A life lesson from 4 teenagers

By Greg Laurie

When you are building a house, the most important time is not when you hang the wallpaper or paint the exterior. The most important time is when the foundation is laid, because if that isn’t done properly, all the rest is of no consequence.

The most important time in our lives, in many ways, is the time of our youth. It’s there that we set our course. Habits are developed. Attitudes are formed. Decisions are made that affect us for the rest of our lives, such as our career choice and whom we will marry. Seeds are sown in our youth that are reaped in the years ahead.

The Old Testament book of Daniel gives us some role models for youth: Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishae, and Azariah (also known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego). These four young Jewish men had been carried away captive to Babylon.

Historians estimate that Daniel and his friends were teenagers, somewhere between the ages of 14 to 19. Yet they took an incredible stand for what they knew was right. How easily they could have been sucked into the Babylonian system and rationalized their behavior by saying, “When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do.” But they stood for what they knew was right.

King Nebuchadnezzar had designed a plan whereby the most promising of his captives should serve in his courts. He asked that the prime candidates of the newly captured Israelites would be brought into his court, those who were of the greatest intellect, those who were physically attractive, those who had promise.

The prophet Isaiah had warned this very thing would happen. Speaking to King Hezekiah, he said, “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 35:6–7 NIV).

It appears that Nebuchadnezzar wanted to indoctrinate these young Jewish men and even convert them to the ways of Babylon. They were to go through an intensive three-year training course in what we might call the University of Babylon. They were to eat from the king’s table, where the finest food in the world was served. They would have had all of the luxuries of life. It was Nebuchadnezzar’s goal to separate them from their roots, from their spiritual upbringing and from the things their parents had taught them. Then he would mold them into his own image of sorts. At least, that was his plan.

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Nebuchadnezzar even had their names changed, which is interesting, because each of their names originally contained some form of the name Jehovah, the name of God. Daniel’s name meant “God is my judge,” while his new name, Belteshazzar, meant “the god that Bel favors,” referring to a false God. Hananiah’s name meant “beloved of the Lord,” but his name was changed to Shadrach, meaning “illuminated by the sun god.” Mishael’s name meant “who is like God?” But his name was changed to Meshach, a reference to the moon god. Lastly, Azariah’s name, which meant “the LORD is my help,” was changed to Abed-Nego, which meant “the servant of Nego,” who was another false god.

Nebuchadnezzar could change their names, but he could not change their hearts. These four young men could have allowed themselves to be sucked into this system. Instead, it made them firmer in their resolve. Rather than weakening them, it strengthened them. This is amazing, considering they were just 14 to 19 years of age.

Their world, as they knew it, literally changed overnight. They were taken away from the security of family and friends and placed in an environment that was hostile to their faith.

Maybe, like Daniel and his friends, something has taken place in your life that has shaken you to the core. Maybe you have recently moved. Perhaps your husband or wife has left you. Something has shaken up your life. I want you to know that God has not abandoned you. God has not forgotten about you. God is with you, and he will see you through it.

How easily Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego could have been bitter against God, saying, “Lord, this isn’t fair. We didn’t sin against you; it was our parents. It was our grandparents and great-grandparents. It isn’t our fault. Why are we reaping the results of their sin?

There are people today who blame all their problems on the generations before them. They claim the reason they are so messed up is because of their mother or father. They want to blame everything on someone or something else. No one wants to take responsibility for their problems.

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego could have done that. But they recognized that God was with them. They were confident that God would see them through. They had their values. They had their convictions. And they were determined to move forward, because they had God to serve and a stand to make.

Later God raised up Daniel in a singular way, and he was beloved by the Lord. Daniel continued to be faithful to God through Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, as well as during the reign of Cyrus, who overthrew Nebuchadnezzar. And God gave Daniel favor with these prominent leaders of the world.

It all started with a stand Daniel made early in his life. It was there the die was cast. The course was charted. The path was followed.

In the same way, you decide what principles you will live by and what road you will take. God said in Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (NIV).

God has given you a choice. You can throw your life away. Or, you can give your life to God and say, “I want to be someone of purpose and direction.” Such were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.

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