Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Unshakable Faith

The story is told of a group of Christian refugees praying in a church during a time of civil upheaval. Storming the church property, a group of soldiers discovered the people praying. Not wanting to alert the people to their presence right away, they quietly searched the church for anything of value. Unfortunately, they found nothing but a picture of Jesus on the wall. Angered, the commanding officer decided to take it out on the praying Christians. Ordering all those present to come forward, the commander insisted they approach the picture, spit on it, and renounce Jesus by stating, “You are worthless, and I don’t need you!” If they failed to do this, the commander threatened to shoot them on the spot. The elders of the Church were the first to come forward. Boldly they stood up, approached the picture, spat on it, and repeated the heinous words. Others, one by one, followed the example of the elders. After a few moments, and several persons later, a young girl stood up. Walking to the picture with her scarf in her hand, the young girl wiped away the saliva, softly uttering the words, “Jesus, I need You for I am worthless.” All were silent, wondering what would happen next. The girl, apparently unafraid, stepped before the Commander and said, “You can shoot me now.” Falling to his knees, the now contrite commander began to cry inconsolably; his heart broken, he gave it to Jesus. This true story of courageous faith occurred in Rwanda during the bloody massacre of its people. We all need to ask ourselves this question, "in the moment of truth, will we have 'the faith of Jesus' " as this little girl did?

Although frightening, we often wonder, "how can I develop this type of unshakable faith--and do I want to?" To these questions, let's add the question, "is wanting to enough?" Let's begin by looking in the book of Daniel, to see if there is an answer. Scripturally, the story in Daniel chapter 2 follows consecutively the one in chapter 3, as would be expected. Thus both stories seem to have occurred relatively close in time, yet they did not. Ten to twelve years intervened between the King's dream of the image, and his golden construction of it. How easy it is to forget the impression made on the mind by the Holy Spirit, and the response of faith, when we do not abide in Him. The time in between chapter 2 and chapter 3 provides a test for King Nebuchadnezzar-- namely, will he after accepting the interpretation of the dream as from the Lord, wait on Him for its fulfillment. All of heaven and earth were
waiting to see, "will the Babylonian King surrender his will -- along with its attendant pride and ambitious plans -- to the King of Kings, or after a time of delay, will he be found building a monument to his own dreams?"

In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar is confronted with the choice to exercise faith. Brought to the point of decision at the revelation of his dream, the king honors the Lord by saying in Daniel 2:47-"Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." Hearing this, we would say that the King believed Daniel, and God. But His response, while a heart response, was not made by a broken, contrite heart. It was made by a heart still prideful and boastful, thus allowing Satan control of this stronghold in his life. The disciples also found themselves in this predicament when they could not cast out the demon filled child (Matt. 17:14-21) and again when they were almost capsized in the squall on the lake (Matt. 14:22-33). Vacillating between the "pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes," they were unprepared to hold on to the Word of promise -- their living saviour.

In Daniel chapter 3, the three Hebrew youth are also confronted with the choice to exercise faith. They too are brought to the point of decision when it is declared that if they do not bow down and worship the golden image they are to be burned alive. Imagine, the peer pressure to conform. It was worse than when they refused to eat the King's food from his table. After all, the King has his pride to lose if these Hebrew youth refuse to follow his orders this time, and that will make him extremely hostile and angry. All the dignitaries of every land of importance are there, ready to oblige the King's decree. There is no mention of Daniel's whereabouts, so we must assume he is absent, but everyone else is present. The statue itself is 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide--in plain view--in the plain of Dura. It was not to be missed. So, how do the Hebrew youth stand up to that pressure? How would you stand? In Daniel 3:12, we note that they did not yield--bow down. The pressure to yield to doubt and disbelief increased greatly, as they were called before the king. In verse 14-15, the King gives them another chance to obey his decree, because he liked them. What is their response? Let's view Daniel 3: 15-18:

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us our of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

Their response is one of belief and trust in the God who delivers. According to their statement, they believed that God would do right by them whatever the outcome was. Yet they had determined to stand steadfast without regard to whether they were delivered or not, for they were representing Him --and He changes not. Their will was to do the will of Him who sent them there, which was to demonstrate His character to Babylon as well as the surrounding nations. Israel and Judah's kings had been proud and boastful. They lacked the humility that comes from a contrite and broken heart, and so they led the people and their nation into captivity.

In captivity, how did the Hebrew youth get to this place of faith? The answer is in Daniel chapter one. Remember, they refused to eat the King’s food-- because they knew that it was God who fed them (with manna in the wilderness then, and in captivity now) to make them know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live (Deut. 8:3). Although captives, their hearts were contrite and broken over the wickedness that led to their national ruin and captivity. Yielding their will to God in the little things, they were counted faithful, and God blessed them further. By remembering God's goodness and mercy, they continued to be faithful. Through prayer and fasting, they were prompted to join with Daniel as he beseeched the Lord to reveal the dream and with its interpretation (in chapter two). Thus Christ developed these youth from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. By the constant yielding of their will to Christ, they were dying daily, and thus were prepared to state that fact under great pressure.

The three Jewish youth were like Job who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him:” (Job 13:15). There was in these three – and in Job – a total dependence on Christ. Such a life of yielding, Christ lived, remaining faithful to the end by depending on His Father completely. This constant dependence on God for everything enables us to conquer, as He conquered. It is through dependence on God that we receive the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us, enabling us to be willing to hear and to do all of His good will. This is what gives us unshakable faith.

The King of Babylon did not yield his heart. He yielded his emotions, and intellectually assented to the truth. Thus he had no root in himself, and as the great tree, could not stand. Had his feelings and thoughts been constantly bound up with the truth, had he like the King of Nineveh, who repented by faith through grace, his pride would not later have driven him mad. Lessons of those who with contrite and broken heart demonstrated the faith of Jesus are among the pages of inspiration and we would do well to hear them. Listen well, for our willingness to attentively hear and to do is at the foundation of heart obedience without which it will be impossible to endure.

According to Sister White:

"Important are the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Hebrew youth on the plain of Dura. In this our day, many of God's servants, though innocent of wrongdoing, will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. Especially will the wrath of man be aroused against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; and at last a universal decree will denounce these as deserving of death.

As in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so in the closing period of earth's history the Lord will work mightily in behalf of those who stand steadfastly for the right. He who walked with the Hebrew worthies in the fiery furnace will be with His followers wherever they are. His abiding presence will comfort and sustain." (Ellen White Notes, page 25.)

As unpleasant as it may seem, let Christ break our hearts upon Himself, let Him wash us and make us contrite. It will be natural to yield to Him then, and we will have that unshakable faith we so desperately need.

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