I have been reading recently in Daniel, a great Old Testament book. In the third chapter is an account that most Sunday School children have heard of, the story of some young Israelite men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mischael, and Azariah, who were captured by the Babylonian army and taken from Israel back to Babylon.
You might know the last three better by the names given to them by the Babylonians: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You may have heard of them and their adventure with a large fire in a furnace.
The king of Babylon was the most powerful ruler on earth at the time, monarch over a vast empire. And the young men were both handsome and very smart, and were taken into the king's royal service.
They did very well there, and were soon in positions of great responsibility and authority. Then the king had an idea. Not a good idea, but an idea, nonetheless. He was a powerful guy, but not as smart as he thought.
His idea was to build a monument to himself. He wanted people to recognize his greatness. This monument would be nine feet across at the base, 90 feet high, and covered in gold. Very impressive. And when the king wanted to show people how wonderful he was, who was going to say no? So the thing was built, and then the king decreed that when people heard his musicians play, everyone was required to bow down and worship this monument to the royal ego.
And pretty much everyone saw things the king's way and bowed. The alternative, after all, was to be burned alive, a pretty effective incentive.
But some were not impressed. The three Israelites, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, did not think the king was equal with God, and they refused to worship his monument or anyone other than the one true God. And, in a pretty brazen manner, they told the king so. Here's how the scripture has their reply to the king, who has just asked them what they were doing, and given them a last chance to comply with his edict:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.
"But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18 NASB)
Sort of like, King, sir, just so you know, we won't bow down. Our God is able to deliver us from your fire, and we're not afraid. But know this, King: Even if God does not rescue us, we will not bow down. You're not the hotshot you think you are.
What motivates someone to take a stand like that one? Could we learn something from them, perhaps about discerning the truly important from the ultimately trivial?
As I think about this story, it seems to me that the supreme priority in the life of these guys was to be faithful in honoring their God, the one true and living God. Consequences did not concern them, only faithfulness. I have to admire that sort of conviction. And I have to wonder what I would have done in their place. Would I have followed their example and remained faithful?
The question for me is, what's important in my life? Is it God? Or is it some substitute little mini-god? The God of Israel, who is the God revealed to us in the Bible, is alive, is true. He loves us and talks with us. He alone is worthy of our loyalty, our worship, our lives.
Other "gods," the little toy gods, look entirely different. Sometimes, they look like more education. Or a better job. Or a bigger house or newer and nicer car. They come in many guises. But when I examine them carefully, I discover they all look very much like the one I see when I look in the mirror. Know what I mean? Perhaps you've noticed the same thing.
That's right: us. The old cartoon character Pogo had it right when he famously said, "We have sighted the enemy, and he is us."
Most of us put ourselves in the place of God. We demand to run our lives. We think we know better what makes a good life than God does. And we live our lives chasing things that we think will make us happy. But when we catch those things - if we ever do - we will sooner or later learn that it was all an illusion. I have spent a lot of my life like a dog chasing cars. Foolishness.
What's important in your life? Is it God? Is it the true and living God, or the god you see in your mirror? I long for my life to be based in truth and reality, and not something made up out of my own imagination, and for my own convenience.
I don't want to throw away my only life chasing trivialities.