Who determines the choices we make?

I want to read with you from the book of Daniel, chapter three verses one to seven:

“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to assemble the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counsellors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, were assembled for the dedication of the image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”

Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshipped the golden image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”

Therefore, the logic that exudes from that one single word! King Nebuchadnezzar makes an image, a huge statue, really enormous, thirty metres high, THIRTY metres. Daunting isn’t it? He makes this golden image and invites all the most important people to come to the dedication. And they all come, because the king told them to. After all he IS the king, so HE is the one who decides that they have to come. And he also decides for them that they have to bow down on their knees before the image. So THEREFORE they DO that.

Let’s try and apply this to a present day situation. What would WE do in a case like this? And what logic is there in your life when it comes to the “therefore”.

You are asked, no commanded, you are put under pressure, to do something……so therefore………you do it.

There have been many systems invented by many different people. I won’t name them all, but there are so many systems, in particular spiritual systems that have been thought up, which result in a THEREFORE like this.

In these systems there is no room for discussion, you HAVE to. Sometimes it is even said, “I’m not asking if you want to do something, or if you feel like doing it. I’m TELLING you” and so, therefore, you do it. You do what someone else expects of you. Because you were told to! Because someone who is powerful and in a position of authority created an enormous image, and HE told you to.

So you have a double problem: not only is the image awesome, but the person behind it is too. If that were not the case, then it would no be so bad. But the person behind it all has SO much authority. So then you don’t have much choice. Because if you DON’T do what he says then you’ve HAD it. So what do you do? You DO what he says. You feel SO threatened that you do it.

Do you want to? Well, who wants to live like that? Being forced to do things all the time, whether you want to or not. That’s slavery. Do you want to live like a slave?

Who’d want to live like THAT? Nobody would, not of their own choice. BUT… lots of people do things in their lives because of the influence other people have on them, and sometimes that happens so often that it forms a pattern in their lives, and in the end they think that it IS what they want. They almost fall down in front of the image before it has even been erected. It has become a pattern in their life. It seems logical, it is bigger than they are, so they do it. It has taken on an immense form in their life and always influences the choices they make. They don’t really make the choice themselves, it is made for them.

What motivates our choices, the things WE do? Or don’t, as the case may be, because maybe we just think, “well, it won’t make any difference anyway.”

So many images have been erected to overwhelm us and influence the choices we make.

This story is not actually about all the governors and important people in the country. It is about three ordinary people: Sadrach, Mesach and Abednego. THAT’s what it’s all about. Satan wants THEM to fall down before the golden image, because all the rest will do it anyway. But THOSE three, THEY bow down to a DIFFERENT God. And Satan doesn’t like that at ALL. He doesn’t want them to bow down before anyone ELSE. So he has to erect something very big and threatening. And let’s be clear about this. When you come up against evil powers, they ARE big, VERY big.

Situations in people’s lives can be exaggerated out of all proportions and take on such a magnitude that all you see in your life is the blown up image. You lose sight of God. You see Him in a blur and that wonderful vision you had of God is gone. In your mind you picture something else that is SO big you can’t see past it. You are brainwashed by that image and the threat behind it.

And it’s easy to say, ‘it’s no big deal’, but just look at the size of the image there! You can’t ignore that! You see an image of yourself as a worthless being, who has never been able to succeed in life. You see an image of yourself as someone who KNOWS that there are evil powers to deal with, but at the same time recognises that these powers are enormous. That image is right there in front of you.

And the threat is there too, that you have to obey, or else! So, therefore, you bow down, again, and again, every time an evil king like this thinks up a new idea. But once you have bowed down, then you also have to accept all the consequences that go with it. Because once you find yourself in the wrong “therefore” circle, then the pattern is set. And you do it again and again.

That’s why satan likes to use such clearly defined patterns, things he can keep reminding you of. For example: his greatness. He also likes to keep reminding you that you are on the losing side. Or about something from your past.

He makes you think along these lines: “it has always been like that, so it certainly won’t be easy to change, ‘therefore’ it will be difficult”. And that becomes a new image, doesn’t it? It will be a difficult time, it won’t be easy. In fact, it’s almost impossible. The way YOU want to live your life, well that’s almost, almost impossible. And so on and so on; new thoughts always based on the old ones, which have been proven. And that’s the trouble.

