Most of us are not consoled or comforted by images and words that have come through the news-feeds of recent days from Ferguson, MO. They only remind us of a time long past now when we first saw them and wondered why? It was sad then when as children we wondered about those scenes and now, as grandparents, we struggle to make sense of what is being shown us in this new day with its new brutalities.
Those images from our youth and these that are fresh and new are the harsh realities of life. They are painful to see and even more painful to experience. These are confrontations rooted in deep pain and age old sins. They will not go away. These are real people, real fights, real anger, real messages, real hate, all of which will leave scars and sorrows too deep for words. It is idiocy meeting idealism to see which will prevail. The frustration and the furor fester, fueled by a past unfulfilled and lacking closure. The perpetrators of evil that compromise the noble cause of people who only want their voices heard will simmer in their opportunistic efforts to seize upon moments of destruction and fade into oblivion deeper than where they are today. The cycle continues to the most current of generations with fresh images of failure on both sides of an old feud.
Harsh realities . . . old and new! They won’t go away!
What shall we do in the face of harsh realities?
The prophet Daniel offers positive images of his and his friends’ actions when carried away into an exile existence, captive to a people in a strange land (The Book of Daniel). Daniel (Belteshazzar), Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meschach), and Azariah (Abed-Nego), are examples of young men rising above the sorrows and oppression of their captivity to live out an existence of service, contributions, and fulfillment that speak volumes centuries since their deaths. These four maintained their identity and found their destinies in the middle of harsh realities. Knowing their experiences and their choices in less than perfect times may offer hope for young men living in this modern age of the 21st Century filled with discontent.
What follows are some things gleaned from their story in the Book of Daniel. The lives of the prophet and three young men of faith living among brutal and gut-wrenching realities may offer hope for the 21st Century man.
- Take steps to stay close to God in strange and threatening realities. Daniel maintained a devoted prayer life in exile. God showed him and his companions in this season of judgment favor because they demonstrated their devotion to Him under trying and tumultuous conditions. Survival in harsh real-life challenges can only be enhanced by seeking God’s face. And, one can help others, enemies even, when in prayer and fellowship with God as Daniel does by offering answers to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. (Daniel 1 and 2) Don’t ever lose your focus on God.
- Daniel purposed in his heart . . . one has to ponder, consider, reason, and dig deep within to find purpose, plans and actions while in harsh realities. (Daniel 1:8) Thinking before one act when experiencing brutal confrontations and captivity by the enemy is a necessity. Choosing what is noble and right will reach farther than seizing upon moments filled with rage and anger. Deep commitments always give purpose and guidance to one’s struggles through harsh realities of life.
- Don’t be polluted by your captors. Daniel and his three Hebrew friends refused to be defiled by the foods of their captors. But equally necessary was their refusal to have their minds polluted by their captors. Their mindsets and their hearts were set on their heritage, their culture, their religion and way of life. (Daniel 1:8)
- Even the enemy will recognize your excellence. The king took notice of these young Hebrews excellence. The enemy recognizes your excellence, otherwise he wouldn’t seek to keep you captive. So, while he prevails, be all that you can be. It will prepare you for the time your deliverance comes also. (Daniel 1:19-20)
- Take some practical steps by doing things that can only help to prepare you for the uncertain future in harsh realities. (Daniel 1)
- Maintain healthy relationships. Daniel and his friends were allies and supports to each other. Stay close to people who can help you and encourage you in your resolve to seek the best out of life under challenging circumstances.
- Stay busy with a work ethic to achieve despite the conditions of your life. Do your best at all times. Onlookers will take notice of you reaching upward to achieve (allies and enemies). Daniel and his three (3) friends held on to high standards for themselves that qualified them to contribute to an empire.
- Your gifts will make room for you. Use what you have within you consisting of talents, abilities, intellect, passion, knowledge. You have something that sets you apart from the rest that will be an asset under the most trying of circumstances. Use what you have for your survival while in the hands of captors. (Daniel 1:4; 17)
- Knowledge is power. Therefore, seek to learn all that you can to expand your horizons. Pursuing education and enlightenment is always a positive. People with knowledge are not easily oppressed in oppressive situations and will be valuable wherever they are located. “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.” – Job 13:2 NKJV
The stories of Daniel and the three Hebrew boys are powerful messages of hope from a place of sorrow and bitter toil at the hands of captive enemies. They were not only survivors, but rose to be achievers, even in a strange land of oppression. They never sought to blend into the culture and ways of their oppressors and were in appearance and experience among the best of the land of their captors.
Our civil rights will not suffice in these harsh realities. Captors and oppressors care little about writs, declarations, or even deeply held truths, when their motives are to maintain status quo and impose their will upon an entire people. As a people of laws, it is becoming more apparent that they are laws that are selectively observed and enforced. And all of us, every American of every race, creed, gender, or color will need more than mere rights to engage and survive the harsh realities that challenge our way of life.
This new reality tests our souls, our ideologies, and our sense of being. And it is so hard to come to realize that we are not what have deceived ourselves into believing who and what we are. We’ve believed the deceptions far too long. And our bitterness and anger may be our response to what lies within ourselves. God help us all!