Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“Now faith is the assurance, the title deed, of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality – faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.”
Hebrews 11: 1
“Wherein lies the secret strength of faith? It lies in the food it feeds on; for faith studies what the promise is – an emanation of divine grace, an overflowing of the great heart of God; and faith says, ‘My God could not have given this promise, except from love and grace; therefore it is quite certain His Word will be fulfilled.’ Then faith thinketh, ‘Who gave this promise?’ It considereth not so much its greatness as, ‘Who is the author of it?’ (Faith) remembers that it is God who cannot lie – God omnipotent, God immutable; and therefore concludeth that the promise must be fulfilled and forward (our faith) advances in this firm conviction. Faith remembereth why the promise was given - namely for God’s glory, and faith feels perfectly sure that God’s glory is safe, the (God) will never stain His own (shielded name), nor mar the luster of His own crown; and therefore the promise must and will stand.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Morning By Morning
“For as many are the promises of God, they all find their Yes (answer) in Christ. For this reason we also utter the Amen to God through Him in His Person and by His agency to the glory of God.”
II Corinthians 1: 20
Today’s Study Text:
“The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”
I Samuel 16: 7
“The Furnace of Affliction: - Part 7
“A Decisive Test of Character”
“Were I so tall to reach the pole,
Or grasp the ocean with my span,
I must be measured by my soul;
The mind’s the standard of the man?”
How do I think I would have acted had I been taken to a country where no one knew me and I was free to do whatever I wanted to do?
When I think about the word “character” what comes to my mind?
“What lies beyond us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Character may be manufactured in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”
Definition of “Character”: Moral and ethical strength and integrity.
“RESOLVED”: “To live with all my might while I do live. Resolved – never to lose one moment of time, to improve it in the most profitable way I can. Resolved – never to do anything which I should despise or think meanly in another. Resolved – never to do anything out of revenge. Resolved – never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”
Lord Arthur James Balfour
For a moment, I invite you to think about the many events that have made up your life to this very day in time. I ask you, “Is there some specific day or event that really stands out? “ “Is there a particular decision which, looking back upon, you realize how much it changed your life?”
Just this last week, my college roommate and I were having one of our marathon phone calls when we began to reminisce about our “junior” year in college. We chose to attend a college in Washington State, a long way from home for two California girls. As we talked, I was reminded of a specific day when my greatly admired English teacher literally begged me to switch my college major to English. I was already a Registered Nurse and had nursing licenses in California, Arizona and Washington so it wasn’t like I didn’t have a good profession to fall back on. And at only 20 years of age, I had a lot of life before me. My teacher even offered to take me on as his teaching assistant – a job I know I would have loved.
To be honest, I did consider his input but chose instead to plow ahead with plans that I felt I couldn’t disrupt, only to find out a few months later what a bad decision I had made. As Shari and I agreed, you learn from your mistakes to move on if you are going to get anywhere in your life, but sometimes you can’t help but ask yourself, “What if my choice had been different at that juncture in my life?” As many authors note, it is from our daily decisions that we forge our future. But even more importantly, it is often the seemingly small choices we make each day, that actually form our character which reflects the moral strength and integrity of our life.
It is this thought which is the foundation for today’s devotional where we are going to reflect on a decision made by the four young lads who arrived in Babylon as “wards” of King Nebuchadnezzar. These well-bred boys were what we might refer to as the “Trophies” of the conqueror. As the Bible relates what happened, it makes me wonder if quite possibly the Babylonian king hadn’t had other young Israelites serving him so he knew the potential these young boys, when properly trained, could provide. Or another idea that crossed my mind came from the prostitute Rahab in Jericho who testified on behalf of the God of heaven and earth to the two spies who came to her seeking protection. By watching how God’s leading had benefited His children as they crossed the desert, this woman didn’t just become convinced that the Ruler of the Universe was our Almighty God – she became converted. She was a more faithful believer than some of God’s chosen children in the Israelite’ camp. Like Rahab, King Nebuchadnezzar may have also been a witness to some of the blessings showered by God on His Chosen people. And thus, he thought that having some of the “Chosen” giving him advice would really be to his political advantage.
And so as our story begins today, King Nebuchadnezzar continued his “de-programming” plan, thinking that with a luxurious life-style and daily instruction as well as new Babylonian names, he could cleanse from the lives of these captives any devotion to their God while swinging them over to the Babylonian worship of idols.
Just so we understand how intent the king was with this project, he gave the four captives what I’m certain he deemed to be the greatest of honors – they were to eat of King Nebuchadnezzar’s rich and dainty food and drink the wine which he (the king) drank” (Daniel 1: 8, Amplified Bible). This must have appeared to be a great honor when you consider that these young men could have been treated in an extremely harsh manner as slaves. And yet, here they were feasting on kingly fancy food!