Even if you want to escape from this vicious circle of thoughts, there is too much evidence against you. Satan just keeps showing you what you do wrong until you think you can’t change.

And if you keep thinking like this then your mind will not be open to any other possibilities. You think…. THAT’s where it goes wrong every time, and before you know it you are on your knees again, giving in to this idea that it WILL go wrong just like it did before.

Sometimes people just say, “well, that’s my weak point”. And that’s it. They stop there, instead of putting a comma, and continuing the sentence by saying, “it is my weak point, BUT it needn’t always be like that. I’ll move on. I’m not going to kneel down for something just because I made a mistake before. It may happen, but that’s not what I want. I have other intentions. I have a living God. Satan can erect whatever images he likes, for the sole purpose of making me fall, but I choose NOT to fall. I choose to break with this pattern in which I always say, “Because of the enormity of satan’s image, Therefore, that’s it. I give up. I can’t go on. Because my ancestors, my children, my situation, or whatever reason…... Therefore I can’t move on.”

Instead you say: The facts may be there. But that doesn’t mean I automatically have to draw the conclusion that THEREFORE I can’t move on, or that I will have to bow down, or that I therefore will have to be a slave.

I was a slave once, and I really enjoy NOT being one any more, and I certainly don’t want to become a slave again, I can tell you. What’s more I WON’T become one, ever again. And that’s not just empty words, it’s true, because the Lord said; “I will take care of you”. And that’s the essence of it all. It’s not just a case of putting on a brave front. It is remembering that Someone said that He will watch over you day and night and that He will be with you in times of distress and will save you, and restore your honour.

This “HE” refers to Jesus and the Father, who has never disappointed me in all the years that I have known Him, really known Him. You can always trust Him. He is a Man of His Word. And when I am with Him I find my true self again.

I feel comfortable with what He says, I can be myself with Him, and can relax completely and find peace, and that makes me feel on top of things and ready to cope with anything.

And then someone else can erect as many images and idols as he wants, but they are someone ELSE’s images, someone ELSE’s decision, NOT mine. Fifteen meters, thirty metres, 50 metres. What does it matter? It’s important not to let yourself be scared by the size of the opponent.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, on that negative aspect, about enormous things. Take Goliath, for example. But did any of the information about the size of Goliath come from David? He doesn’t say a word about it. He speaks only of the greatness of God and not about how big Goliath is. It’s OTHER people who talk about that.

So here we have THREE men. I have already told you their names: Sadrach, Mesach and Abednego. They are NOT going to bow down when the music begins.

Well, then people will notice them, I thought, if everybody is lying down and they remain standing upright. That’s how I picture them in my mind. Standing up really straight, more so than normal, as if to say, “Look at us, we remain standing”. Not, “let’s make ourselves as small as possible then maybe no one will notice us”. They remained standing proudly. And somebody DID see them. And that’s the trouble.

There is always someone who has to go and tell. Sometimes you think, why do people always have to go and make such a fuss just because somebody decides to do something different from the rest. Why do they have to make it look so ridiculous, why make such a fool of him.

Well, don’t spend too much time thinking about that “Why”, because even that can in itself become an enormous image which can bring you to your knees in the end after all. You start by thinking: “I don’t want to bow down, I definitely don’t want to, but if I don’t, then nobody must pressure me or laugh at me or make me look ridiculous. Because then I will bow down”. Stop thinking like that. “I won’t bow down, I won’t be a slave, but if this or that happens……” And you can fill that in for yourself can’t you. As long as I’m not confronted with that, THEN it might all be alright. Why the conditions? Did God say that? Never. God had no conditions. You don’t have to be a slave. You are free. Full stop.

In verse 9 the Chaldeans go to Nebuchadnessar saying: “O king, live for ever! There are three men who didn’t bow down when the music started playing. They didn’t fall down and worship. Now you said quite clearly that if they didn’t do that then you would throw them into the fiery furnace”. You see, immediately there is the threat. Authoritative words which you can so easily fall victim to. Because if you start to think about what has been said, then you also start thinking “I don’t know if I can cope with that. Can I survive that?” And once you start wondering about that, well, you can’t win it from a fiery furnace, can you?

