READ: Daniel 3
THINK: In the 1980’s a number of Soviet cosmonauts experienced violent dizziness, irregular heartbeats, and the inability to walk for weeks or even months at a time after returning from space. After studying them carefully, the Soviets realized that in a zero-gravity environment the muscles in a human body begin to waste away and atrophy because there is no resistance which forces them to do any work. So they invented something they called the penguin suit (which is a silly name, even if it’s appropriate) for cosmonauts which purposefully and powerfully restricted their movements in outer space so that they had to move kind of like a penguin. This solved the problem almost completely.
In life, most of us wish that we could just float along without any resistance whatsoever. We even pray for it from time to time – that God would keep us away from all troubles and trials and all difficulties and all pain. And I truly believe that we desire that because we were created for that. But there’s a problem: sin. Because of our sin and our rejection of God our hearts are corrupted. If we float through life our natural, human tendency is to float right away from God – to believe that we don’t need him because life is just fine without him. It’s hard sometimes – especially in the middle of them – to see trials as God’s mercy. But make no mistake, they are. They are his way of drawing us to himself and reminding us how desperately we need him. Forgetting that and living apart from him is eternally deadly.
The story of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah – better known to the world by the pagan names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that the Babylonians gave them – is obviously one of the coolest, most amazing, and most incredible stories in the entire Bible. Seriously, how awesome are those guys? Faced with death – and what frankly sounds like a really painful death – they stood firm and refused to worship anyone but God. And I absolutely love the words that they spoke to Nebuchadnezzar in that moment. Nebuchadnezzar basically said, “I’m gonna fry you suckers if you don’t bow to this idol, and I’m gonna fry you up so good that no god could save you!” And they responded, “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.”
“But even if he does not…” What? I mean, I get it that they know God can save them, but it seems crazy to take this stand if you’re not sure he will, right? Is this a lack of faith on their part, or are they trying to cover their bases? No. Not in the least. They are communicating something powerful here that we all need to remember and it is this:
Is God all-powerful? Yes. Is He able to deliver us from all our problems? Yes. Does God always deliver us from our difficulties? No.
We may not fully comprehend God’s purpose in our difficulty and suffering, but we can have the same awesome confidence that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had. And we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God stands with us in the fires of life, just as he stood with them. Who was the 4th person walking around in the fire, the one who was no longer there when they were pulled out? It was Jesus. This is something called a theophany or, more specifically, a Christophany. Little did Nebuchadnezzar know when he exclaimed that the fourth man looked like “a son of the gods” that he was looking at “the Son of the God.”
Living the courageous life that God designed us for means walking through the fire sometimes. But just as Jesus stood with the three in the furnace, he stands with us, reassures us, and holds us in his love during the trials of our lives. They are never easy and they are often unpleasant, but God never abandons us to them. He meets us there, shapes us there, and reveals his love to us there.
ASK: How has God shaped me and taught me about himself and his love through difficult times and situations in my life? Am I willing to trust God so completely that I stand for him even when it could cost me everything?
PRAY: Thank God for never wasting a hurt in our lives. Thank him for meeting us in the broken spaces and using them to mold us. Thank him for his love. Ask him for the courage to do what is right, no matter what the consequences.