Behold, My Servant Daniel
One of the things I really love about my job is that my professional development has such great overlap with the personal growth God is working in me. I was watching the Bible Project video on "The Way of the Exile" a couple weeks ago, and I was so struck by the profound messages, I decided to read the book of Daniel everyday for the month of December. (Which is a throwback to when I dug into the book of Job when my life fell apart back in February.) Two weeks in, and, wow, I've been pounded by a lot of hard truths. That book is rich and diverse, but also, the connection to the way of the exile has been hammered deeper through reading several other books for my professional development this month including Postcards from Babylon, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and A Gospel of Hope which all have direct or indirect commentary on living in exile and honoring God over empire.
I'm not living in Babylon, but we all kinda are - that's the conclusion of the video. So, as Jon so eloquently asks, "How do I seek the wellbeing of Babylon while my allegiance is to someone greater?" And as Tim points out, this is the tension of the Christian walk today.
I work at a Christian school, so it's by far not the nastiest of empires, but it's still a system built by flawed humans. I've seen a lot of damage done here to people, and I'm not blameless as another broken human working to reflect Jesus better in my daily actions. There is no perfect school - even if it has an ACSI accreditation. Knowing that, I want to open my eyes to God given vision of a better community that is more reflective of God's kingdom.
In the recent conversations with a lot of people, I've processed the line, "The vision of future hope gives motivation to the tasks of today." I genuinely feel that God wants to bring "an avalanche of reconciliation" in my community, but I also know that vision of future hope is not something I can force to happen. God has invited me to be a part of something beautiful, and my hands are open to receive that gift. A few weeks ago, my mom sent me a quote she saw my pastor post on Facebook that is copied onto my computer desktop: "Sometimes, if you are going to be a bridge of reconciliation, you have to get walked on" (LaToya Burrell). My mom knows my heart for bridges and reconciliation, and the quote is super powerful to me as I think of how I can intentionally be an agent of healing in the world.
Four and a half months ago, I had a moment where God said, "Let's do this," and I responded with, "No thanks." I was convicted for three days before trying again to be obedient to the Lord, and then I saw someone else with a similar invitation also pass on the opportunity to be a part of something miraculous. As I've wrestled with and prayed about those things for the past several months, I've also felt this deep peace resting in the knowledge that no one person is strong enough to mess up God's plan. I know my dumb reticence to "get walked on" was wrong, but then I repented, and I'm back on track with new opportunities for God to humble me and use me for his glory.
I went through some pretty intense stuff this summer, and on Tuesday I was having lunch with a student who watched a lot of it go down. I was reflecting on how much I've grown not by seeing growth in others but rather keeping my attention on God and what God was calling me to individually each day. I don't have control over someone else's actions, but I do have control over my own obedience to God. One of the weirdest things about this season of life is that God has called me to pray specifically for a single person who I'm not friends with every single day for the past four months. I have read six books on prayer, and I have no idea what or how or if my prayers are making any difference in the life of this other individual, but I have shared over and over with people I do interact with how the prayers have made me more like Jesus. I was so encouraged in the lunchtime reflection to know that my precious student is able to see a change in me from who I was in August to who I am today watching me be obedient to something I don't understand fully but that lines up with God's character.
After two months of intense sleep deprivation, I was sharing with a whole class of students how I'd grown from frustration that someone else couldn't just get their act together so God could stop making me pray for them to a profound realization that God loves us on such a deep individual basis that he will make crazy paths for growth and reconciliation involving someone else being woken up to pray. I stopped praying from a position of wanting someone else to fix up their life so I could sleep to wanting to be so shaped by love in my concern for others that I would care first about their spiritual healing over my inconveniences. Reading Daniel this month deepened this lesson as I see Daniel receive visions and instructions from the Lord that are overwhelming and disturbing, and while he sometimes gets physically sick, he also carries on with the king's business and keeps his eyes focused on the Lord.
In one of my conversations with friends a couple weeks ago, Tracy commented, "It's interesting that this person keeps coming up." My immediate response was an emphatic, "It's disturbing, right?" Tracy wasn't willing to say that. As we kept talking, I came around to the same truth that it's in line with God's great love to ask me to pray for someone I don't know in order for me to learn about how to love all people better, to judge less, to learn more, to cut back my sharp-tongued sarcasm, to speak better of strangers, to rest in God's peace, and so many other things. I saw this in the book of Daniel as well: often he gets these wild visions, and consistently he asks for understanding and wisdom. Sometimes he gets it right away, other times he's told to trust God and rest as he then goes about his daily life - with the emphasis throughout that his daily life always has his eyes trained on the Lord.
When I was talking to my spiritual director about the maxim "the vision of future hope gives motivation for the tasks of today," she commented on how I was only given limited vision because too much would overwhelm me. God knows exactly how much to give me to motivate me - and I promise, I'm motivated to be obedient. In those books on prayer, I've spent a lot of time learning how to listen to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit so that I can act in obedience rather than making up my own plans to create my own visions. Yesterday, I had a Bible department lunch with my two incredible coworkers and we were reflecting on the way Mark Batterson encourages readers to hear the Holy Spirit in his book Whisper. I was so encouraged to listen to Richard and Eric talk about how we all want to listen to God more and learn to respond well to the active and loving God who speaks to us instead of forging our own plans. Why not ask for God to speak to you? Why not listen?
Again, this is all over the book of Daniel as the famous exiles expected God to show up, but their faith was not in using God to their advantage but being people who represented God in faithful obedience to him. I'm expecting God to show up today. I don't know what that looks like, but I know it takes me one step closer to "an avalanche of reconciliation" whatever that means, I know it takes me one step closer to intimacy with the God who speaks, who sees, who loves.
I'm ready to wrap up this post, but I promise you there's a lot more that my heart is learning from the book of Daniel. I've got a discipleship group call later today, and the chapter we're discussing is about how we as disciples of Jesus are called to lifelong growth and change - and that change is public. This post is my attempt to model for an internet audience the growth that's happening in my life. I have people who interact with me regularly holding me accountable to live differently based on these reflections and insights. If you are one of the people who does see me or interact with me personally, I hope you too can see the positive changes as I'm intentionally living more like Jesus - more loving, less judging, more compassion, less condemning, more sympathy, less gossipy.