“These men O king took no notice of you”, we read in verse 12. And what else don’t they do? “They don’t serve your gods and they don’t worship the golden image you have erected. Can you imagine anyone worse than that? You are such a great king. Live for ever! And they just don’t do it. You are a king, you’ve always given the orders. And now here are three men who defy you, and they have a different God."

And that’ is, of course, the whole point. They have a different God. They don’t even know this God the three men serve, but immediately they draw the conclusion that it must be completely wrong if you don’t follow their god.

Well you know what the trouble is here, don’t you?

I have often been amazed at how, when you tell people about a thought or idea you have had, you get so many negative reactions. All you’ve done is made a statement about something you believe in. And I have also noticed that people are very tolerant in all sorts of situations, but if you believe in God and follow the Lord and see that as a normal way of life……well that just can’t be tolerated. We can tolerate a lot of things, but not that you believe in a kingdom of heaven, that’s just too much. That’s weird.

So what does Nebuchadnezzar do? In a furious rage he commands Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be brought to him. So they are brought before the king and what happens next is really worth noting. Because He says, “Did you not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up on purpose?

Just imagine they said, No, it was by accident!

Was it on purpose? Of course it was. “O sorry we remained standing by mistake”!!! Everybody else had bowed down! Was it on purpose..? Such absurd and superfluous questions just to fill in the time.

“Well, the King says, if you are willing, when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image which I have made, …. a deathly silence ……. but if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace; and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

Well, what do you say in reply to that? Because now it’s not just about bowing down with everyone else. You might think, “what does it really matter? Is it so wrong to bow down? Let’s just pretend. We’ll bow down, but we won’t worship the image”.

But they choose not to do it. Because it IS wrong. If you bow down then you give in to that system. So what should you reply? They reply, and I think that it’s one of the best answers in the whole Bible: “We have no need to answer you in this matter”. Just imagine! You are facing a king and the threat of death. And yet I think this is the best answer you can give. I think that far too often in the past people have felt obliged to give an answer to our enemy.

And so they say, “We have no need to answer you in this matter. YOU thought up the plan, YOU erected the image. YOU decided that we have to bow down to your god and your image. But we won’t do it. If our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and free us from your power, O king, then He will”. That’s a good way to put it, isn’t it?. They didn’t say “We know for sure that it will be alright in the furnace”. If God can, they said, then He will do it. If God has the power to keep us safe in the furnace then He will do it. “But even if He doesn’t, then be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up”. Let it be known. We have made a decision. We have chosen to stand up for what we believe, and we are going to stick by it.

They had a different “therefore”. And that “therefore” was not influenced or determined in any way by threats that something awful might happen to them. Nothing like that influenced their decision. “Be it known, we worship a different God, therefore not your gods. That is OUR “therefore”.

They didn’t condemn the “therefore” of all the people who did kneel down, but they didn’t join in either. “So in spite of all the threatening words, we won’t do it. If God can save us He will. If He can’t, then we won’t be saved.”

That doesn’t mean that the next step in our line of thought is to doubt whether or not God wants to help. I think that is a very important aspect.

Because you can think out for yourself how you think God is going to handle a situation, but if it doesn’t work out as you expected then you don’t know what to think. God no longer seems trustworthy. And with this you cast doubt about the very essence of God’s being. The wonderful things about God don’t seem so wonderful any more. You sow doubt as to the truth of His Word. And so you are once again beginning to fall, to bow down. So what and who do you believe, and what is the deciding factor in your choice? What was the deciding factor in their choice? Who or what determined their decision not to bow down before the golden image. Was it that they thought that the furnace might not be too hot after all? Or that the fire in the furnace might suddenly go out of its own accord? Those sort of conditions? Did they determine their choice? No. There was only one condition for them, one thing that was important to them: they served their God. They had been doing so for years and that wasn’t going to change just because somebody said they shouldn’t.

Then we read that Nebuchadnezzar is filled with fury. That’s about as angry as you can get. He was already in a rage. Now he was filled with fury. He got more and more angry. He was furious, and the powers of evil were incensed and they always want to stop us getting on in our spiritual life. And that’s very true, but let me say again: don’t put too much emphasis on this negative aspect. This threat. What MIGHT happen. These three men didn’t.

