Four Lessons from Daniel’s Success

When it comes to living life well, not too many men in Scripture score as well as Daniel. The man led in unprecedented circumstances. He braved risk when the stakes were high. He spoke when truth was unpopular and stood when others fell. All of this in a difficult environment, in a difficult culture, in a difficult time. What lessons from Daniel can we learn?

Daniel may have been just a teenager when he was taken from his family and deported to Babylon some 500 miles distant. There he was set under the regime that sacked his homeland and mocked his God. Yet Daniel not only survived in his new hostile environment; he thrived.

Such a story of thriving is very welcome today. Flourishing for Daniel was not a function of his circumstances. They were not dependent on correct politics, good social policy, God-honoring cultural mores, or friendly contemporaries. No, flourishing in this environment should cause us pause for inspection. How was this man able to lead others, brave risk, speak truth and stand in his time?

Daniel felt the pressure of his foreign home immediately. Placed in a boy’s school to be groomed and indoctrinated with the values of Babylon, Daniel was asked to eat food prohibited in God’s law. Would he follow with the rest? No. Instead, Daniel respectfully appeals to his headmaster, Melzar, and asks if he and his friends could eat their Jewish diet for a limited time and submit themselves to Babylon’s inspection. Melzar reluctantly agrees, but after 10 days, Melzar is delighted to see the health the Jewish diet has brought the young men. Daniel’s leadership won a new diet for the boy’s school and brought a semblance of home to this foreign place. What was the secret of Daniel’s leadership?

Daniel led by following.

While it would appear that Daniel blazed his own unprecedented trail, he was really just a follower – a follower of God. Daniel teaches us that to be a good leader we need to be a good follower. In fact, we are all following someone or something. A good leader is very aware of who or what they are following.

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, is arguably the most powerful man who has ever lived. Such men get just what they want. Even if it is a forgotten dream that needs interpretation. This is exactly what happens in the second year of his reign. Upon waking up disturbed by an unsettling dream but unaware of what it was, Nebuchadnezzar commands his magicians to interpret it. Interpret it, of course, after they have brought to his memory what the dream was! To no one’s surprise, the king’s counselors are befuddled. This enrages the king and Nebuchadnezzar sentences his wise men to death, of which Daniel and his friends are included. Will Daniel fall with the rest? No. When Arioch the king’s captain comes for Daniel, Daniel respectfully appeals for time. Daniel and his friends take the matter to prayer and by revelation from God, Daniel learns the dream and its interpretation. Soon he is standing before Nebuchadnezzar sharing both the dream and its interpretation. What was the secret to Daniel’s standing when others fell?

Daniel stood by kneeling.

Daniel’s modus operandi was kneeling before standing. We see him time and again take his matters to prayer. In fact, his insistence to kneel and pray will be seen as weakness by his contemporaries, but he knows what we should know; that kneeling is the surest route to standing.

At the height of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, when he was flourishing and prosperous, another dream troubled him as he slept. In this night vision, a very large flourishing tree was hewn down. Insistent on the interpretation he again calls for his wisemen. None of them could interpret the dream, except for Daniel of course. The interpretation, however, was a very difficult truth to share. In fact, Daniel didn’t want to tell the king. “My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.” (Dan. 4:19, 27) Will Daniel speak truth and give bad news to the king of all earthly kings? Yes. He explains to Nebuchadnezzar that his ego will be judged and he will wander as a beast in the field eating grass. And this is where Daniel shines yet again. “Wherefore, O king.” Daniel says. “let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.”  (Daniel 4:27) Daniel wished tranquility on Nebuchadnezzar – the man who sacked and plundered his homeland. What was the secret to Daniel’s ability to speak truth?

Daniel spoke truth by loving.

Daniel loved people. He was eager to see judgement reversed and life restored, even when that prosperity was to his capturers and critics. Daniel walked the difficult line of being bold without being brazen. He certainly lived out the New Testament principle found in 2 Timothy about being gentle with those that opposed him. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)

Daniel had enemies. Men who longed for his downfall. The plot thickens to a blockbuster climax in Daniel 6. The new king of the empire, Darius, was manipulated by jealous officials in the royal court to make a decree that no man could serve any god but the king himself for 30 days. An airtight plan for Daniel’s downfall, as it was common knowledge that Daniel’s regular practice was to openly pray. Will Daniel cave and give up his practice during these 30 days? Not a chance. He prayed. He was arrested. He was thrown into the lion’s den. What was the secret to Daniel’s bravery?

Daniel braved risk by fearing.

No man is without fear. He fears someone or something. That thing which he fears will surely make a difference in how he lives his life. It did in Daniel’s life. Daniel feared God. The measure of his fear can be measured by his risk – a night with the lions.

We, like Daniel, are not home. Our homeland was plundered back in Genesis 3. We are citizens of an altogether different kingdom under an altogether different king. We too do not need correct politics, good social policy, God-honoring cultural mores, or friendly contemporaries to flourish. We, like Daniel, can lead, stand, speak and be brave in our time and for the blessing of our communities. But we will do so by the same road that Daniel took.

  1. Leading by following.
  2. Standing by kneeling.
  3. Speaking truth by loving.
  4. Braving risk by fearing.

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