah’s heart was right and because he was the king, he could make people do what was right.
But indications are that most of their hearts were never changed.
When king Josiah died they turned away from God and back to their idols.
Their faith was in Josiah whose faith was in God, they didn’t have faith of their own.
But that was not everyone, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah would have grown up during Josiah's reform.
They were impacted by the reading of the Torah.
Maybe they were the one’s asking the questions at the Passover Seder meal?
In any case, they developed a sense of who they are in light of who God is.
They knew that God is faithful, but that we also need to be faithful to God.
We are in covenant with a God who is unlike any other god.
He does not just demand worship, loyalty and obedience; He want’s your heart, your true self.
John 4:24 ESV
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Revival must get to the heart where we are truly honest with ourselves and with God.
We give to God ourselves; who we really are and we receive a new nature in Christ, a new identity.

You can loose everything else if you know your identity.

It may not mean that much to us that Daniel and his friends were expected to eat the kings food.
Most of us make allowances when we are interacting with unbelievers. If they serve something we don’t like, you just eat what you can and don’t make a fuss. Or you take a little bit and pretend to like it.
You pick your battles and food usually isn’t one of them.
Daniel and his friends weren’t just getting an education, this was intentional reprogramming.
They were being brainwashed.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica common techniques for brainwashing include:
Isolation from former associates and sources of information.
An exacting regimen requiring absolute obedience and humility.
Strong social pressures with rewards for cooperation and physical or psychological punishments for non-cooperation.
This isn’t just about food; it’s about beliefs.
God’s laws about ritual cleanliness were intended to convey the meaning of holiness, being set apart for God.
Their names were changed to invoke the gods of Babylon, but they still know who they are.
They are the People of God, set apart for Him.
Israel is God’s portion of the earth, but God’s portion is His people.
So even in Babylon, Daniel had a sense of belonging to God.
In “The Unseen Realm” we talked about believers becoming “holy ground” after the Spirit was poured out; but Daniel seems to have this concept already in the Old Testament.
Difficult times are often the fires in which new things are forged.
We reach into God and pull out truth that we have not previously understood.
Daniel lost everything; his family, his homeland, his religion in that he no longer had the temple to worship in.
But he had his God-given identity, the presence of God was in him, so he became the temple.
I’m sure that Daniel felt like he was experiencing the end of the world, but he was actually far ahead of his time.
So what do we do in difficult times?

Choose faithfulness.

Faithfulness is the Hebrew word “Hesed.”

חֶסֶד (ḥesed). n. masc. steadfast love, kindness, faithfulness, loyalty. The core idea of this term relates to loyalty within a relationship. In relation to the concept of love, it denotes God’s faithfulness to his people.

it is God’s goodness, kindness and love.
It is God’s favor and loyalty to His people.
And it is the love and loyalty that he expects in return.

Consider yourself to be set apart.

Daniel 1:8 ESV
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
Most of us may not understand the significance of Daniel’s reason, but it is important because it is repeated.
Levites and Priests were not to defile themselves by coming in contact with uncleanness (sickness or death) when performing sacred duties.
Sure, there were laws about defilement which applied to all of the people, but they were really hard to follow.
Dietary laws were another kind of defilement, but when you are away from home ....maybe it doesn’t matter as much.
The point is that under these circumstances, no one would have expected Daniel and his friends to keep the Torah.
Ezekiel even prophesied that the exiles wouldn’t be able to maintain ritual purity and he was a priest!
Ezekiel 4:13–14 ESV
13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.”
Why was Daniel concerned about not being defiled?
Because he saw himself as holy, set apart for God.
He no longer had the temple to offer sacrifices; this was a sacrifice that he could offer.
It is about being faithful to the One who is faithful to His people.
Did Daniel still believe that God was faithful?
I believe he did. Why? Because he looked for it.

Look for favor in the most unlikely places.

Daniel 1:9 ESV
9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,
Once again, Daniel received favor, so what?
Do you know what that word is in the Hebrew?
Yup. It’s hesed!
Daniel saw God’s faithfulness in the most unlikely person - his supervisor, the very person assigned to brainwash him.
The very same thing is said of Joseph:
Genesis 39:21 ESV
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
I have to ask this: How big is your God!
If God wants to show you favor will people or circumstances stand in His way?
Does God say, “ I really love my people and I want to bless them, but that Eunuch or that jailer is in my way?”
We know that people can oppose God and his plan, but these were ungodly people without an agenda, didn't’ know any better, but God used them to accomplish His agenda.
Let me say it in a way that is more relevant:
Is God restricted by politics?
Is God faithful regardless of who is in power?
Is God able to accomplish His purpose even through people who are ignorant of His ways?
Proverbs 16:7 ESV
7 When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
If God can give Daniel favor in Babylon, He can bless you right where you are!

