At some point in our lives we’ve all arrived at a crossroads and fretted over whether to go left or right. Once we make the decision we fret over whether we chose correctly or ruined our lives. I’ve had a few of these, but one in particular stands out in my mind.
After I attended graduate school, I signed up for a two-year fellowship in hospital administration. Because it was only two years, at the end of the term I began a job search. The job openings within my then-company were slim to none and I had very few options. But it just so happened that at that time I got two calls for interviews. One was from an executive at a competing hospital to interview for a project manager position in her office, and the other was for a non-operations manager position in my company. Neither opportunity was exactly on my wish list, and both had their pro’s and con’s. I worried and worried over the decision. I ultimately declined the position with the competition to stay with my company, and I watched as a colleague of mine, who did take it, rose up the ladder within two years. Much more quickly than I. Does that mean I made the wrong decision? Sometimes I’m still tempted to rehash that decision, wondering what kind of life I missed out on. Could my life have been that much better? Did I miss out on God’s will?
Before we dig into the first chapter of Daniel next week, I’d like to consider God’s will. Take a high-level look at what God was doing during Daniel’s lifetime and how that fits into his overall story for the world and ultimately for us. In other words, we’re going to look at God’s will and try to answer the question, “What in the world is God’s will for my life?”
THE WILL OF GOD
Like my story above, many of us tend to look at God’s will for our lives in terms of these major milestone events, e.g. which college we go to, which job to take, whom we marry.
Convention teaches us that the will of God consists of a specific pathway we should follow into the future. God knows what this pathway is, and he has laid it out for us to follow. Our responsibility is to discover this pathway – God’s plan for our lives. Unfortunately, it is not always obvious. If anything, it is often ambiguous. (Jerry Sittser. The Will of God as a Way of Life. Zondervan, 2004. p 22)
The problem comes when we place all this pressure on ourselves to make the right decision when most of the time it’s not pressure that God has placed on us. He promises to guide us and make our paths straight. (Prov 3:5-6) He promises to work all of our decisions out for his good purpose. (Rom 8:28) So why all the anxiety?
The conventional approach to discovering the will of God has a second problem. It betrays a false and negative view of God. It implies that God for some reason “hides” his will and thus forces us to look for it, as if God were playing the celestial equivalent of “hide-and-seek” with us. According to this way of thinking, God hides his will, and we must go searching for it. In the process, he appears to delight in making things difficult for us. He prefers hiding over being found, frustrating us over making us joyful. (Jerry Sittser. The Will of God as a Way of Life. Zondervan, 2004. p 25)
This false belief, which I admittedly held for many years, is completely contrary to scripture. Jesus promises that if you seek, you will find. (Mt 7:7) When you look at the overall story God has shown us thus far, it’s clearly evident that his will works in patterns, and he really wants us to find them. These patterns can help us understand the work he’s doing in us, his will.
THE BASIC PATTERN OF GOD’S WILL
Way back in ancient times a man named Abraham became friends with God. He followed God in faith and took his entire household to a new land called Canaan. God told Abraham that he would give him this land and that his descendents would outnumber the stars in the sky and sands in the sea. A funny thing to Abraham considering he and his wife Sarah were infertile.
During his lifetime Abraham saw only one descendent, Isaac, with Sarah, and he never claimed this land of Canaan. In fact scripture says that Abraham lived as a foreigner in the land. (Heb 11:9) God told Isaac to live there as a foreigner too. (Gen 26:3) Why didn’t God give this land to them directly? Why did it take so long to claim?
God did not give the land directly to Abraham because it was necessary that the world see his will unfold exactly the way that it did. He wanted us to see the story of Abraham’s grandson Jacob and his family. That family would birth a nation, become enslaved in Egypt, be freed into the desert wilderness for years, and finally claim the Promised Land of Canaan. His plan was to repeat this pattern throughout time, so that his hand would not be mistaken. These pictures help us to see his will unfold in our lives today. This is the pattern:
Slavery – represents humanity held captive to sin and self. God desires to bring us out of captivity into freedom.
Wilderness – represents a time of preparation. It’s often a period of struggle and hardship and angst. When Israel wandered in the wilderness, God used that time to prepare them for the future. He gave them his law so that they might know him, he gave them the Tabernacle so that they might experience his presence, and he showed them how to trust him daily with manna so that they might learn how to walk with him day by day.
Promised Land – represents a time of living out our purpose. Israel had a purpose. Of course God wanted to bless his people and shower them with his goodness, but it was always with the purpose to share his love with the entire world through those people. The Promised Land, at its core, is about God’s purpose to redeem the people of the world.
It’s a beautiful picture. And Judah routinely rejected it, ignored it, and thought better of it. We enter this story of Daniel at the peak of Judah’s rejection during what was intended to be the time of their purpose. It’s a very dark time, but not without a tremendous light. Hope and restoration sing loudly through this text.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE STORY
I’d like to take a minute to set the stage for Daniel’s story. Long before King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came into the picture, while the Kings of Judah were still firmly in place, the Lord sent warnings through the prophet Isaiah to change their practices and come back to Him. They’d abandoned the law, and what practices they kept in place were simply apostate. The consequences of continuing on this sinful path were assured to be devastating. Judah didn’t listen. Not even when the Assyrians attacked and carried off their brothers in Israel.
