“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”
The story of the fiery furnace is probably my favorite story in the whole Bible. When I was a kid it made me all warm inside…no pun intended. It’s one of the most amazing faith-based miracles recorded. Lately though, the lessons from this passage have been from a different angle. It’s the lesson that comes from the middle of the story, not the end. It’s the lesson that comes from the blind faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had before their tale was told and before their lives were spared.
Life is full of Nebuchadnezzars. Not typically (for us in America) the kinds that throw us into furnaces so hot that all the kings horses and all the kings men get incinerated into ash just trying to toss the offenders inside. These are the kind that want to force us to bow to something made in their image. The world is filled with them and the church is filled with them. They do their worst to force us to our knees.
Two major things stand out to me about these three soldiers of faith in their handling of this ruler. First they respected Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. Second, their respect did not cause them to falter in their allegiance to their God and they did not use their allegiance as a caveat for disrespect to the king. Their integrity was flawless on both sides.
I have always read this story with the whole picture in mind. I’ve known the outcome from the start. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, however, did not. They knew their loyalty to their God could not yield, they trusted that their God had all power to save them, they also recognized that he was under no obligation to act on their behalf in the way they hoped. Regardless, they pledged their loyalty to their God and they refused to bow.
So where is my faith like theirs? Where is my declaration of “Even if he does not!”? My life has been riddled with things I thought surely God would do differently. I imagine Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego felt certain that God would intervene before the furnace was used…but he didn’t. He did something even more miraculous than saving them from the fire, he saved them through the fire.
The thing is, I don’t like that kind of story for myself. I only like it inked on paper when I can see it from start to finish and when someone else has lived it. I prefer to go around the flames, but lately God has taken me through them. Never alone but through the flames none the less to refine the faith in me to declare, “God, please act, but even if you don’t, my loyalty fully remains yours.”
My loyalty has wavered many times and I can’t even imagine the hurt that must inflict on the heart of my Father. Still, he teaches me. He leads me through rough waters and he takes me through burning fires and he makes me more like him and less like all the things I have desired for myself. Together we do really hard things. Things way too hard for me but it’s not about me, it’s about me becoming like him.
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”
2 Corinthians 1:8-9.
God knows exactly how to exercise us. He knows the exact way to build the brand of endurance unique to each one of his kids. He knows how to walk us though the hard things that make us despair of life because this life is not good. He wants us to lean on his goodness that has power over death itself. He is unequivocally good though the world around us is not but he uses all if it! No detail is lost on him! Not the flames, not the green pastures, not the flood waters and none of the pain. All of these things he uses to make us rely on him.
“[Our Lord Jesus Christ] who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”
1 Corinthians 1:8-9.
Everything always works out…sometimes! When it doesn’t, look for his presence in the fire because he’s working a bigger scenario! He’s taking all the bad that threatens to destroy and all the things that bruise you and break you and he’s teaching you to lean on him alone. All the while, with the power over death in his hands, he’s working those things for your good and for mine. So when everything doesn’t work out, thank him, because he’s got you. We come to him with so many hopes knowing exactly what he can do, but even if he does not, our allegiance is to him alone because when he doesn’t, the things he does do will always be immeasurably more.