The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Have you asked God which leaders in your country or your continent you should pray for? I am challenging myself as I write these words. The answer we receive may be surprising to us. And do you have confidence that your prayers will make a difference for those leaders?
Our Heavenly Father is a generous God, and therefore he delights to give gifts to us - Ephesians 4:7-13 explains how he gives grace-gifts to every single one of us - nobody is excluded. To Daniel God gave not only knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning, but also the capacity to understand visions and dreams of all kinds (1:17).
How would he use these gifts? For a long time I thought that spiritual gifts were primarily to be used in the church. But then I looked at the life of Jesus - the most gifted person ever to live on earth - and saw that his gifts - his teaching, his healings, his driving out of demons, his prophecies - were mostly given outside the synagogue and the temple and to people whom the religious leaders considered as being under a curse (see John 7:49). Wherever people copy Jesus, for example, churches which engage in Healing on the Streets, where people on the streets are invited to receive prayer for healing, then there are likely to see miracles at a level that we rarely see inside the church.
Daniel was unable to exercise his gifts within the believing community - because there was no such community in the royal court of Babylon. But this did not stop him exercising them. We see him interpreting dreams here and in chapter 4, and from the words of Nebuchadnezzar’s wife in 5:10-12, it is clear that he used his gifts frequently and had gained a reputation. On this occasion in chapter 2 he was faced with a challenge bigger than any that he had encountered before - have you ever noticed that God often stretches our faith outside our comfort zone, beyond what we think we are capable of? Not only did Daniel have to interpret a dream, but he had to tell the king what dream he had seen! The magicians and astrologers were completely at a loss, understandably. And the stakes were high: life or death.
Firstly, Daniel realised immediately that his only hope was to get revelation from God. Yet how often do we only turn to God as a last resort, when we have exhausted all other possible options. He sits there patiently waiting for us to ask him. One of the watchwords of Smith Wigglesworth’s life was, God is more eager to answer than we are to ask.
Secondly, Daniel knew what to ask for. In verse 18 he urges his friends to plead for mercy. I hear many people asking for many things from God, but only occasionally do I hear people asking him for mercy - and this is one thing we can always be confident that we will receive from him. It is in that place of humble submission, asking for mercy, that Daniel receives revelation from God and is able to exercise the spiritual gift that God has given to him.
Thirdly, Daniel has to expand his worldview: in that period of time God usually gave revelation to Jewish prophets for the benefit of Jewish people - but here he shows mysteries never before revealed to the pagan king who destroyed the Jewish temple! If we want to receive revelation from God, then we are certainly going to have to expand our worldview. He is so much bigger than we think. Fourthly, Daniel gave all the glory to God. How easy it would have been for him to have taken just a bit of the credit for himself. But when the king asks him if he can tell him what he has seen and interpret it, he replies, No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to he king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (verses 26-28).
The chapter ends happily, with the king understanding his dream, the magicians’ and astrologers’ lives spared and Daniel and his friends promoted - see how Daniel seized the opportunity to get advancement for his friends - carpe diem. But this is no mere fairy story (or Disney story) with a happy ending. As we will see in chapter 4, the Lord was after Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, and this dream and interpretation were part of that quest. Paul urges us to make requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving first of all for kings and for all those in authority; and he tells us that this is particularly pleasing to God (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Have you asked God which leaders in your country or your continent you should pray for? I am challenging myself as I write these words. The answer we receive may be surprising to us. And do you have confidence that your prayers will make a difference for those leaders? As Stephen lay dying he prayed for those Jewish leaders who were murdering him (Acts 7:59); and one of them, Saul of Tarsus, went on to become one of the greatest servants of Jesus Christ of all time. Are you ready to put the spiritual gifts which Christ has given you to the service of those outside the church (as well as those inside), especially those in positions of responsibility and leadership?