I grew up in Austin, and one of the pastimes my brothers and I had on summer nights was to catch fireflies. We’d run around barefoot in the dark with glass jars which might trip all the safety alarms with today’s parents, but remember this was when good parenting was defined as throwing my 3 brothers and me into the back of the pickup truck for a 70-mph trip down I-35. So barefoot, glass and nighttime didn’t seem too risky.
I’ve tried to think about why we were obsessed with fireflies. What made fireflies so cool? I think it was because they were magical. Here was this insect that wasn’t pesky like gnats. They didn’t draw blood like mosquitoes. They never stung you like bees. They just blinked this little light that made little boys wonder how they worked … and what would it be like if you smeared one all over your shirt. Which was horrible. I know.
But seriously: fireflies attract people. They don’t bother you as much as they bring some joy and curiosity to life.
Kind of like one of the Bible’s authors puts it: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3.15)
That’s the secret to living your faith in a culture where walking publicly as a follower of Jesus is ridiculous, old-school, and irrelevant. It’s like not having a Facebook account. Or only having a landline. Or still using a fax machine. Who still does that? So out of touch. You need to join the crowd.
And there’s no doubt the crowd in the US more and more believes that many of the teachings of the Bible are outdated, out of touch, and too antiquated — even racist, or downright mean. To say there’s only one god in a world of multi-gods. To say that God has rights and wrongs, and you claim to know what God’s thinking? How arrogant.
How do you publicly live out your faith when more and more people think your faith shouldn’t be public?
One of the best Biblical examples is a man named Daniel. Daniel’s book recounts the journey of a young man who was exiled with his people, the Jewish people, when Babylon swooped in and conquered Israel. Babylon’s policy was to assimilate its captives. It uprooted them and sprinkled them around the kingdom, so that the exiles would let go of their old values — out of sight, out of mind — and take hold of new, Babylonian values. Become one of us, you might say. Start walking our way and believing our truths.
That was Babylon’s way. And more than ever before in the West, that’s the way you and I are encouraged to walk. We, who have been claimed by Jesus, are now living in Babylon. We are living at a time where the public culture is encouraging us to let go of what we used to value and embrace new, non-Christian values.
Some of you immediately think politicking or voting or marching, which are all important macro-strategies, yes. But more important is the micro you. What does it look like for a Christian to live and work faithfully in a time where historical Christianity is out of favor? Think local. Latch onto those people you live with, work with, and play with. Those 3 to 7 to 15.
Here’s the outcome we’re aiming for. It’s the outcome of Daniel’s story in Daniel Chapter 6. This is what we pray happens because of us: 25 Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world: “Peace and prosperity to you! 26 I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. 27 He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Our prayer is not that Christianity would be decreed as the sole religion of the US. We live in a country based on freedom of religion, not forced into religion. And that never works anyway.
Our prayer is that through our faithful witness, men and women like Darius would be convinced of the wonders and workings of Jesus.
How does that come about? Let me summarize the chapter.
The current king, Darius the Mede changed around the government and appointed governors over each of the 120 provinces and named Daniel as one of the guys who managed the governors. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than the others, and the king made plans to place Daniel over the entire empire.
Daniel’s co-workers weren’t too happy with this, so they looked for ways to discredit him; however, he had no hidden skeletons anywhere. Rather, the Bible says, Daniel was “faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy.”
So, they decided that they’d go after Daniel’s religion and how he practiced.
Sure enough, they set Daniel up and had the king pass a law that you couldn’t worship any god except the king during the next 30 days or else you’d be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel’s faith was so strong he couldn’t neglect worshiping God for 30 days. Every day he’d go home three times, kneel and pray, just like always.
His buddies were waiting and turned him in, much to the king’s dismay. The king so loved Daniel that the Bible says he was “deeply troubled and tried to think of a way to save Daniel.” Bu,t a law’s a law, so Daniel was thrown into the den.
“May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you,” the king told him. Darius then spent the night fasting and praying on Daniel’s behalf.
The next morning the king hurried down and called out, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”
The king was totally stoked. He then ordered the men who had maliciously accused Daniel to be arrested. They and their entire families were thrown into the lion’s den. Then the king made that kingdom-wide proclamation you read earlier. This is the outcome we’re looking for.
The most obvious part of being a faithful witness is that Daniel stayed faithful to his God and the practices of his faith, even — and especially when — the government said he couldn’t. He still went to his room and prayed three times a day, even when doing so could cost him his life.
Prayer is the most intimate form of submission and relationship. When you pray and ask and share with God, you are ultimately saying, “I’m dependent on you, and I trust you — I need you — for my well-being.” Daniel knew how lifegiving and true that relationship was, and thus he remained faithful and continued to pray.
I want to encourage you to not let go of practices like prayer and worship in this season. They are the lifeblood of your walk with Jesus.
But there’s more than our spiritual practices that make for a faithful witness that impacts those 3-15 people in your life.
To get there, let’s start with Darius … one key thing I want you to see about him applies to everyone you meet: he was spiritual.
Did you catch that when everything went down with Daniel, Darius spent the night fasting. He knew he couldn’t save Daniel by some worldly means, so he reverted to a spiritual means of self-denial and probably prayed to his god Marduk. And did you catch that early the next morning his first question to Daniel was, “Was your god able to save you?” hoping against hope that Daniel would answer yes.
