Article by: Adam Sapelak, Church Community Pastor
When I picture King Darius throwing Daniel, his most faithful advisor, into the pit full of hungry lions, I imagine Daniel would have had some mixed emotions. He was a man of great faith, and that faith certainly helped Him enter the pit with some courage, conviction, and trust. Yet even with that faith, I wonder if other emotions were roiling in his human heart. No one would hold it against Daniel if somewhere deep down within him dwelt a portion of fear, hopelessness, frustration, or anger. It would be easy for him to have thoughts such as ‘how could the king do such a thing?’ Or ‘Where was the justice?’ ‘Maybe I should fight.’ ‘I deserve to live.’ ‘This is not right!’ Would it not only be human to have these thoughts and feelings?
Recently, I saw a painting riding social media currents portraying Daniel in the lion’s den by J. B. Pratt. It is a striking picture that has challenged my posture in life as COVID continues, leaving a trail of destruction not just of physical loss of life but of the spiritual and emotional collapse of many brothers and sisters in Christ. It reminds me of how critical our perspective and focus can be in every situation we face.
The painting reflects the proper posture of a believer who lives in this hostile world. But first, let us talk about the lions. I immediately noted the size and number of lions. Most of the image is filled with them, so one could assume their importance is substantial if not the focus. But without the title nor the Biblical story that goes with it, this painting is non-sensical. Who would turn their back to danger, much less a pack of hungry lions? But is not our walk of faith with Christ non-sensical to those that do not know Him? Is this not precisely what the good news is to this lost and dying world? ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.’ (1 Cor 1:18)
The lions remind me of the challenges I face daily. That I am bombarded with constant threatening situations (not to the same degree as Daniel, thank the Lord) that consistently call for my attention and remind me that alone, I am far out of my depth. Many can feel anxious just seeing this painting, and many of us are not short on anxiety these days.
But let us look more at Daniel in the painting. He stands relaxed, his arms comfortably held behind him, his back is straight, and his head is up, gazing towards the window. Oh, and let’s not miss the critical detail that he is facing away from the lions! My mind wants to cry, ‘this is foolishness,’ and yet God has been challenging me that this is precisely what I need to do more. I find myself focusing on the ever-present pressure and conflicts around me instead of what God calls me to look at, Himself. Unlike Daniel, my eyes quickly dart to what’s around, then my back tenses (also where I hold most of my stress) and my hands want to become fists as I let the perceived threats around me dictate my actions and consume my thoughts.
I have been distracted at a time when I should be the most focused.
This challenge that Daniel portrays of keeping his eyes riveted on the only one that matters is not a new concept for me. This idea of our focus constantly surfaces within the Bible. From Abraham bringing his son to the altar (Gen 22) to Peter walking on water (Matt 14), God continually calls His people to look to Him – especially when the world seems to be in a tailspin. God knows how we as humans inevitably look to fix the things around us or, at the least, survive them. I believe he is not calling us to either of these human desires but to keep our eyes and heart postured on Him. When we give proper attention to who is in control, we release our concerns to Him and walk freely in what we are being called to do, act, or think.
Have you ever been in a situation where you talk so much about a problem that it becomes not only useless but harmful to your mental and physical health? I am not saying we are not to engage in the challenges of our day, but I am saying that we often try and tackle them on our own and in our strength. Trying to fix people who are polarized about Covid has been running me aground. I have been doing a lot more mediation than pointing to our only source of hope, and it has been falling flat. I have begun to bring my eye back to Him. Before entering specific conversations, I have been working on questions that will help direct us to Him before all else. It’s a work in progress.
Is there something occurring in your own life that is taking your eyes off Jesus? A problem or situation that seems unsolvable? You may not be wrong in assessing that difficulty. It probably is impossible. But I challenge you to look to the one who can provide hope when we have none. As we cling to the eternal hope we have in Christ, this world will surely dim. I don’t believe Daniel was turned away from the lions and focused on God because He believed God would rescue Him. He was looking to God because he knew who was ultimately in control. If Daniel had been eaten, it would not change God’s faithfulness or goodness to His people. He does not call us to produce our desired outcomes but to rest in the hands that hold us through the worst of storms.