Everyone at some time or another has to face something they would rather not face. It could be a family situation, or serious sickness, It could even be death.
Oftentimes what you do when you during these times demonstrates the depth of your faith and the power of God. I guess that is why I have always loved the story of three Hebrews boys whose battle became a proving ground of faith and a demonstration of the power of God.
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were ripped from their home as young boys. The book of Daniel opens by telling us that because of Babylon’s victory over Jerusalem, these three were taken to Babylon to be trained for the king’s service, and anyone who has ever moved away from home knows how disorienting this can be.
Beyond relocation, they were also renamed. Hananiah became Shadrack. Mishael became Meshach. Azariah became Abednego. The changing of their names represents more than new spelling. Instead it is a symbol of the Babylonian desire to change their identity, the essence of who they are. Each of their Hebrew names contained a reference to their God. The Babylonian names removed any such references, which symbolized the desire to change them, to break them, and to remake them at the deepest level.
In addition, they were subject to a cruel, heartless, and vain king. Nebuchadnezzar was widely known as an angry, unreasonable king. One evidence of this is recorded in Daniel 3.
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and set it up as a monument to his majesty. He demanded that when anyone hears the sound of his prescribed music, they were to fall down and worship the golden image he made. To incentivize the command he added the warning: Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace (Dan. 3:6).
This posed a problem for our three young friends. God prohibited them from worshiping any other God. So to bow down would mean that brainwashing would be complete. To remain firm would me meeting fiery death. For these men, the choice was easy. They will not bow to any one but God.
And To make matter worse, their enemies watched them closely. They waited for the calls to worship, and as soon as these men did not bow, they ran to the king like some school-aged tattle-tale.
Upon hearing the news, Nebuchadnezzar was furious. He commanded that these men be brought before him. He questioned them about their actions, and their response is one of my favorite in all of Scripture. With flames raging and death coming, they said, “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 fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it know to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up.”
My favorite phrase in that verse is “but if not.” Those three little words carry a robust expression of faith. God can deliver me, but if not I will serve him. God can end this, but if not I will trust he has a better plan.
Sometimes you and I need to say the same thing. When we come to those times when we must walk a road we would rather not walk, we must come to the point where we say, “God, you can end this, but if not I will still follow.”
I believe God loves submissive trust like this, and from time to time he will demonstrate his pleasure through our deliverance.
The furious king ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. It was so hot that the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace died on the spot.
With the flames crackling, the king peered into the furnace to witness the destruction. He wanted to see them burn. He wanted this rebels to scream. But the angry king neither saw them burn nor heard their screams. As a matter of fact, he was astonished by what he saw. He asked to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? “True, O king,” they answered. In astonishment, he declared, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
With fear he said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out and come here!” Upon hearing thee words, they walked out of the fire unharmed, which lead the king to make a new decree, one forbidding anyone to speak against the God of these three men.
Sometimes God does this. Sometimes God in his wisdom does not deliver us from the fire but walks with us through it. Sometimes he magnifies his grace by giving us the grace to endure. Knowing this frees us to say, “But if not, I will keep following.”
We can also be encouraged knowing that God is not asking anything of us that he is not willing to do. You see the Jesus’ path to the cross went through a garden. There in the garden he is drenched in sweat, heaving under the strain, and praying with overwhelming intensity that climaxes with the words, “Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” God’s will was done, and consequently, we are saved.
Wherever you are; whatever road you must walk; and whatever cross you are called to bear, remember that He walks with you in the fire. Thus you can say, “But if not . . .,” and the world will see him work.