Navigating a pandemic, as a pastor, has been very difficult.
Navigating a pandemic, amid incredible social unrest, during a presidential election year, with a church full of people who are suffering in various ways and confused, has at times, felt completely overwhelming.
It’s probably necessary to offer a whole list of appropriate caveats before moving on. Over the last several months, pastoral ministry isn’t the only job that’s been difficult and overwhelming. Many families have been forced to walk through suffering and loss in ways that my family hasn’t. I don’t lead a church that has experienced the worst effects of the current social upheaval and political division. God has been gracious to my family, and to the congregation I shepherd. We have experienced the loving care of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in undeniable and unexpected ways.
Perhaps the most profound evidence of God’s love we’ve experienced has come in the form of a reminder. As a church, we’ve been reminded how of directly and powerfully the Word of God speaks into our confusing and chaotic world. When I made plans to preach through the book of Daniel, I did not know (and could have never anticipated) the events that were just over the horizon, still out of sight. I didn’t know, but a sovereign God did. God knew what we needed before we had any clue what we would even be asking (Matthew 6:8).
Faith-fueling applications from Daniel
Daniel was plucked from his home and placed into a hostile culture, led by pagan rulers. It was a place marked by rampant injustice and false worship. Yet the text leaves no doubt—God is sovereignly over every event recorded in the book of Daniel. It is under the divine canopy of God’s sovereignty that the Christian reader discovers numerous faith-fueling applications.
God raises up his servants for his own glory. Daniel didn’t set out to be influential and powerful. As he walked faithfully through life as a worshipper of God, God continued to sovereignly place Daniel in situations where he would have a unique opportunity to display God’s glory in profound ways. God has called every believer to walk in joyful obedience, taking advantage of every opportunity to magnify the majesty of God (Daniel 2:19-23). Some will be called by God to serve in relative obscurity and others will be given an influential platform. The duty of every child of God remains the same—deflect all attention and direct all praise and honor to God.
Earthly power and earthly leaders are ultimately a mirage. The book of Daniel provides us with a staggering contrast between earthly kings and the heavenly King. For example, unlike all earthly rulers, God cannot be manipulated or influenced by flattery (Daniel 6:6-9). God cannot be coerced or convinced to act as a divine puppet. God is absolutely sovereign, and He is perfect in holiness. He is eternally righteous and also infinitely loving. Everything God does is right and good. How comforting to know that the hope of believers does not rest in the instability and insecurity of earthly leaders.
Faithful Christianity will always face worldly opposition. Like Daniel, living in joyful obedience to God and faithfully worshipping him, will—at some point and in some way—bring suffering and persecution (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12). The book of Daniel clears away any delusions we have that godly living will be celebrated by a pagan and unbelieving world. Though Daniel’s life was marked by humility and integrity, he still had enemies (Daniel 6:4-5). It occurred to me, while preparing to preach, that Daniel must have possessed unwavering confidence in God’s covenant faithfulness. To be sure, as the world continues to grow increasingly more hostile to biblical Christianity, Christians must cling tightly to promises like Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you or abandon you.”
Persecuted and/or ostracized believers don’t need to panic. Daniel and his three friends were sovereignly placed by God into a land dominated by horrific injustice and unimaginable evil. They had to navigate life under the rule of utterly wicked men. God uses the true stories recorded in the book of Daniel to show us that living a prayerful, obedient, worshipful, content life is possible in any and every cultural setting. If God is sovereign over every square inch of the entire universe—and he is—then Christians never have a reason to panic (Daniel 1-6).
Daniel points us to Jesus. The story recorded in Daniel 6 is crafted in such a way that we are supposed to see Daniel as a type of Christ. The enemies of Daniel find no fault in him (Dan. 6:4), so they conspire against him and manipulate the law to bring about his death (Dan. 6:6-15). Daniel was innocent of any wrongdoing, but he willingly gave himself over to the unjust judgement of evil men who desired to take his life (Dan. 6:10). Sentenced to death, Daniel was put in a tomb that was sealed with a great stone (Dan. 6:17)—this was certainly the end for Daniel. Just about the time Daniel’s enemies believed that they had won, they received the news that when the stone was rolled away Daniel emerged unscathed and fully alive (Dan. 6:23).
Does this sound familiar?
In a sense, this story was only good news for Daniel. But the future story this points to is good news for all people. This was the angelic announcement in Luke 2! Instead of God rescuing his servant from the jaws of lions, God rescued his own Son from the jaws of sin and death. God raised Jesus from the dead. When the stone was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, it was empty. Jesus was alive.
During a season of uncertainty and into a world of increasing complexity, God’s Word speaks sufficiently. Before we had any clue, God knew precisely what I (and my church) needed. We needed to see God in his sovereignty, giving wisdom and comfort to his people, in the midst of chaos and confusion. And most of all, we needed to see Jesus—our only hope.