“The expression on his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego”, we read. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than normal”. But does that matter? Does it really make any difference whether the furnace is a thousand degrees or SEVEN thousand? It makes no difference at all, it just sounds much worse. “Oh, now I have to go into a furnace that is SEVEN times hotter. It will be much worse”.

I have heard many prophecies abut the end of time, and how awful it’s all going to be. How difficult and terrible, and what satan has in store for us. But who tells us about all this? People. People who want to represent Jesus, but instead are proclaiming what a terrible time we have ahead of us, a time in which we may not even survive.

Even the Bible has been wrongly translated on this issue.

In 1 Peter 4 verse 18: it says “If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” But that’s not what the original text says at all. Just the opposite. The original text says that we, the righteous, will do our best to help the people who scarcely can be saved, so that they too will get through it all. So WE won’t be in difficulty. The time of tribulation will be shortened if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit of God who is eternal. A time in which we can make a difference if we do what the Father says. As far as that is concerned this story is a good example. Because how difficult is it going to be for these three men? It sounds as if it will be a terrible experience.

But look at Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego.What an experience! They are thrown into the furnace and the ones who throw them in are burnt to death by the flames. Try to visualise them not as people but as evil spirits. They are burnt to death, destroyed by their own hand. And who is it who is scared now?

Nebuchadnezzar. “They fell bound into the burning fiery furnace”, it says in verses 23 and 24. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counsellor, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? They answered the king. True, O king. He answered “But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire and they are not hurt. And the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

And I think the best part of this is that he says “I see them LOOSE, walking freely in the furnace. They were bound, and now they were walking freely. So what was burned? The rope that bound them. Therefore, that which should have kept them bound, was burned. In Abednego’s prayer we read: The flames leapt up twenty-five meters above the furnace, but in the furnace was a climate of a fresh morning breeze”. That’s God’s logic!

And that’s what I want you to understand this morning. Our “therefore” changes. The logic of “We therefore have an enemy, who therefore keeps making us trip up and go wrong and we can only hope and pray that it will get better. So therefore there is always another enemy waiting to pounce, and he always wins”. THAT logic changes to:” Therefore we have a God. And there may be an enemy, but compared to our God, he is very, very small, and has no say at all in what happens to us. We have a God who is with us.

And what about the furnace then? We walk around freely. They were bound, but they were the only free people there. They walked around freely, they made a choice to go into the furnace. But they also came out, no smell of burning, no smoke, nothing. All the things that you are threatened with, none of it was there, none of it happened.

That is the logic of the Kingdom of God, that you don’t get burned. The promise can be found in the Old Testament. If you go through water, you will not drown, fire will not consume you and the flame will not burn you, because you have God with you. If living with the spirit of God, with HIS logic, with His love, with His truth about you, if THAT is the basis of your existence, of your life, then you will see how much freedom that gives.

“But you have had some very tense moments”. Yes. Yes, of course.

But it fascinates me to see that in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament and today as well, there are people who have unpleasant experiences, but who choose not to let that be the main topic of their life. At least not as a reason for doing something. Not a ‘therefore” based on the unpleasant things. Because lots of unpleasant things may happen to them. But they think and believe and hope differently. Their inspiration comes from another direction. They get courage from the words that God speaks to them. That’s wonderful. That is a wonderful life, wonderful to continue to live like that. With that as our basis. The faith that God has in you.

Don’t waste time worrying about all the things that are against you, God says, focus on all the things that I have in store for you. Focus on the city of God. Focus on the glory of that. And as far as the future is concerned: not prophetic words of doom, but real prophecy. Speak the words that you have heard from the Lord and tell others about them. Practise doing that. That does people good. That gives life. Let’s focus on that. Amen.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank you for choosing to be with us in times of distress.

Thank you for teaching us to draw different conclusions, so that it doesn’t matter if we are weak, because you care for us.

Father we won’t allow our freedom to be limited by all the things that we come up against. We want to walk with you freely in the fiery ordeals in the climate that you give.

I bless all the people who have listened to these thoughts that I have shared with them today. I bless them with Your warmth and Your compassion and Your presence.