When Jeremiah was then commissioned to preach to Judah, the situation was extremely dire. The threat of defeat was imminent. Jeremiah was speaking and writing while Daniel and his friends were just little boys, who were incidentally being prepared for their purpose.
The Babylonians finally attacked and carried off the first of the exiles and plunder, which included Daniel and his friends, the prophet Ezekiel, and King Jehoiakim. The army then carried off Jehoiakim’s son, King Jehoiachin, and more plunder a few months later. Jehoiakim’s brother, Zedekiah, was then installed as Judah’s king.
The best of the best were taken so that the Babylonian government could put them to work and make good use of their skills. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem for many years and the people inside the city gates slowly withered from starvation. Jeremiah remained and his purpose was to continue preaching God’s word to those left behind. Despite the terrible hardship they faced under siege, Zedekiah stubbornly refused God’s call for repentance.
God then begins speaking through Ezekiel in Babylon. Ezekiel and Jeremiah both brought warnings and calls-to-repentance for the Jews. Their words detailed the destruction that awaited them if they ignored God’s call. Their words abounded with hope and descriptions of restoration and healing for the nation and their land. And their words described a promised messiah that would embody their hope for restoration and healing. While it was a dark and devastating time, we see plain evidence of God’s glory and salvation all through Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
The Jews eventually left Babylon after 70 years of captivity but not before Nebuchadnezzar set fire and destroyed every brick in Jerusalem. When they finally returned to the land of Israel, it was bittersweet when they regarded the piles of rubble. They did rebuild, however. First the temple and it’s foundation under Zerubbabel, and then the city itself by repairing the wall under Nehemiah.
THE PATTERN HERE
We can see the pattern of God’s will in this period of time too. But this time it holds greater significance.
Preparation – Unlike the desert Israel first journeyed after Egypt, this time their decimated land was the wilderness. They were instructed to rebuild the Temple, a symbol of God’s permanent presence, and to rebuild the city itself, a symbol of God’s sovereign authority. The obstacles were great and most of them feared for their lives, because their enemies were relentless. The Spirit of God however was active and moving. He frequently spoke during the rebuilding, providing visions of Messiah and an eternal Kingdom through prophets like Ezra, Hagaai, Zechariah, and others. This is indeed a period of preparation. As it turns out, the most significant preparation of all.
Purpose - This time the Promised Land came in the form of the Promised Messiah. God had shown the pattern for centuries, he had given the visions to the prophets, and the time of preparation was completed for the Ultimate Promise. This particular pattern of captivity and preparation was to make way for Messiah and reveal God’s restorative plan and purpose for the world. This time it was no picture, it was for real!
PATTERNS IN OUR LIFE
Captivity, Preparation, and Purpose. This is the pattern of God’s will and it applies to each one of us. Take a minute and with hindsight look back on your life and see if you can identify any part of this pattern. Maybe you can see the pattern multiple times.
From personal experience I can say that I have been released from captivity, and most definitely gone into the wilderness of preparation, and I am living out that related purpose. I can also say that while I am in the Promised Land right now, I am also currently transitioning from captivity into the wilderness in other areas of my life. Without the benefit of understanding this pattern of God’s will, I have easily gotten bogged down in the very real frustration of things that just don’t seem to go right. With this knowledge of how God works in me and through me, I can adjust my perspective and allow God to use what he wishes to prepare me for a future over which his sovereignty is absolute.
Are you currently in captivity? Is there a stronghold that you just can’t seem to break? Is there a negative cycle in your relationships that seems to follow you everywhere you go? It is time to leave Egypt. Jesus took captivity captive so that we might not be bound any longer. If you see it, then it means God is showing you, and your confession will begin the exodus.
Have you just come out the other side of something big? Only to find yourself facing more troubles than before and possibly asking yourself, “What the…?” Freedom from captivity doesn’t necessarily mean freedom from frustration and trouble. If you feel like you are bogged in frustration, you could very well be in the middle of the wilderness of preparation. Join Jesus in his effort to equip you for your future. Don’t fight it. There is joy in the partnership. Looking back at the nation of Israel as they approached the Promised Land after two years in the wilderness, only Caleb and Joshua had the right perspective about their time of preparation. The others did not and were relegated to the wilderness for another forty years. You don’t want to delay the fulfilling of your purpose because you can’t see the pattern.
Do you have a feeling of restlessness? Like you were created for something more, but you just don’t know what? Our individual histories shouldn’t be the breeding ground for regret and misgivings over the choices we’ve made, but a visual pattern to see how God has prepared you for the future. The Promised Land was given as a picture for each of us to apply individually. This isn’t an elusive game of hide-and seek. God has laid a thread before us, and all we need to do is pull.
As we study this book of Daniel, I pray that we can see this pattern (because it’s there), and I pray that the Lord would reveal his pattern in you.