September 5, 2004

LABOR AMONG LIONS

“We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5

Success isn’t safe. The better you do your job, the more your peers resent you. The bigger the promotion, the angrier the people who don’t get promoted. If you’re talented, hard-working, and honest, these qualities can bring success, but they can also make people envy you and want to stab you in the back.

It starts at an early age. Brothers and sisters compete with each other. If parents praise one child for doing something, the others feel envious. They want to make themselves look better than their sibling, and they often go about it not by trying to improve themselves but by trying to make their sibling look bad. Brothers and sisters pick on each other and tattle on each other and look for ways to get each other in trouble. Sibling rivalry is hard on kids—and it’s no picnic for parents, either!

When children go off to school, the picture doesn’t change much. If kids behave well and obey their teacher, do their fellow students admire them as models of virtue? No, they mock them as goody-goodies and teacher’s pets. If students work hard and get good grades, do their classmates applaud them? No, they pick on them. Kids who don’t want to work hard or don’t have as much talent resent the high achievers, and they try to make life miserable for them. If they can’t raise themselves up, the next best thing is to drag others down.

I wish I could say we outgrow this jealousy and cruelty as we get older, but all too often it gets worse. In offices, factories, and businesses of every kind, success isn’t safe. If you work hard and are extremely productive, other people might look bad by comparison, and they don’t like it. If you’re honest and clean in all your dealings, you may have conflicts with those who prefer to cut corners. If you won’t allow laziness or dishonesty in those who work under you, you can make fierce enemies. If you’re in line to get a raise or a higher position, even some people you thought were friends may turn against you, especially if they want the position themselves. The greater your achievements, the nastier the attacks. The very things that make you an outstanding worker can make you a target for disgruntled backstabbers. How do you deal with that? How do you aim for excellence in such circumstances? Life in the workplace can be hard, hurtful, and downright scary. Other people may resent you and try to bring you down. You might be safer in a den of lions than in a workplace of envious rivals. Just ask Daniel.

Prowling Predators

The Bible book of Daniel tells about one of history’s great heroes. Daniel sought excellence in everything he did, and he served God in everything he did. That made him prominent, but it also made him enemies. Daniel ran into much the same envy and rivalry that exist in the workplace today, except that Daniel didn’t work in just another business. He worked in the nastiest business of all—politics. Harder yet, Daniel was from a minority group that most of his co-workers despised, and he worshiped a God his colleagues rejected.

Daniel was a Jew holding a high position in the government of the Persian empire. King Darius, the Persian ruler, ran his empire by putting 120 officials, called satraps, in charge of various responsibilities, with three chief administrators over them to make sure the satraps did their jobs and didn’t waste the king’s money or take any for themselves. One of those three chief administrators was Daniel. “Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (Daniel 6:3).

That upset the other officials. They envied Daniel’s success. They were probably nervous that honest Daniel would oppose their bribes, backstabbing, misuse of government money, and other crooked activities. So, like many politicians before and since, they tried to rid of their rival by digging up dirt on him. They figured everybody has a dirty secret somewhere; you just have to keep digging till you find it. They figured everybody is bound to make a wrong move at some point: just keep watching, and when he makes a mistake, use it to destroy him. Daniel’s coworkers were like lions, prowling predators watching for a weakness, waiting to pounce, wanting to chew Daniel up.  But no matter how deep they dug, no matter how much they spied, these veterans of dirty politics couldn’t come up with anything bad to pin on Daniel. The man was squeaky clean.

They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”     Daniel 6:4-5

They couldn’t get Daniel in trouble for being too bad. Their only hope was to nail him for being too good!

So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Daniel 6:6-9

Their flattery sounded good to Darius. “Who needs God when they have you, O ever-living king? Why not outlaw prayer for a while, just to make sure everybody knows that the government is the supreme source of every good thing? Faith and prayer have no place in work or school or government anyway. Anybody who insists on sticking with God instead of worshiping the generosity of big government is a religious fanatic, an enemy of society. Such people ought to be lion chow!” The king agreed.

Prayer Pattern

If your government made a law like that, how would you react? If you’re not at all religious, you might say, “Not pray for a month? No problem. I never pray anyway.” If you believe there’s a God and pray once in a while when you want something, you might say, “Sounds like a dumb law but … thirty days without prayer is no big deal. I can always pray again once the month is over. It’s not worth risking my neck over.” But how did Daniel react? The Bible says,

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened to Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.

