God on Monday
'To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom' (Daniel 1.17).
Welcome to the fifteenth God on Monday reflection on ‘purpose’!
What on earth am I here for? I’ve been considering this question since primary school, when we learned to sing, ‘Dare to be a Daniel; Dare to stand alone; Dare to have a purpose firm; Dare to make it known’. From then on, whenever the question has revisited me, I have found myself recalling the story of Daniel. I credit this automatic habit for preserving me from thinking that fully following God’s purposes demands cultural disengagement, and for firing my vision for holy worldliness.
Three times in that story, Daniel’s purpose of faithfully serving God leads to life-threatening situations. The first is retold in Chapter One. There we find Daniel and three other bright young men are among the Israelite captives taken off to Babylon after the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. These men have been selected for a three-year course on pagan culture to prepare them for service in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
But Daniel refuses to eat his daily rations because it consists of food God had forbidden. This makes his supervisor fear for his life, as the king might notice that Daniel and the rest of his study cohort are in poorer physical shape than other the students. But Daniel comes up with a plan. He asks his supervisor to feed them nothing but vegetables for ten days and then to compare their appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal rations. The supervisor could then ‘deal with your servants according to what you observe’ (Dan 1.12-14).
The plan is agreed and at the end of ten days the four students ‘appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations’ (1.16). They also achieve a distinction in the finals the king sets them at the end of their studies (1.20).
This opening episode in Daniel’s story suggests that Christians can be totally dedicated to ‘secular’ work whilst also being totally (and publicly) dedicated to God. Daniel and his study mates could have been half-hearted in their work, especially as the curriculum would have covered profane subjects for Jews, like paganism and the occult. Or they could have restricted their faith to private prayer while adopting pagan culture uncritically for the prestige and sense of belonging it would have given them.
Daniel and his friends take neither option. They are whole-heartedly dedicated both to excellent work in an ungodly culture and to living for God without compromise. Surely that is what on earth we are here for.
Peter S Heslam, Director, Faith in Business
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