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As we get older, we become more set in our ways, which is not necessarily a bad thing – if we are set in the right ways. But it is not good to be set in our ways if we are set in the wrong ones. Because when we get older, we start liking routines. We don’t like surprises as much. We like to go to the same restaurants because they are dependable. We like to order the same thing, because it is always a good choice. That is what it is to be older. We get into a routine of sorts.
So we should set the right foundation so that we get into the right routines. And the time to do it is when we are young. It is at this time that we are setting our course, that habits are being formed, attitudes are being developed, and decisions are being made that will affect us for the rest of our lives.
We find a great example of this in the life of a young Israeli named Daniel, who was carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon during King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The king wanted some of Israel’s brightest and best young men, believed to be somewhere between the ages of 14 and 19, to serve in the royal palace and be trained in the ways of Babylon. In effect, the king wanted them to abandon their faith and embrace the pagan Babylonian culture and religion. It was the intention of King Nebuchadnezzar to erase every vestige of identification between these young men and their God and their people.
One of the things this training included was access to the greatest food on earth, literally. The king had his ultimate chefs working in the kitchen, preparing the best of the best dishes. But Daniel decided this was the time to stand on principle. We read that “Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods” (Daniel 1:8 NLT).
How would Daniel be defiling himself by eating this delicious food? One reason may be that some of it, or perhaps most of it, was forbidden in the Mosaic law. Then again, the primary reason could have been because it was offered to a false god. Idol worship was central in the Babylonian culture. They worshipped many gods. No doubt the food would have been dedicated to Nebuchadnezzar’s god. So for Daniel, it was a compromise. In his heart he didn’t feel right about eating it.
Sometimes there are things a Christian simply will choose not to do, because it drags him or her down. There is an uneasiness about it, a sense that it is not right before God, despite the fact that others are doing it. The Bible says that “if you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning” (Romans 14:23 NLT).
For Daniel, eating from the king’s menu was wrong. We may look at the situation and wonder why it was such a big deal. But it was a big deal to Daniel, so he made a stand in a relatively small area of his life. But the little things prepared him for the big things that were to come later. As Phillips Brooks said, “Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” The stand we make today will determine what kind of stand we will make tomorrow. If we make compromises, it will come back to bite us later, because the Bible warns that we will reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7).
So Daniel struck a deal with the man who was in charge of the food. He told him that he and his three friends would eat only vegetables and drink only water for the next 10 days, and the official could see how it turned out. And sure enough, when those 10 days were over, Daniel and his buddies were healthier-looking than everyone else (see Daniel 1:15). They were brought before King Nebuchadnezzar himself, who was very impressed with these four young men and how God had blessed them.
How we need more people today with a sense of purpose like Daniel had. One translation of the Bible tells us that Daniel “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8 NKJV).
What is your purpose in life? Everyone has one. For some, their purpose in life is to have fun. Or their purpose in life is to experience pleasure … or to be successful … or to make money … or to be happy. But what we should be seeking is not pleasure, but purpose – not success, but significance.
Daniel’s story reminds us that a little with God is better than a lot without him. We make decisions in life about what we will do with our time, what we will do with our resources, what we will do with our future and all the rest of it. And sometimes there are things we say no to that we may want to say yes to.
There are those who choose to live the world’s way and those who choose to live God’s way. There are some who get on the merry-go-round of selfishness and partying and drinking and anything else the world has to offer. And there are those who get on that straight and narrow path that leads to life.
What I would say to someone who chooses to live the world’s way is you take your road, and I will take mine, and at the end of life’s journey, let’s compare notes. Let’s see who made the right choice. I am confident already that I have made the right one. And whatever I have given up, God has more than made up to me in my life.