So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”

The king answered, “The decree stands–in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”

Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.

The king was cornered. He had to uphold his own authority and enforce the law he had just put into effect.

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you.”

A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”

The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he trusted in his God.

If you’re a doubter, you might think Daniel’s survival wasn’t really a miracle. You might think the lions just weren’t nasty or hungry enough to attack. Well, look at what happened next.

The men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

Obviously these weren’t lazy, friendly lions. The only way Daniel survived was the protection of God and his angel.

What does this true story tell us about labor among lions—working in situations that are hard and even hostile? Let’s look at four guidelines for dealing with a difficult workplace.

  1. Be a person of principle.

Daniel was a person of principle from the time he first went into job training until the day he died. From a young age, Daniel showed a great deal of ability and promise. Years earlier, when Daniel was a youth, he was taken from his family in Jerusalem and carried away to Babylon. There he was to be trained to work for the Babylonian king. But there was a problem. The young men in the training program were supposed to eat food and drink wine from the king’s table. The royal food and drink had been dedicated to pagan gods and violated the dietary laws God had given him people at that time. Daniel could have said, “I have no choice. I’d better just eat and drink whatever they give me.” But instead Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself. He asked the chief official for a different diet. The official was reluctant at first, but Daniel convinced him to give it a try, and Daniel ended up looking more robust and healthy than the young men who ate the royal food.

Young people still face tough choices. At school you may feel pressure to go along with anti-Christian ideas in order to get good grades. You may feel pressure to join in drunken parties or immoral sex. When you get a job, you may be told to work on Sunday instead of worshiping. You may be told to cut corners on quality and mislead customers. You may be tempted to think, ” I have to do what I’m told, or I’m finished. Success depends on acting like a pagan. I have no choice.”

But you always have a choice. You can choose to stand for your principles, or you can give up your integrity and do what’s easiest. You can choose to stand for what’s right, or you can choose to sell your soul. So dare to be different. The choices you make when you’re young often turn into lifelong habits. What you decide now form your future character, for better or worse.

Daniel stood for his principles as a young man getting started, even though it was a risk, and the habit stayed with him. Years later, when Daniel was an old man and his rivals were digging for something bad to accuse him of, they couldn’t find anything. All they could come up with was that he lived by God’s Word and prayed every day.

What about you? Do you put godly principles ahead of pay, popularity or promotions? If your fellow workers spied on you, would they find that you live by God’s Word? If they accused you of serving God, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Be a person of principle. Start as young as you can, and stay firm in the Lord with each passing year.

  1. Aim for excellence without excuses.

As Daniel stood up for his principles, he also stood out for the excellent quality of his work. Daniel could have come up with excuses for not amounting to anything. He was torn from his family and homeland at an early age. He was part of an oppressed minority. He faced attacks on his religion. But did he complain? Did he gripe that everything was against him, that he had no chance to succeed? No, Daniel decided to make the most of his abilities in the situation where he found himself. Already in Daniel’s early training, says the Bible, God gave him “knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning” (1:17). The king found young Daniel “ten times better” than the so-called experts throughout his whole kingdom.

This pursuit of excellence began in his youth and stayed with Daniel at every stage of life, through every change and every new boss. By the time he was an old man, he wasn’t working for the Babylonians any more; the Persians had taken over. But Daniel was still the smartest, hardest working, most capable man around. That’s why King Darius wanted Daniel in the top management job. From youth to old age, Daniel had no time for excuses. He was too busy doing his best.

How about you? Do you aim for excellence, or do you waste energy on excuses? Do you complain about your family and upbringing? Do you blame your failings on unfair treatment, discrimination, new bosses, hostile fellow workers, or whatever else makes your life or your job difficult? Daniel faced all those things, but he studied his hardest, tried his best, and ended up accomplishing great things. Your troubles are challenges to overcome, not excuses for giving up or going bad. Be a winner, not a whiner. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23-24). Don’t tell yourself you have a right to sulk or do shabby work. Trust God, and do your absolute best. Aim for excellence without excuses.

