When I Was Your Age – Lessons From Biblical Teenagers
The headline on a CNN.com article earlier this year jumped right out at me:
The article detailed the results of a Pew Research Center study about the religious landscape in America. It focused mainly on the rise of the “nones,” people who profess no faith affiliation. It stated that nearly 23 percent of the country’s adult population identified themselves as “nones,” putting them on par with evangelicals (25.4%) and ahead of Catholics (about 21%) and mainline Protestants (14.7%).
The study also revealed that just 56% of today’s younger millennials (born 1990-1996) call themselves Christian, even though the vast majority – about eight in 10 – were raised in religious homes.
“It’s not as if young people today are being raised in a way completely different from Christianity,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research and the lead researcher on the study. “But as adults they are simply dropping that part of their identity.”
That certainly wasn’t the case for Daniel and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. If you remember the lesson from last week, they were taken captive to Babylon around the age of 15 and the Babylonians attempted to assimilate them into their culture. But they remained true to God and their Jewish identity. Because of that, God honored them by enabling them to graduate at the head of the class among the captives from different backgrounds, including Babylonians (Daniel 1:18-20).
Now let’s flash forward about 20 years to when they are in their mid-30s. King Nebuchadnezzar has promoted Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – better known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – to prominent positions in the government.
Then, Nebuchadnezzar decided to build a statue about 90 feet high and 9 feet wide with a head of gold on the plain of a place called Dura. The king invited all the top government officials, justices, dignitaries and religious leaders throughout the empire to come to a dedication of the golden image. People from all around the Babylonian kingdom also attended. Crowd estimates were as high as 300,000.
There also was a band present with all kinds of instruments. Nebuchadnezzar had a speaker tell everyone in attendance that when the music started playing they were to fall down and worship the golden image. And if they didn’t, they would be thrown into a burning fiery furnace.
Everyone did as they were told, except for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Some Babylonians, perhaps magicians and enchanters, who didn’t like the fact that the three Hebrews held important positions in the Babylonian government, came and told the king that they hadn’t worshipped the image.
Nebuchadnezzar was furious and had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego brought to him. Because he liked them, he gave them another chance to worship the image. But they flat out refused, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
The king was filled with rage, ordered that furnace be heated seven times more than it was usually (or as hot as possible) and had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown in.
Miraculously, God delivered them, and the king issued a decree that if anyone in Babylon said anything negative about their God, they would be killed and everything they owned would be destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar also gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego another promotion.
That’s just the highlights of this dramatic spectacle. You can read the entire story in Daniel 3.
So what are some of the lessons we can learn from this drama?
Lesson 1: Genuine faith established in your teen years continues to be genuine faith as you get older. When you place your trust in Christ as a youngster and you nurture it with bible study and prayer, you deepen your relationship with the heavenly Father. As you mature into adulthood, your faith and trust in Him grows stronger and stronger, and God helps make sure it’s real by taking you through various trials on your faith journey. As the Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter, trials come to reveal the genuineness of your faith (1 Peter 1:3-9). The trial by furnace Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego endured certainly revealed theirs.
Lesson 2: Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t give in to peer pressure or mob mentality. They knew they would stand out in a crowd of approximately 300,000 when they didn’t fall down and worship the image. They also knew the 10 commandments, particularly the first two about having no other god besides God and not making any image and worshipping it (Exodus 20:3-6). Love and devotion to God should be your first priority, no matter what anyone else is doing, whether its idol worship, premarital sex, sexting, underage drinking, abusing drugs, bullying, cursing or being rude and disrespectful.
Lesson 3: Fearing God is more important than fearing men. Even though Nebuchadnezzar was furious with them and sentenced them to death, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego continued to honor and reverence God rather than obey an enraged king. The Psalmist said that God alone is to be feared (Psalm 76:7). Jesus said don’t be afraid of those who can only kill the body, but fear the one who can throw you into hell (Luke 12:4-5).
Lesson 4: God is with us when we face fiery trials. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around in the fire and a fourth person in there with them. It could have been an angel or an Old Testament appearance of the Messiah. God is with us at all times and especially when we are going through difficulties. We might not always sense or feel His presence, but He is there, just as we saw in our previous lessons with Joseph in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, with Esther in the Persian palace and with Daniel in the king’s court in Babylon. Plus, we have a promise from Jesus that he will never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20).
Lesson 5: Just because God is able to do something doesn’t mean He always will. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not ask for a miracle. They were willing to die rather than worship an idol. But God stepped in and delivered them. The fire didn’t burn their hair or clothes, and they didn’t even smell like smoke. But sometimes, for His purposes and reasons that we don’t always understand, God doesn’t miraculously deliver us. He allows us to go through some difficult situations. He could be doing it to teach us a lesson or strengthen our faith. In those times, we might have to say what Job said, “Even if he slays me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15)
Lesson 6: Standing up for God impacts those around us. The faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had a dramatic influence on King Nebuchadnezzar. He blessed God (v. 28) and praised Him for rescuing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (v. 29). Even though we might not always see it or hear about it, when we take a stand for God, we are encouraging others to do the same. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church, he wrote that their faith in God had become known to everyone and that people talked about how they turned from idols to serve the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10). He also could be doing it to make others aware of Him, like Nebuchadnezzar was when he saw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fire.
Personal application: Here are a few questions to ponder:
- What happens to your faith when everyone is doing something you know will dishonor God and they want you to join in?
- Do you compromise and do what everybody else is doing or do you stand firm in your faith?
- Do you compromise because someone gets mad at you for not doing what everybody else is doing?
- What do you expect from God when you take a stand for your faith in Him?
Next week (bonus lesson): David the Giant Killer