Today in church we lifted our voices to join prayers declared across the country as part of Open Doors’ worldwide Day of Prayer for persecuted Christians. We learned more about the challenges faced by believers in Afghanistan, the world’s #1 country for persecution against Christians, and we interceded on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the faith. It was a powerful moment to remember how easy many of us have it in the western world, choosing to follow Jesus without facing fear of disownment, imprisonment, torture or death.
But shortly afterwards I headed back to my comfortable apartment where I cooked dinner while listening to worship music and watched a sermon online while I ate in the peace and privacy of my own home. I had already forgotten – nay, taken for granted – what a privilege it is to have the freedom to worship God as I please.
This evening, however, I opened my Bible to Daniel chapter 3 and was struck again at the radical faith – not only expressed, but demonstrated – by three believers faced with persecution.
These men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, lived as captives in Babylon during the time of the Israelite Exile. The king at that time, King Nebuchadnezzar, had a golden statue built and he commanded every individual who lived within his kingdom to bow down and worship the idol. As followers of the one true God, however, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship any god but the God in heaven. Because of their refusal to adhere to the law of the king, the men were captured and sentenced to immediate death by being thrown into a furnace of fire.
I have heard this story multiple times since childhood, so I already know there’s a happy ending. Knowing what is yet to come, however, sometimes causes us to miss the middle; that deciding-moment where the real heart of the story is. In the intervening moments, between action and consequence, there is a powerful exchange that took place between the king and these three faith-filled men.
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? …if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’Daniel 3:15-18 (NIV)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were confident that God could save them. They didn’t, however, assume He would. They – like so many Christian believers around the world today – were faced with the choice of renouncing their faith or facing death, and they chose to be faithful to their faithful God. They didn’t know for sure that God would step in and save them in a miraculous way, but their obedience and devotion to God was more important to them than life itself.
I’m challenged today to ask myself, could I face death and say the same thing? Gosh, I hope so. But even if I never have to make that choice, I am still confronted with this question every single day: will I stand firm in my faith and devotion to God, no matter what trials I face?
Many of us face far lesser hardships, and yet the challenge remains the same. Can we truthfully declare:
But even if he does not…
… heal my friend’s cancer
… save my favourite aunt
… gift me my heart’s desire
… stop the peer pressure I am experiencing at work
… <fill in the blank>
I will choose to worship Him because He is God, and worthy to be praised.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.Acts 17:24-25 (NIV)
I would encourage you to read Daniel 3 for yourself and see what God wants to draw your attention to. Is there an area of your life where you allow outside pressures to compromise your devotion to God? Or is there breakthrough that God wants to gift you so that you can be a light for Him amongst a particular group of people?
If you read to the end of the chapter, you will discover that the three men were thrown into the furnace of fire, just as the king had warned them. But God saved them from the furnace without a singe or scratch, and, as a result of their devotion and the consequent miracle, the king himself declared, “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:29) I pray that eyes all over the world would be opened to see the one true God as a result of our obedience and devotion to Him.
PRAY: Father, we thank you that we can worship you freely without fear of imprisonment or death. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith in other lands around the world; we ask that You would be near to them, that You would give them courage and strength in their afflictions, and may You continue to protect and save Your children just as You did for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. God, I ask that You would help every one of us to be courageous in the face of challenges and to be representatives for You in whatever situations we find ourselves in. What the enemy intends for evil, may You turn it around for good. In Jesus’ name, amen.
For useful resources on learning more about persecuted Christians around the world and how to pray for them, visit Open Doors website.