Expect God to show up.

Remember how Daniel and his friends were being brainwashed and that brainwashing involves a system of rewards and punishment?
Daniel used the system against itself.
Just to be clear, the kings food was supposed to be the reward for good behavior.
And the punishment… I don’t know… vegetables?
But Daniel said, “give me those vegetables!”
Now His supervisor also had a problem, because he is not just the one doing the brainwashing, but he is also subject to a system of rewards and punishment.
So Daniel suggests an “outcome based strategy.”
They are in the program for three years, so Daniel asks for ten days.
If they pass their next inspection, then vegetables it is!
I know people have tried to suggest that this proves you can bulk up on vegetables or that they must have had an alternate source of protein.
But let’s just call it what it is… a miracle!
Daniel put God to the test and He showed up!
I know there’s that scripture Jesus quoted that you are not supposed to put God to the test.
But it also says in Malachi 3:10 to test God in our giving.
Theres a difference between testing God from a place of doubt and testing from a place of faith.
When we “put God to the test” as in Jesus’ temptations or the grumbling in the wilderness, it is a test designed to fail.
Nothing God does will ever make you happy because you have already determined that you want Him to serve you and that’s not how it works.
Testing God from a place of faith means you understand how it works and you are just seeing that it does.
God is faithful. You can put yourself “out there” and expect God to show up.
If it doesn’t work out, check your motives.
But don’t be surprised when God shows up, maybe in a way completely beyond what you expected - like bulking up on veggies!

Let God use you.

Daniel 1:17–20 ESV
17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

Let God give you perspective.

Another miracle is the way that these three men developed intellectually, psychologically and emotionally.
Usually when people are traumatized as they would have been, it results in distress, anxiety and eventually destructive behaviors.
But these four developed exceptionally well, not just physically but in wisdom, which goes beyond just retaining information.
They were able to engage the information and navigate difficult lines of questioning.
Visions and dreams, may not seem like any kind of qualification to us, but this was a very mystical culture and Daniel and his friends were found to be very awake and enlightened.
I wonder why?
They were well grounded in knowing who they are and that they serve a purpose greater than themselves.
The God of the universe had chosen a people thorough whom he would reveal Himself to the world.
Here they are in a land of many gods who claim to have defeated the God of Israel,.
Except the God of Israel is not defeated, He is in Babylon revealing Himself to and through these young men.
God is faithful, but we have limited perspective.
We think that when things do go well in this moment, or in a given time frame, that God is somehow no longer God.
But that why He is God, because He has the big picture.

Let God work through time.

Daniel and his friends were faithful over a period of time.
Daniel 1:18 LEB
18 And at the end of the time the king had set to bring them, the commander of the court officials brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
Sometime time is the greatest test of faithfulness.
Seasons come and go, some more pleasant than others.
God is constant through all of the seasons of change.
The question is not whether God is faithful; the question is whether or not we will be faithful to what we already know of God.
Life happens and things happen which cloud our vision.
Wisdom comes though endurance, being able to put events into perspective as we see the bigger plan unfolding.
I call this series “Time and Providence” because i see these themes unfolding, not just in this story, but through the whole book.
Some people believe that Daniel was written to encourage Jews during the intertestamental period when their national identity was being threatened.
I believe it was compiled from Daniel’s own writings and published at a time when the very things that Daniel prophesied were being fulfilled.
The stories are real, and they give real hope.
They are a reminder of God’s faithfulness in a very dark time.

Trust God’s providence.

Providence is not a word that we use very often anymore, but it was once very common.
We have a region named Providence just east of here.
Why do you thing those who settled there would name their area providence?
In some older documents it is an alias for God. People would mention asking of or receiving from Providence, with a capital P, meaning God.
Providence is a doctrine of the church, probably cited more in older traditions.
The doctrine of providence is that God, who created the universe also sustains it.

Providence is the governing power of God that oversees his creation and works out his plans for it.

God not only created the universe but he maintains it in being and directs it toward the fulfillment of his purposes.

The doctrine of providence is what is implied when we say, “God has a plan and purpose for your life.”
Think about it: if God created you and He had a purpose in doing so, wouldn’t He also have an interest in seeing you through to fulfilling that purpose?
God is the same, regardless of circumstance. Time and Providence will show that He is faithful.

Questions for Reflection:

Where does your mind go when things don’t go as planned? Do you question God? Do you question yourself? What is one truth that you can remind yourself of in times of uncertainty?
What does it mean to you to be in relationship with God? How has God been faithful to you? How have you been faithful to God? How can you strengthen and grow this relationship?
Where does your life fit into the bigger picture of God’s plan? Where do you see God’s Providence at work in your life? How is God using you for His purpose?
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