What happens next is recorded in Daniel 1: 8 where Daniel writes, “But Daniel determined in his heart he would not defile himself by eating his portion of the king’s rich and dainty food or by drinking the wine which he drank (Daniel 1: 8, AMP). This could almost appear to be an affront to the king. But here’s where God’s blessings upon His children’s lives come into clear vision. If we continue to read, the Scripture tells us that Daniel went to the head of the palace staff, who “by God’s grace” or as the N.I.V. Bible states, “because God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,” listened to Daniel’s idea. Daniel asked that he and his three friends be allowed to just eat vegetables and drink water.
Of course, the palace official didn’t often hear a request like this and so it took him by surprise. What’s more, he immediately recognized that this simple diet would not “fatten-up” these boys. In fact, the official’s fear was that the boys would lose weight and look like skinny bean-stalks and the king would notice and explode in fury at the person who allowed them to con him into eating so simply.
But here’s where we find that heavenly wisdom is something we should pray for every day…even doubly so when we face difficult and perplexing times. I especially like the words in Proverbs 15: 21 – “Folly is pleasure to the “one” who is without heart and sense, but a man or woman of understanding, of wisdom, walks uprightly, making straight their course.” I can relate to the texts in the Bible that encourage us as children of God to ask for wisdom. I wasn’t by far the smartest kid in school. There were many who were sharper and brighter. But I studied diligently. And I’ll never forget my parents saying, “Dorothy, you have studied hard for this test, now ask God to bring to your remembrance all you have learned and ask Him to give you wisdom.” I’ll just say that God didn’t let me down for all of my tuition in college was paid for by scholarships I received because of grades that reflected God’s answer to my prayers as I studied.
Here’s where I believe Daniel’s heavenly wisdom was on display for he didn’t demand an accommodation to their dietary requirements without offering a well-thought-out plan devised to take the palace official off the hook. Daniel’s suggestion was this: “Try us out for ten days on a simple diet of vegetables and water. Then compare us with the men who eat from the royal menu. Make your decision on the basis of what you see. So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days” (Daniel 1: 12-14, N.I.V. and The Message Bible).
Guess what? At the end of the ten days, God’s young stalwarts looked healthier and more robust and well-nourished than any of the men who ate the royal food! So the official gave them vegetables and water – food we are now recommended to eat because we know it helps us keep our weight under control and can assist in the prevention of heart disease and diabetes which can lead to a host of other problems. But this isn’t the end of this particular story, for Daniel 1: 18 states that, “At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. (And I want you to notice something very important in Daniel 1: 19. When writing the book of Daniel, this prophet of the Mighty God, Jehovah, didn’t use some heathen name bestowed upon him by a king of earth. No way! He and his friends were children of the Most High God, Daniel – God is my Judge; Hananiah – The grace of the Lord; Mishael - He that is strong God; Azariah – The Lord is a help.) I believe their God-inspired names never meant more to them than when they sat down to eat the vegetables on their plates and drink the water in their glasses.
As Daniel concludes this story he says: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (Daniel 1: 20, N.I.V.).
If you were wondering why I chose to title today’s devotional, “A Decisive Test of Character,” it is because it is the daily decisions; daily tests of loyalty to God; and daily choices we make that prepares us for those big challenges that we will inevitably face in our lives. Oh, it might have seemed to some people to be no big deal how these four boys ate or drank. But they had made a commitment to God. Part of that decision meant they treated their bodies as the Temple of the Most High. And it became this seemingly small decision that gave them the opportunity to meet personally with a heathen king where they bore a testimony to the glory of Jehovah.
When writing to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul in encouraging words penned this passage: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5: 3 – 5, N.R.S.V). As author Paul W. Powell encourages us to remember, especially in those times of trouble and trial, “God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. His goal is not to pamper us physically but to perfect us spiritually.” Even when it means passing on the king’s dainties and saying, “Pass me the veggies, please!”
“I have to live with myself, and so
I want to be fit for myself to know,
I want to be able, as days go by,
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don’t want to stand, with setting sun,
And hate myself for the things I’ve done.
I don’t want to keep on a closet shelf,
A lot of secrets about myself,
And fool myself, as I come and go,
Into thinking that nobody else will know
The kind of a man that I really am;
I don’t want to dress up myself in sham.
I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men’s respect;
But here in the struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.
I don’t want to look at myself and know
That I’m bluster and bluff and empty show.
I never can hide myself from me;
I see what others may never see;
I know what others may never know;
I never can fool myself, and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.”
Edgar A. Guest
“Fix the center of my heart in Yourself, O Lord, for only thus will I resist temptation and live according to Your will.”
Attributed to Meister Eckart
“Most loving Lord, give me a steadfast heart, which no unworthy thought can drag downwards; an unconquered heart, which no hardship can wear out; an upright heart, which no worthless purpose can ensnare. Give me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know You, diligence to seek You, and a faithfulness that will finally embrace You; through Jesus Christ, my Lord.”
“Be Thou my guardian and my guide,
And hear me when I call;
Let not my slippery footsteps slide,
And hold me lest I fall.
And if I tempted am to sin,
And outward things are strong,
Do Thou, O Lord, keep watch within,
And save my soul from wrong.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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