We live in a society in which admitting one’s own sins is seen as a sign of weakness.
In this chapter we find Daniel an old man, probably in his 80s; but we find him as fervent as ever in his commitment to the Lord. What was his secret?
If you read the life stories of the kings of Judah, you will find that a number of them started well but then tailed off in their commitment to God as they became older. Joash and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 24 and 26) would be two striking examples. And as you look around you, perhaps you see people who were white hot in their commitment to Jesus Christ in their early days, then they got married, had children, got a mortgage and a responsible job and settled down; they have carried on following Christ, but somehow the same fervour is not there. Like the church in Ephesus, they seem to have lost their first love (Revelation 2:4).
In this chapter we find Daniel an old man, probably in his 80s; but we find him as fervent as ever in his commitment to the Lord. What was his secret? What can we learn from him, so that we maintain the ardour of our first love and do not, like the Laodicean church, fall away into mediocrity and lukewarmness (Revelation 3:15-16) as we get into middle and old age? For some of you reading this who are younger, this may seem too remote and distant to think about; but it is now that you are laying foundations for the future of your life.
Firstly, Daniel was untouched by the prevailing climate around him. One can imagine that, as with any large bureaucracy, there was plenty of intrigue and corruption in the court of king Darius. But, when the jealous officials tried to find grounds for accusing him, they had to admit, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God” (verse 5). We too are called to become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which we shine like stars in the universe, as we hold out the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16).
Secondly, Daniel’s heart was untouched by what Jesus calls the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22). Jesus makes very clear that this deceitfulness will choke the word of life in us and make us unfruitful. Daniel was surrounded by stupendous wealth, at a level that we can only imagine. Verses 3 and 28 indicate that a major part of his responsibilities was what we would call today wealth management. Yet none of this distracted him and turned his heart away from the Lord.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Daniel kept his relationship with God alive and vital. Every day he prayed regularly, he gave thanks to God and, even though he was in such a powerful position, he still asked him for help (verse 10,11). We need to constantly nurture our relationship with the living God, being joyful always, praying continually and giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). If our connection with the vine withers, the life-giving sap of the Holy Spirit can no longer flow through us (see John 15).
I am at the stage of life where my children have all left home and got married, I am a grandfather seven times over and I have been able to retire from work with a reasonable pension. Many people say to me, Take it easy, Michael, do exactly what you want to do; you’ve worked for 40 years; you’ve earned it. But is my life just about satisfying my needs and doing what I want? Should I be like the rich fool who said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19)?
To all of us, whatever stage of life we are at, the exhortation comes, Never be lacking in zeal, but be burning in spirit, serving the Lord (Romans 12:11). If you feel you have lost your first love, Jesus has gracious words for you: Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first (Revelation 2:5). And let us all take encouragement from Daniel: it is possible to have a highly responsible job, to have plenty of the world’s goods, to be under a lot of pressure, to come up against opposition for being a Christian, and yet still to be zealous, burning in spirit in middle and old age and to finish the race well. A few years ago I went to hear Ken Loach, a socialist who has been making (very good) films exposing injustice in Britain for nearly 50 years. Here was this man in his 70s, with his passion to be an agitator in society against injustice burning as strongly as ever. If he can maintain his ardour for socialism and injustice, then surely I can maintain mine for Jesus Christ.