"If"

I recently shared the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with a group of young people. We were discussing their resolve to serve God no matter what happened. If you're not familiar with the story, I'll bring you up to speed. These three guys were Israelites that had been captured and taken to Babylon to be trained and taught the Babylonian way. They were even put in positions of influence. One day the king, Nebuchadnezzar, built a golden image that was 90 feet tall. That's huge. There was a decree that came with this image. If you were near it or could see it, and you heard the music begin to play, you had to bow down and worship the image. 

Everyone went along with it, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were brought before the king and threatened to be thrown in a burning fiery furnace. The king was even so bold to claim that no god would be able to save them. What's astonishing about this story is not so much the fact that they are saved, but what they said in response to the king.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchanezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us fro the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." - Daniel 3:17-18

They believed that God could deliver them, but they were willing to trust Him, even if He didn't deliver them from the furnace. What's amazing to me is how many people go through a trial or a test in their life and they get mad because God didn't deliver them. Many times I have even felt like I didn't deserve to go through something. We think that because we serve God, He is supposed to do things for us to make life easier for us. The problem is that we are not trusting and serving God, we are trusting and serving God, "IF"... That's not serving God; that's using Him as a means to an end.

I was listening to Timothy Keller, a Presbyterian pastor in New York City. He pointed out in a sermon on this very passage that suffering in our lives is often magnified by the fact that we don't expect it. Americans don't expect suffering. We live in the land of plenty and success, we shouldn't suffer. Other countries expect it, but we are almost always surprised by it. Keller pointed out that suffering wouldn't be as hard for us if we expected it.

The biggest trial I have ever had to go through is my parents' divorce. I had several friends who had divorced parents and always felt sorry for them. I didn't think it was horrible, but I felt bad because they didn't have what I had. My senior year of High School, my parents separated and a few years later they were divorced. I don't think there is a word for what I felt the day I heard the news, but devastated comes pretty close. I didn't expect it. I was prideful. My family was perfect. My family would always be together. My family would never be like their families. I didn't expect it. It crushed me. I was mad at God. I even went to Bible College to get away from the situation. I didn't go there to study the Bible like a good Christian boy; I left to run away from the suffering.

What I'm trying to say, is that we can't serve God based on what we think He should do. That would be like loving someone for what they have or what they can give us. No one wants that. We all want to be loved for who we are. That's what God wants; to be loved for who He is, not for what He can do for us.

Trials can come unexpectedly and if we don't have the resolve of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we won't survive them. They will destroy us. Have you ever been surprised by a trial? What was it like? How did you respond? Did you doubt your faith? How did you finally make it through the trial? Answer in the comments below.