Yes, Darius came from an Eastern culture that believed the spiritual was intertwined with the physical. That may not be true of everyone in your life, but everyone in your life has some god they believe is in control or at least should be. And in everyone’s life there comes a time when they realize the solution to their current problem is outside their capabilities. It is rare to find a person who is truly atheistic.
A few years ago, I attended a one-week class at Harvard for non-profit executives from around the world. Of the 150 people, I was the only pastor. And while the five people in my cohort weren’t too sure of me going into the week, by the end of the week every one of them initiated a spiritual conversation with me. Even the one executive from Australia who had publicly harangued me on Wednesday found himself crying at breakfast, sharing how the church in Sydney had hurt his daughter and so to him any representative of the church — especially a pastor — was of Satan. Even though none of them attended church, they all longed for a person who would truly listen and help them navigate their lives spiritually.
Everyone you meet is spiritual. By that I mean everyone has a spirit and that spirit needs feeding. Everyone you meet carries around in them the image of their Creator, and as such, is only truly fulfilled when that spirit is reconnected with the Holy Spirit who created them.
Until their spirit is reclaimed by the Spirit of Jesus, it will wander and search and long for fulfillment. It will live in anxiety and guilt and uncertainty, wondering about its real place in the universe.
I point this out about Darius and about the 3-15 people in your life so that you’re not afraid to talk spiritual stuff with them. I have found that the best conversation starter is simply to ask, “So how are things going with your soul?” Because chances are, no one’s asking them that. And their souls would love to chat some.
The other thing I want you to see about Darius is that he wanted Daniel to win. He didn’t want to lose Daniel. He tried to figure out a way for Daniel not be thrown into the lion’s den, and he hoped that come morning, Daniel would still be alive.
The question for us to ask is “What made Daniel a man Darius didn’t want to lose?” Even more so, “What makes us a person that others don’t want to lose?” The answer to that question is in verse 4. It’s the heart of a faithful witness: Daniel was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy.
Daniel was faithful to Darius. Loyal. He was on Darius’ team and Darius’ bus and he wasn’t vying for Darius’ seat. He didn’t say one thing to Darius’ face and another when Darius left the room. He was not in the gig for himself, but for Darius’ self. He was willing to put himself under Darius. Darius’ needs came first.
I lead a network that helps start ministries around the country, and in our training process we take our leaders through an online assessment. One of the top traits we look for is what we call “helpful.” Helpful means I’m here to help you succeed, not simply to use you for my success. A great leader understands I get success by helping you succeed.
Daniel wasn’t in it to succeed; he was in it to make Darius successful. He wasn’t in it to get glory. He was in it for the glory of the King. He was in it for the glory of God. Daniel understood that to give glory to God meant he gave glory to his boss, the King. He understood that you “Get glory by giving glory.”
One of the reasons Darius didn’t want to lose Daniel was because Daniel was loyal.
Do the people in your life know that you are loyal to them? That you would care for them beyond anything?
Daniel was responsible. He handled authority well. He handled assets well. Daniel understood that he was managing the King’s affairs. It was the King’s money, the King’s power, the King’s people. Not his. He didn’t own all of the King’s stuff, but he owned the well-being of all of the King’s stuff.
Does your boss feel that you’ve got this trait down? Does your wife know how you’re responsible for her well-being, for her heart, for your family’s security? When people see you as responsible, they’re willing to go to you with anything that’s bothering them because they sense you can handle it somehow.
Daniel was completely trustworthy. To reverse that, “Daniel was worthy of trust.” See, rather than demanding trust, he earned trust.
He followed through on what he said he’d do. High integrity. Integrity is when there’s not a disconnect between the outside and the inside. Your heart and actions match up. For the engineer types, it’s when there are no deformities or deficiencies in the material; it’s strong and can withstand great pressure because it’s uniform in character and makeup. When you take off your work clothes, a different person doesn’t show up. When you put on your Sunday clothes, people don’t mistake you for someone else. “What have you done with my dad?”
When someone is trustworthy, there’s not a lot of anxiety around them because you don’t have to worry about what they’re going to do.
Now, if you boiled the three above points into one to answer the question, “What made Daniel someone Darius didn’t want to lose?”, you could say, “Daniel wasn’t a jerk for Jesus.”
We have too many “Christians” today who are jerks for Jesus and who think Christianity is a set of values to prove rather than a set of values to live by. They want to debate these values with words before they demonstrate them with their lives. At the heart of this problem is that they don’t allow the very values their God teaches to become values and behaviors they live out.
Daniel allowed his faith to form his life. He didn’t stop his religious practices because the law said he had to. He didn’t give up his religious beliefs because the culture said they were no longer appropriate.
But more than that, for the sake of his witness, he didn’t separate his beliefs from his behaviors. He allowed what he believed about Jesus to make him look more like Jesus when it came to how he served his king.
How are you keeping your faith in a loving, sacrificing Jesus from forming you into a loyal, responsible, trustworthy person in your relationships with others?
How are you allowing the values of Jesus to become your values that form your life?
When you do talk about your faith, you do it as I mentioned earlier: with gentleness and respect.
When people know you truly respect them, even if they never believe what you believe, they will much more likely hear your heart and take notice of your behaviors.
A faithful witness isn’t isolated to simply words about Jesus. A faithful witness lives a life interwoven with Jesus. They don’t stop following Jesus when the public pressure gets too much. But they also make sure following Jesus is a whole-life walk, not just the news station they watch.
May you live a faithful life so that the Dariuses of the world proclaim the power of your Jesus even before they fully believe.