  1. Know your Boss.

Whoever your boss at work might be, your highest boss is always God. No matter how much you want those who work with you to approve of you, the highest goal is for God to approve of you. Daniel’s bosses ruled vast empires and had the power of life and death over their subjects. Daniel’s co-workers were shrewd and powerful, with many ways of ruining someone they didn’t like. Daniel could have been intimidated by such people. But Daniel knew his supreme Boss, the Lord God. When his colleagues put pressure on him and his boss gave orders contrary to God’s commands, God’s orders came first.

Daniel’s loyalty to God in the moment of crisis was no accident. It was the result of an ongoing walk with God in Daniel’s everyday life. Here’s the very heart of what made Daniel the man he was: he depended on God for strength and guidance for each new day. No matter how busy he became, Daniel was not too busy to pray; he was too busy not to pray. Without God’s help, Daniel would have been crushed by the weight of his work, the difficulty of the decisions he had to make, and the hostility of the people around him. Without God Daniel was lost, and he knew it. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could keep him from spending time with God three times each day in prayer. Daniel would rather spend a night with lions than go a day without prayer.

A friend asked me, “You want to know the #1 wrecker of spiritual life and family relationships?” He paused a moment, then said, “Fast food!”

“Fast food?” I snorted. “Fast food may be bad for your cholesterol, but how does it hurt relationships?”

My friend explained that with microwaves and fast food restaurants, many families don’t sit down at meals together any more or spend time together. Mealtime used to be a built-in pause for family members to spend time with each other and with God, but mealtime is vanishing.

My friend probably blamed too much on fast food, but he was right about one thing: relationships take time. Many of us don’t have a daily pattern where we set aside time for our family members or for God. Few families read the Bible and pray at mealtime or at any other time of day. As a result, we feel distant from God, far from family members, and burnt out by daily demands. Our work often suffers as well. We end up feeling isolated, frustrated, overworked, and burnt out. Or we may sink so deep into sin that, like the anti-Daniel gang, we’re willing to do almost anything to ruin others and serve ourselves.

What about you? Do you depend on God? Do you trust in Jesus as your Savior and Master? Do you spend special time with the Lord every day in prayer and Bible reading? If you want to become a person like Daniel, develop a regular prayer pattern like Daniel’s. Daniel made a point of scheduling regular conversation with God three times each day, and he wouldn’t let anything break up his prayer schedule: not busyness, not hassles, not rivals, not kings or decrees, not even hungry lions. Don’t let Big Macs or busy schedules keep you from doing what even lions couldn’t keep Daniel from doing. The time you spend with God is the key to everything else you do. So know your Boss, and keep getting to know him better. Talk and listen to God each day. Trust and obey him, no matter what.

  1. Focus on the final outcome.

If walking with God seems damaging to your future, remember the end of the story. It’s not Daniel who was destroyed; it was the wicked. In the end, our destiny is in God’s hands and depends on our relationship to him.

The ultimate danger is not a den of lions or human predators who are out to get us. The worst lion, the deadliest man-eater, is Satan. “Your enemy the devil goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). People without God are easy prey for Satan, but the devil cannot devour God’s faithful.

Whether God rescues you from death or lets you die for your faith, the devil cannot devour you. God prevented lions from eating Daniel. In later times many Christians were thrown to lions and were torn apart. Either way, God kept them safe. These martyrs would rather die than deny Jesus. They knew that if they denied Jesus, Satan would devour them, but if they kept the faith, they would live forever. They would rise again by the power of Christ. That’s why the apostle Paul could say shortly before he died for his faith, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength… And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18)

When you come under attack, focus on the final outcome. What happened in Daniel’s case is a preview of the final judgment. Daniel was spared, and the lions devoured God’s enemies. God then showed Daniel that at the end of the world, an even greater rescue and an even greater punishment are coming. Daniel records the following message from God: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3).

Jesus is coming again, and when he does, the bodies of all the dead will be raised and judged. The final outcome for every one of us will be either unending hell or everlasting life in heaven, depending on our relationship to the Lord. It’s crazy to sell your soul for short-term success if the final result is hell. It’s not a bad deal to suffer a few problems now if the final outcome is eternal reward. So focus on the final outcome.

In the end, God always makes thing right for those who trust him.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.